April 19, 2024

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

The following review is written by a high school classmate and friend of mine, Stephan Manchir who is also a Ghostbusters costumer and volunteer!

One of the best things about Frozen Empire, the latest film in the on-again off-again Ghostbusters saga, is that it quite literally hits the ground running.  Members of the Spengler family (the descendants of Harold Ramis’s character Egon Spengler, who were all introduced in 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife) race through Manhattan in the iconic Ecto-1 Cadillac, chasing down a spooky ghost while causing large amounts of the gratuitous property damage we know and love.

Ghostbusters Frozen Empire 1

Every other film in the franchise’s history begins with a common thread: the Ghostbusters are down and out, no one believes them, and they have to scrap their way to the point where they can actually “bust” a ghost, something that usually occurs somewhere around a third of the way into the movie. In the original Ghostbusters (1984) this is part of the charm, since at its heart it is a Going into Business movie. In every sequel (and reboot) since then, it’s felt unnecessary and tedious. We don’t need an explanation about what Ghostbusting is (and if we did, there’s a handy song about it). We don’t need to hear once again how no one believes in ghosts and people think our heroes are frauds: the audience knows that ghosts (at least in this universe) are real, and dangerous, and in need of (prompt and cost-effective) elimination. So, kudos to director Gil Kenan for not succumbing to the temptation to tell yet another origin story and allowing an actual ghost to be actually busted in the first few minutes of Frozen Empire. The new film starts strong. After that… well, it’s complicated.

The difficulty in making a successful Ghostbusters movie can be somewhat grasped by looking at the odd selection of previews that came before it during our first viewing. Family-friendly films like Inside Out 2 and then the broad comedy of the latest Despicable Me were immediately followed by the effects-heavy action of Godzilla x Kong and then finally we got a graphic and disturbing preview of the horror film Tarot. And a Ghostbusters film is meant to hit all of these targets: a family-friendly scary horror comedy that’s also an sfx-heavy action film. So what kind of movie is this one going to be, really? How do the filmmakers pick a focus?

Well, in this case: they really didn’t. Frozen Empire is like the rewired Proton Packs from these recent sequels: a lot of new connections that don’t really seem connected, fancy moving parts that make things busy without having a real function, and a tendency to fritz out at exactly the wrong time. Still, though, even a flaky portable nuclear accelerator can be pretty darn cool.

Part of the problem is just too large an ensemble and too much going on. There are several characters, played by talented and funny actors and actresses, who just don’t seem to need to be there. Other characters already could have and do fill their roles. The scenes of Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor clumsily attempting to catch Slimer the green ghost are amusing, but also handily illustrate why a similar subplot in Ghostbusters II with Rick Moranis as Louis Tully were left on the cutting room floor in the name of pacing and story.

Much has been made of how Frozen Empire is inspired by the incredibly popular cartoon series that followed the original film, The Real Ghostbusters. And there’s definitely some of that visible in the story and pacing and creature design. The movie, for better or worse, does sometimes feel like an episode of a cartoon show. However, Frozen Empire to me feels more in tune with the short-lived 1990s Extreme Ghostbusters, a somewhat darker and more ‘mature’ series that explored a lot of the same themes that this movie does: the lingering desire of the OG Ghostbusters to get back in the saddle instead of making way for a new generation, an exploration of the deeper lore of the ghostbusting universe with its twisting pseudohistory and complicated metaphysics, and just a little bit about the various growing pains that come with being an adolescent while also hunting ghosts for profit. The first episode of that series even features a young woman misusing experimental paranormal equipment for personal reasons in a way that puts everyone at risk, which is rather reminiscent of something that happens in Frozen Empire. Of course, the problem for the filmmakers here is that while The Real Ghostbusters was an enormously successful program with a long run that’s fondly remembered today, Extreme Ghostbusters lasted one season and is mostly forgotten. That’s not to say it wasn’t worth watching, just that it didn’t really hit the target the way its predecessor did. The same might be true here.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Official Trailer

So let’s return to the question of what kind of movie Frozen Empire is. Horror-comedy? Family-adventure? Every Ghostbusters film lives in the shadow of the nearly perfect 1984 original, which Roger Ebert described as, “a sly dialogue movie, in which everybody talks to each other like smart graduate students who are in on the joke.” That’s certainly not what this movie is, but those kinds of movies are very difficult to make, especially in a way that also plays well with a mass audience (something Ebert himself makes a point of in his classic review). The original Ghostbusters was serendipity, it was nuclear lightning in a bottle, with everyone involved at the absolute top of their game.

