Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

2024, PG-13, 115 min. Directed by Gil Kenan. Starring Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Bill Murray, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Logan Kim, Celeste O'Connor, James Acaster, William Atherton.

REVIEWED By Richard Whittaker, Fri., March 22, 2024

Fire, police, ambulance, Ghostbusters. In the hearts of film fans, the goofy protectors from poltergeists have become New York’s fourth emergency service. The original 1984 Ghostbusters was an ensemble comedy-horror that sometimes struggled to balance each of its co-leads, and Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire struggles even more because its ensemble is so vast. Not only does every surviving ‘buster (Aykroyd, Hudson, and Murphy) and the whole Spengler family from 2021’s series-reviving Ghostbusters: Afterlife return, but so does just about every ancillary character from the first three films, supplemented by cameos from superstar comedian fans.

That includes British comic James Acaster as the team’s new tech, Pinfield. He seems strangely akin to the animated version of the late Ivan Reitman’s character in the 1986 cartoon spinoff, The Real Ghostbusters, which is just one of dozens of in-jokes scattered throughout the script. Unlike the light reset of Afterlife, Frozen Empire doesn’t want to gently introduce newcomers to the decades of continuity and cultural resonance. Instead, the script by director Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman relishes every possible reference, from mini Stay-Puft Marshmallow men to mood slime to Ray Parker Jr.

There’s a surprisingly huge amount of Ghostbusters lore to draw upon, and Kenan and Reitman oddly decide to hew closest to the screwball ensemble antics of the animated show. At the same time, they break new ground by emphasizing the horror in a way that none of the earlier films ever quite has. Its opening has shades of Hellboy, in a flashback to turn-of-the-century NYC where a society of arcane researchers is frozen to death in midsummer in a locked room. Jump forward to the Big Apple of today and the Spengler family – nerdy daughter Phoebe (Grace), gawky son Trevor (Wolfhard) and mother Callie (Coon), along with her beau, Gary (Rudd, having the time of his life) – have decamped from Oklahoma to Manhattan to help clean up this town. Now they have more resources, courtesy of former Ghostbuster turned billionaire Winston Zeddemore (Hudson), which they’ll need when the latest threat to the world. Honestly, the transformation of the Ghostbusters into a wackier version of Hellboy’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense makes a lot of sense, deploying oddball home-crafted sci fi tech against the supernatural in a world where ghosts aren’t just real, but a real pain in the ass. This time around, it’s an icy demon, sealed up in a sphere since time immemorial, that’s planning to put the hurt on the city.

But this latest iteration of the team is also a family, and Frozen Empire is centered around Phoebe feeling rejected from the team, and becoming besotted with Melody (Lind), the new ghost on the block and the franchise’s first real speaking-part spirit. It’s the only part of the film that doesn’t feel crowded or disjointed (honestly, no one would be surprised if there turned out to have been massive rewrites here). Grace captures the confusions of being 15 and out of sorts, and she provides more than enough of an emotional through line to pull the film together, especially when complimented by the eternally charming Rudd. Gary’s attempts to be a new father figure for her are genuinely touching, and between this and the Ant-Man movies Rudd proves he’s the definitive modern action dad.

Ghostbusters: Afterlife is undoubtedly a clunky beast that waddles and wallows – a bit like Ecto-1, the beloved 1959 Cadillac Miller-Meteor ambulance in which the team lurches around NYC that somehow is still on the road. Sure, it’s patched together from a lot of one-liners and small character beats that don’t necessarily connect that well. But there’s a sheer, delightful enthusiasm about Kenan and Reitman’s desperate attempts to give everyone something to do, even if it’s just Wolfhard yearning for the keys to the car and getting up to shenanigans with the returning Slimer in one of many B-plots. Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt can barely contain their fanboy excitement. As for the returning players, Aykroyd in particular seems to relish being back as the avuncular Doctor Ray, still talking about the apocalypse with academic glee, while Rudd matches him as the former volcanologist who now has the coolest job in the world. But even if Bill Murray only turns up for a pro forma cameo, it’s easy to see the twinkle in his eye as he brings back Venkman’s sadistic streak – all in the name of science and saving the world, of course. So, yes, even after all these years, ‘busting will still make you feel good.

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READ MORE
More Gil Kenan Films
Poltergeist
They're here … again. But why?

William Goss, May 29, 2015

City of Ember
Despite some inventive production design and a comically villainous turn from Bill Murray, this film based on a young-adult novel never really picks up much steam.

Marc Savlov, Oct. 10, 2008

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Gil Kenan, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, Bill Murray, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Logan Kim, Celeste O'Connor, James Acaster, William Atherton

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