Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
"Painting by numbers and staying comfortably within the lines might pass time but I wouldn't call it entertainment."

The original Ghostbusters is much beloved, something that often seems surprising on a re-watch. It's effectively a Saturday Night Live movie, and like the good ones has a good car. That it would unleash a franchise that would still be shambling on 40 years later seems incredibly unlikely, but here we are. Trapped in an easily recognised construction that has been reproduced as toys in any number of scales. Held helpless to revisit lore that attempts to make serious and adult sets of nonsense that, like Indiana Jones and Star Wars of the same era, deliberately harks back to earlier media that's been obscured by later construction. What is underneath the streets of Rome, or Coruscant? More of the same, and again and again, until eventually one hits foundations laid by folk like Asimov, Howard, Lovecraft.

Skyfall was a tour of the accumulated weight of the Bond films, and like it, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire seems intent on referencing as much as it can to replace anything challenging with the satisfaction of recognition. In that respect it achieves indirectly one of its few amusing notes: it is this franchise's Spectre. It has a ghost at a feast, if only because Afterlife didn't feature Slimer. It has raided its own library to produce a moment whose jump-scariness is reduced by weight of expectation. It brings in familiar faces from its own and other histories to deliver exposition where the cleverness of its presentation as animated carvings is far in excess of its quality as storytelling.

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Our Spenglers from Afterlife return, and as much as there's anything being said here there's maybe something in found and actual families supporting one another. A friendship across dividing lines could be a meditation on how the apparatus of enforcement, be it proton pack or policing, removes individuals from human interaction, but instead it recalls Beetlejuice in a way that anticipates that film's own forthcoming sequel. If, like me, you thought "Why isn't there more Paul Rudd?" about Afterlife, know that there is more of him here. I was minded of Ideal Home in places, if only because Mexican food played an important role in establishing adjusted relationship dynamics.

Carrie Coon is Callie, trying to make a home in what is sufficiently recognisable as to be available as a Lego set. Operating on what seems to be the same version of heritability as JJ Abrams Star Trek she is operating Ghostbusters with children Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard). There's even what might pass as an acknowledgement of nepotism, though in the context of a teenager acting out it might not be ironic self-regard but someone channelling what they believe is the worst thing a person can say.

Even character names feel out of time. There's a Gary kicking about and Patton Oswalt adds to his multitudinous franchise appearances as a librarian called Hubert. British comedian and panel-show stalwart James Acaster appears as a new gangly science-type, going by Pinfield. That's somewhere between Renfield and Penfold I think. While he's in it much more than his colleague Hugh Dennis was in No Time To Die it's potentially no less jarring to UK audiences.

While Radio 4 and various other places are full of one song to the tune of another, film should rarely be at that loose an end. There's at least one thread that seems untied, the recurring presence of app-hired bicycles seems like it's setting up something more. There are moments where it seems that parts of the script have been cobbled together with find and replace, a line that runs "Are you the [blank] master?" feels less like lazy homage than a filler round in a game of Cards Against Humanity.

The lines between the paranormal and the paramilitary are at least as complicated as any other border. We've had the Ghostbusters, the animated version were 'The Real Ghostbusters', and by extension these would seem 'The Continuity Ghostbusters'. It would seem too much to hope that anything around here would be 'New'. The many callbacks include several to features added to Ecto-1 in Afterlife, and there's a fair few other things that don't seem invention but borrowings from (in universe?) Ghostbusters toys. It may be that with unlicensed nuclear equipment they were anxious to avoid comparison to Doc Brown and his Libyan terrorist employers but that'd be near the only reference they spurned.

William Atherton reappears as Walter Peck, and while the 2016 reboot did something very entertaining with how mad science interacts with the state (and City) it is more concerned with having someone in the crowd make reference to Peck's genitals (or lack thereof) just to ensure you get the joke. Skyline shots of New York suggest that, in addition to a rampaging Lady Liberty, Manhattan lost the World Trade Centre to some calamity. It's amazing then to see that the extent of judicial involvement is the odd bit of confiscation.

Back to the future then, and with a scene after the credits to set up a further sequel it's anyone's guess. There is (spoiler alert) a second facility now, so much like Jurassic Park / World / &c it has grounds for expansion. The first film used Mr Stay-Puft but that's now become a form of product placement. One that struggles to match the presence of other things, including Cheetos and Dunkin' (doughnuts). Those last, obviously, appear with some police. Their later reappearance is one of several places where continuity is perhaps a little challenged, though not as much as by a lost cat or broken pipe. Even the opening sequence feels a little off. It's not a New York Fire Department hook and ladder but a pump that attends a meeting of an adventurers' society.

Gil Kenan directs. He helmed Monster House and City Of Ember before a Poltergeist remake and an origin story for Santa Claus. One of those probably counts as an original idea, but if you knew that Kenan had a computer animated horror comedy as his debut you'd maybe wonder where those skills went here. It's not particularly funny, nor scary, and while my YouTube history shows me that plenty of the effects were practical most of them didn't seem to achieve much. I was reminded of The Avengers when the 'Hell's Kitchen Sewer Dragon' was flying about and I was reminded of more films than I care to think about when there was a big swirly cloud thing and I was reminded of little bits of Ghostbusters lore time and again.

I just didn't care. Jason Reitman's involvement in halfway edgy fare like The Front Runner, Up In The Air or Thank You For Smoking isn't in evidence here. Painting by numbers and staying comfortably within the lines might pass time but I wouldn't call it entertainment. The subtitles of the most recent Ghostbusters films feel more apposite commercially than creatively. Afterlife brought a franchise back, reanimating some of the original's cast. Frozen Empire is doubly resistant to change, cold and exploitative.

Reviewed on: 20 Mar 2024
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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire packshot
When the discovery of an ancient artefact unleashes an evil force, Ghostbusters new and old must join forces to protect their home and save the world from a second ice age.

Director: Gil Kenan

Writer: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman, Ivan Reitman

Starring: Mckenna Grace, Annie Potts, Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, Bill Murray, Finn Wolfhard, Patton Oswalt, Ernie Hudson, Celeste O'Connor, Dan Aykroyf, Kumail Nanjiani

Year: 2024

Runtime: 115 minutes

Country: US, Canada


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