So maybe it’s okay that Frozen Empire doesn’t try to be that. What is it instead? It’s honestly somewhat muddled; it tries to be many things at once. We can try at least to say what the movie is about: you can definitely see bits and pieces of what could have been a coherent theme. This is a movie about family, about finding understanding and your place in the world. If Afterlife was about legacy, Frozen Empire is about carrying that legacy into the present and future. It’s that thread that at least partially connects the film’s subplots, including Kumail Nanjiani’s turn as the last of a long line of mystical spirit-hunters. However, these threads never really all come together well enough in the end to be satisfying, mostly because of all the other things going on. You can see the seeds of a more interesting and more complete film here, but they’re not allowed to blossom into being.

One interesting comment I’ve heard from fans is that Frozen Empire is much “too short,” despite being 10 minutes longer than the original 1984 film. Some of that is undoubtedly due to the runtime bloat that’s affecting almost all movies these days, but I think it’s also because there are so many characters and plot threads and themes and relationships at play that none of them get the time and attention they really need. So, the film feels like it’s too short, while also honestly being a bit too long. It tries too much and delivers too little.

Ghostbusters Frozen Empire 2

None of this is to say the movie isn’t entertaining, because it is. But it’s also rather flawed. If you are a Ghostbusters fan, you’ll be forgiving of these flaws and maybe overlook them completely; because these are your friends, maybe even your family; and it’s nice to just be able to hang out with them again. Things your friends do that seem funny and charming might be annoying or tiresome if you didn’t know them so well and care about them, and if you didn’t feel so comfortable just having them around. If you grew up with the Ghostbusters, or if you discovered them in 2021’s similarly flawed but more heartfelt Afterlife, and you formed connections with them there, you’ll have a lot of fun here, too.

But what if you’re not a “Ghosthead” and you don’t happen to drive a replica Ectomobile around town while wearing a grey jumpsuit? What if you don’t get a lump in your throat when “For Ivan” appears at the end of the film, paying respect to the recently passed director of the first two films? What if you don’t know a Class V Full Roaming Vapor from a Gozerian Terror Dog?

Well, there’s actually still quite a bit to recommend the film, and some things that might make you stay away. McKenna Grace as Phoebe joins Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz as the beating hearts of the Ghostbusters. They both bring a genuine enthusiasm that is both infectious and at least somewhat successful at holding all those not-quite-coherent threads together. That the film works as well as it does is largely because of them. Beyond that, there are some amusing lines, some interesting ideas, some frenetic action to be had. There’s Emily Alyn Lind as a ‘friendly’ ghost who seems to get the most genuine character development of the film despite being dead. There’s a villain who isn’t especially memorable, whose plan seems to hinge on information that really shouldn’t be available, and who selects as its prime minion someone who just happens to be uniquely suited to cause their downfall at a pivotal moment. The fact that all these things just don’t fit together into a satisfying whole is a problem, but maybe not a fatal one. If I’m hard on Frozen Empire, it’s because I do care, I would like to see this series continue and grow back into itself, and yes, I’d like to see Dan Aykroyd be able to make Ghostbusters films for as long as his precious little heart desires. I want my friends to do well. Even if you don’t feel that way yourself, maybe you’re willing to overlook some awkwardness in order to make these characters your new friends while rediscovering some old ones. If so, I think you’ll enjoy Frozen Empire. And maybe that’s enough, really. If we don’t feel like we can join the extended Spengler family ourselves, well, a friendly visit with them can still be nice.

Chewie

I've been a fan of horror and slasher movies for as long as I can remember. I consider the original Halloween to be the best horror movie of all time and my guilty pleasure horror flick would be The Exorcist III. You can find me on Twitter at @406Northlane or TikTok @406Northlane where I'm sure I'll offend you at least once a day.

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Allen Francis
Allen Francis
8 days ago

This sequel just seemed to be unnecessary to me. They focused on nostalgia pandering too much instead of taking the franchise in a new direction. Also, too many characters, I agree, I hate when films do that.

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