Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Review | I Definitely Ain’t Afraid of These Ghosts

by Andrew Parker

The weakest film in a disjointed, but usually likeable franchise by a wide margin, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a cynical, shallow, hopeless bit of filmmaking that doesn’t care about having any real sense of purpose. The best ideas to be found in director Gil Kenan and co-writer Jason Reitman’s shockingly adrift sequel aren’t a natural fit for the franchise, and everything that’s supposed to be a classic nod to previous glories is dreadfully unfunny, unexciting, and delivered with all the conviction of a marathon runner talked into delivering a package across town seconds after their primary race has already been run. There are a few bright spots to be found in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, but they can’t make up for the fact that everything else here is pointless and dire.

Things don’t start off terribly for Kenan and company, with a sufficiently spooky set up of this film’s ghostly villain – an ancient deity trapped inside a brass ball that can use the power of fear to send everything and everyone into a deep freeze – followed by a fun action sequence where the new band of Ghostbusters zip around the streets of New York City, where they have relocated from Oklahoma and into the iconic firehouse offices after the end of the previous film. It’s a promising and amusing opening couple of scenes, but not long after that, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire plummets off a cliff.

In a wise move, Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember, the Poltergeist remake) and Reitman (who only serves as co-writer and producer this time out) centre the story primarily around the late Egon Spengler’s teenage granddaughter, Phoebe, played once again by Mckenna Grace, the biggest standout character from Ghostbusters: Afterlife. After a ghost bust goes awry and draws scrutiny from one of the Ghostbuster’s biggest critics, her family – mother Callie (Carrie Coon), older brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and kinda-sorta-stepfather-figure Gary (Paul Rudd) – are forced to put Phoebe on the sidelines while they do all the work. In her now abundant spare time, Phoebe strikes up an unlikely friendship and crush on a fellow teenage ghost (Emily Alyn Lind).

Now this story is an interesting and progressive one, even if it does seem oddly ripped straight out of the 1995 updating of Casper in terms of tone and approach. It makes great use of the same comedic and dramatic talents that made Mckenna such a standout in Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Amid the previous sequel’s more fun levels of nostalgia baiting was a great story about a family trying to keep its head above water, and at the centre of it was the heart and empathy Grace’s performance provided. Here, Grace has a lot more heavy lifting to do, and while she’s more than up to the task – and deserves much, much better than the fourth billing she gets here – Phoebe’s storyline is divorced from all of the other schlocky ghostbuster-ly things going on until everything has to eventually (and quite obviously) link up. And when do finally things link up, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire treats this character rather callously and cruelly without doing much to redeem its mean streak by the time things wrap up.

As a story of a young woman finding a place and knowing her worth in a world that undervalues her, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is okay. Could be better, could be worse. As a Ghostbusters movie, this is worse than anything that has come before it: a befuddled, chaotic, and sometimes downright incoherent assortment of only loosely connected scenes and gags crashing into each other and desperately hoping for laughs and chills. You know a movie is drowning in flop sweat when it forces one of its characters to laugh at one of the film’s own lame jokes.

Out of the gate, it’s almost impossible to keep track of what sort of timeline Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is working with. At one point, a character mentions  that it has been two years since the events of the previous film, but some of the characters act like it has been only a matter of days or weeks since everything transpired in Oklahoma. At some points, it feels like these new Ghostbusters have fully established themselves in New York City, while at others they bumble around like stunted tourists that are utterly clueless as to where they find themselves after a couple of years of being there. There’s absolutely zero tangible bridge between Afterlife and Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire beyond bringing the characters back, and the film just hopes no one asks any questions about what the heck has transpired in the interim, or even during the film itself, as some plot developments are bafflingly ditched only moments after being introduced. To put this all more succinctly, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire has all the trappings of a major blockbuster that has been willed into existence without anything close to a useable script.

An even worse issue stems from the fact that Reitman and Kenan want to have things both ways with Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire in terms of maintaining the nostalgia rush audiences experienced with Afterlife and continuing the story of the new characters by adding even more onto their collective plates. Coon, Rudd, and particularly Wolfhard are given precisely nothing to do of consequence here, save for a few key moments where they have to interject themselves into whatever Grace has going on in her storyline. The other returning kids from Afterlife that aren’t members of the Spengler family – Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim) – are illogically in New York, serving internships with elder Ghostbusters Winston (Ernie Hudson) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), respectively. 

Hudson is given more to do, now this his character is somehow a billionaire philanthropist who’s essentially turning the Ghostbusters into the MCU, and Aykroyd is one of the few people in this debacle showing some genuine love for being there and continuing the franchise. Annie Potts shows up to once again play receptionist Janine for a few scenes that go absolutely nowhere special outside of some exposition, and Bill Murray waltzes and trolls his way through a couple of scenes doing whatever the heck he wants because he knows no one will stop and tell him what to do as long as he shows up to set. This says nothing about the arrival of the usually reliable Kumail Nanjiani, who plays a lazy, irresponsible man-child around whom the entire plot revolves around, and who seems completely at sea as to how this material is supposed to be played. Everyone on screen seems to have a different idea as to what movie they are making, and there is no unifying memo to bring them all together in a meaningful way. (A special mention, however, has to go to Patton Oswalt, who steals the entire movie with a single, genuinely funny sequence as a dead languages expert, emerging as the only person other than Aykroyd who seems to understand these movies are supposed to be fun.)

There are plenty of new gadgets (and even ANOTHER new character, played by British comedian James Acaster, to explain all of them like Q does for James Bond) and ghouls, but to no great end. The set pieces look nice, and Kenan continues to show that he has the capacity to deliver cool visuals, but he’s not good at storytelling, especially on projects that require tremendous amounts of mythology, nostalgia baiting, and world building. Nothing here is allowed to breathe and take hold, but there’s so much happening at once – almost none of it interesting – that everything is as paradoxically underdeveloped as it is overstuffed. Whenever Grace isn’t on screen, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire moves along about as efficiently as a ten ton hearse that’s missing some gears and a couple of wheels.

Overall, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire suffers from the same delusions of becoming “the next behemoth cinematic empire” as many other films on this same level. It’s so rigorously focused on keeping all of its old and new characters under the same umbrella that it forgets to give all of these personalities a story worthy of their talents. It’s the kind of dubious, cash grabbing project that thinks simply giving big name performers scenes and lines is enough to make people think they’re watching something epic. That’s about the last word I would use to describe Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is now playing in theatres everywhere.

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