Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

by - March 21st, 2024 - Movie Reviews


Busting Still Feels Good in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

I could honestly care less if they ever make another Ghostbusters. Ivan Reitman’s film, released to theaters 40 years ago this summer, was lightning in a bottle. It featured a terrific idea, revolutionary special effects, and a crack trio of comedic geniuses (along with a cadre of sensational supporting actors), all working in glorious synchronicity. It could never be replicated, only recycled, and even the 2016 female-driven reboot — which is pretty good, all things considered — still had to rehash what had been done previously as far as its core narrative was concerned.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) | PHOTO: Sony

If this franchise must continue — and like all successful major Hollywood intellectual property, this seems to be the case, whether audiences want it to or not — here’s hoping more of these endeavors end up like Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire. Where 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife was weighed down by melodramatic excess (bringing back Gozer the Gozerian as a villain and dealing with the loss of the magnificent Harold Ramis), this sequel shockingly remembers what made everyone fall in love with the 1984 hit: it was funny.

There’s more to it than that, of course, but that the filmmakers remember that this is supposed to be a comedy is the biggest asset this fourth entry in the connected series (and the fifth film overall) has working for it. Returning co-writer and producer Jason Reitman has turned over the directorial reins to Gil Kenan, and it’s the best job the filmmaker has done behind the camera since his sparkling 2006 animated debut, Monster House. He lets the talented ensemble of rising stars, veteran character actors, and legendary comedians cut loose, and in the process recaptures at least some of the magic from the Academy Award–winning original.

The other thing Reitman and Kenan get right is that they do not redo anything from Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II and keep the majority of the nostalgia-bait moments to a minimum. Instead, it feels as if they’ve pulled inspiration from a mixture of EC Comics and the 1986–91 Real Ghostbusters animated series. It’s a paranormal investigation into an entirely new villain, in which the primary returning characters — mom Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and Oklahoma science teacher-turned-Ghostbuster Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) — behave like actual human beings and the legacy stuff fits in far more smoothly than in the previous installment.

There are some bumps in the road. Large swaths of exposition require guest performers like Patton Oswalt to randomly step in to explain what’s going on, and as energetic as they are, they still slow things down considerably. The return of William Atherton sadly didn’t work as well as it might have (Walter Peck — now New York’s mayor — is still a jerk, but his animosity toward the Ghostbusters feels slightly half-hearted), and Afterlife returnees Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor are just sort of here, more because they were in the last film and not because they truly need to be.

But there are elements I liked quite a bit. Phoebe, now 15, is stuck in that strange netherworld where teens are not allowed to do many of the adult things that they feel they are capable of and yet are still naive enough to make emotion-driven mistakes that can shatter them, even if they’re not quite the end of the world. The problem for this junior Ghostbuster? Her mistakes, no matter how pure the intentions driving them, could actually lead to cats and dogs living together, and it will require the entire Spengler family to help her deal with the emotional repercussions and get her back into the proper headspace to help save the world from an icy fate.

This subplot also introduces a character portrayed by fellow rising star Emily Alyn Lind. She and Grace spend a substantial amount of screen time together, and it is their blossoming friendship that subtly becomes the enchanting heart beating at the center of the sequel’s frigidly supernatural scenario. They effortlessly play off of one other, and while nothing surprising happens, that didn’t matter much, because they’re so gosh darn good together.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) | PHOTO: Sony

Other standout moments? Dan Aykroyd — who can still say lightning-fast chunks of nonsensical parapsychological dialogue better than anyone anywhere — and Ernie Hudson have a lovely moment in which Ray and Winston discuss their mortality in no uncertain terms. Bill Murray, who’s really only around for a handful of scenes, still manages to come up with a flurry of (likely) off-the-cuff wisecracks that frequently brought a smile to my face. Kumail Nanjiani, as adorable a goofball as I’ve seen in ages, couldn’t help but repeatedly crack me up, and while I wish his character was better fleshed out, I still enjoyed his performance a heck of a lot.

It is the sequel’s consistent insistence on being a comedy that ultimately won me over. Much like with Ghostbusters and Gozer, while the all-powerful Big Bad here — a dual-horned demigod looking to unleash a never-ending ice age — does make an imposing impression, it’s not at the expense of the humor. Silly gags, well-staged action, and rising tensions are allowed to coexist. This makes the characters worth caring about and, while the outcome is never in doubt, there’s still joy to be found in witnessing how these multiple generations of Ghostbusters will save the day.

With Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, busting still makes me feel good. Even after four decades of dialing, when there’s something strange going on in the neighborhood, phoning this team of charismatically ragtag nincompoops is somewhat unexpectedly still a call worth making.

– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle

Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)

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