Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) Review

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)
Director: Gil Kenan
Screenwriters: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman
Starring: Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Carrie Coon, Kumail Nanjiani, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Patton Oswalt, William Atherton, James Acaster

And so the second legacy sequel for the 1984 classic spoof comedy horror hits the big screen. Once again we show that our trade is in bringing a new family event with classic characters and iconography, throwing in a few classic one-liners such as calling someone ‘toast’ (genuinely recorded for the first time in modern parlance in the original film), and getting our proton packs powered up. This time the new Ghostbusters are back in the old firehouse, with the old nemesis of the New York mayor, Walter Peck (William Atherton), trying to shut them down again. Thankfully, there’s a new psychic research centre set up, and through mistruths and deviance, a new evil god is resurrected and unleashed upon the world to bring about a new age of ice. A frozen empire, if you will.

There are positives and negatives, but lots of them are intertwined with one another, so we start with moments that work on their own. The best visual of the film is seemingly taken from The Force Awakens, when everyone collectively held their breath as Kylo Ren stopped a blaster bolt in mid-air with the force. We subvert something seemingly taken for granted in the original. Our version here is seeing a stream is frozen and shattered, and it is a gloriously chilling moment for the ages. For the most part, all the visuals are fairly decent, with our movie’s big bad introduced in a glorious cloud of fog with only the faintest outline and two glowing eyes revealed. That is how you do a first glimpse well.

Then again, these impressive visual moments are to be expected. After all, it’s a Hollywood blockbuster with $100m behind it, so it should be good (not that such a budget has stopped recent Marvel films from turning out sub-par effects, or Godzilla: Minus One showing them up on one tenth of the budget). The budget, along with the general style and tone of the film, continues the previous attempt of Ghostbusters Afterlife, and even the 2016 remake/reboot, as a move away from the original two films. The films are now modern blockbusters with comedic moments, rather than a comedy spoof film with big effects that the 1984 film rooted itself in. As with all films of this type now, they don’t aim to be comedy films, but they must naturally have moments put in. They must have the back and forth on a stupid conversation that goes on too long and is suggested to be funny specifically because of its length and pettiness, not because of the content. They must have something absurd happen to stop an otherwise very tense moment, when everyone looks round at them aghast as we try to get the audience laughing through sheer ham-fisted awkwardness. In Frozen Empire these beats are all there, put into the script because the modern formula says you have to.

With this new trend is a focus on character moments, and it’s McKenna Grace’s Phoebe Spengler who forms the central focus of the narrative’s arc, just like a lot of the previous entry. It’s nothing fundamentally new, using adolescence and questioning sexuality and parental forces and the ‘I’m not a child’ thing which runs at full force throughout. It’s not bad per se, but the storyline is also nothing unusual with anything unique to say. Despite this, McKenna Grace, who was the best part of the previous film, handles every moment well.

She has to, because the best parts of the rest of the film are nothing to do with the main Ghostbusters. Kumail Nanjiani is easily the scene-stealer. When he’s not taking the spotlight it falls, incredibly, to British stand-up comic James Acaster of all people, in his first major Hollywood role, to keep the spirit of the ridiculous and aloof and madness intact. With regards to the other Ghostbusters, Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon are there almost as interchangeable parts simply to serve Phoebe’s arc, Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor serves a grand total of almost zero purpose in the film, disappearing for large swathes of the runtime, doing a few pointless Slimer scenes (because remember the Slimer we have in every film and the entire gag is it slimes people? How funny is that?) and making up the numbers in an already crowded final battle. The original cast of Marshmallow-man mashers are great to see, but it’s only Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd doing very much of note, and they almost feel like different characters now, with almost nothing left of their original selves. Bill Murray still has the deadpan comedic chops to get a giggle, but once again he’s almost there just to please fans for two scenes.

With just a few minor changes this could be any other standard blockbuster, a first film in a franchise. It has no reason to be a Ghostbusters film. That doesn’t make it necessarily bad, just uninteresting. It’s the new Hollywood way of doing things, being big and eye-catching and entertaining but also being soulless. Ironic for a film about ghosts.

Score: 11/24

Rating: 2 out of 5.

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