Thursday, March 21, 2024


 by Rob DiCristino

Mass hysteria.

I have about as much nostalgia for 1984’s Ghostbusters as any other American cinephile over the age of thirty-five. Merging the snobs-versus-slobs ethos of writer Harold Ramis’ Caddyshack and Animal House with Dan Aykroyd’s interest in — some might argue obsession with — the paranormal, Ivan Reitman’s original film is a deft and indelible blend of comedy and science fiction that few have replicated in the years since its release (Men in Black almost certainly being its only worthy successor). It’s almost funny to think that, at its core, Ghostbusters is a Reaganesque celebration of working-class ingenuity that finds entrepreneurs overcoming the oppressive forces of government regulation — an EPA bureaucrat who wonders if perhaps an unlicensed nuclear containment unit shouldn’t operate in Tribeca — to build a successful extermination business. We forget that because, in the end, none of tech, mythology, or politics really matter. The ghosts are just window dressing. What makes Ghostbusters sing are the charming characters and the chemistry they share.
But while lightning rarely strikes twice (just ask 1989’s tepid Ghostbusters II), franchise rights are forever. Our jumpsuited heroes have been animated, video-gamed, cosplayed, and rebooted into an IP juggernaut that has now helped middle-aged men prolong their adolescence into a fifth decade. While Paul Feig’s all-female reboot did its best to recreate the original’s energy with new characters, it was 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife that gave audiences the guileless parade of fanservice they were apparently seeking all along. Following Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, and Mckenna Grace as descendents of Ramis’ Egon Spengler (and Paul Rudd as the “That Just Happened!” guy), Afterlife reminded Ghostbusters fans that their childhoods were great, their worlds were once far less complicated, and any attempt to interrogate the self-involved juvenility of those warm and fuzzy memories — like, say, Rian Johnson’s masterful Star Wars: The Last Jedi — should be immediately disregarded as a betrayal of the unbridled affection we’re all supposed to feel for our pop cultural heritage.

Anyway, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is more of that bullshit. The Spenglers have taken over the old firehouse and operate as one branch of Winston Zeddemore’s (Ernie Hudson) larger Ghostbusting empire. Though inarguably the brains of the operation, fifteen-year-old Phoebe (Grace) is relegated to the bench after a destructive Midtown ghost chase draws the ire of Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton), who has spent the last forty years looking for an excuse to shut the ‘busters down. Lonely and stewing, Phoebe strikes up an unlikely companionship with Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a teenaged specter also feeling left out by her ghostly peers. Meanwhile, Ray Stantz (Aykroyd) gains possession of an artifact holding the spirit of an ancient demon. He hands it over to Winston’s engineers (James Acaster as Pinfield and, returning from Afterlife, Celeste O’Connor as Lucky), who discover that it can manipulate other ghosts to do its bidding. When Phoebe inadvertently sets it free, the Ghostbusters must assemble to save New York. Again.
Overstuffed and overplotted in that signature Sony way — their opening logo’s “ping” is more or less a death knell these days — Frozen Empire is a toothless tread through the memberberries with occasional stops for convoluted exposition. Though officially credited to director Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, the screenplay has an inertness that suggests it’s been smoothed over by a team of producers, the same witless approach to narrative that sank Jurassic Park: Dominion and Men in Black: International. Events happen in an order that suggests a relationship between them, but the growth and change that materialize at the two-hour mark are never actually earned or informed by those events. To wit: Paul Rudd’s Gary, Phoebe’s former teacher, struggles to adjust to his new role as her stepdad. Phoebe is largely indifferent to Gary — she’s so busy with the plot that she’s not even present for the emotional soliloquy he delivers to her bedroom door — but in the end, she calls him “dad” because the movie’s about to be over and the “dad plot” Post-It was still hanging on the writer’s room wall.

Frozen Empire is made up entirely of disconnected threads like these, but they’re crowded together so tightly and make so much noise that general audiences will believe they’ve actually watched a story play out in front of them. There is some interesting story potential here, like the Phoebe/Melody romance that suggests a more complicated perspective on the afterlife than previous Ghostbusters adventures would have us believe. Ray — here to throw ghost lore at us with a speed and ferocity that must have had Dan Aykroyd creaming his pants — admits he’s always wanted to know what it’s like to be a ghost, and a very interesting ninety-minute comedy could have come from their exploration of dimensions unknown. Then there’s Kumail Nanjiani’s Nadeem, the aimless manchild who pawns the demon artifact over to Ray in the first place. His ultimate destiny as a pyromancer could have made for a decent Ghostbusters adventure on its own, but some late-game chemistry from Phoebe entirely negates his purpose in Frozen Empire.
Bill Murray and Annie Potts show up for glorified cameos, as do Afterlife’s Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, and Logan Kim, the latter returning as the fan-favorite character, “Podcast” (I’m not kidding. That’s his fucking name). Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe is the only character with anything real to do in the movie, and the young actor acquits herself with about as much integrity and sincerity as possible under these conditions. Paul Rudd is so beyond embarrassing himself that it’s impossible to hold any of his tomfoolery against him, but between these and the Ant-Man films, it’s hard not to wonder if his talents might be better spent on endeavors that don’t permit this much coasting. Other than that, Frozen Empire has little to offer beyond a return to the New York Public Library (and its shushing ghost), a walk through an underground Ghostbusting lab that, again, could have made for its own interesting movie, and endless nostalgic reminders of Ghostbusters gone by. This, of course, begs the question: If you love Ghostbusters so much, why not just watch Ghostbusters?

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in theaters Friday, March 22nd.


  1. Listen, i kinda tolerated Afterlife, even bought the 4k for 10$, but it had all of what annoys me in this wave of legacy-sequels we've been getting for a few years. I'm not sure i can do it again with Ghostbusters, none of what you wrote surprise me and i'm in no rush to see this one.

    The first photo came out from the Beetlejuice 2 shoot and i'm starting to brace myself for all the callbacks and references to the original movie. At least the new Alien movie look like an actual movie for once

  2. Dude...i LOVE your review style. You do this wonderful, thought out break down of the past and then throw a " more of that bullshit" needle drop. LOL.

    Thanks for the review....Ghostbusters is really such a one of a kind experience that no matter how hard they try, they cant even come close to something kinda sorta ok in its shadow. I LOATHED the Egon premise from the last one...not because they dug up an actual cgi corpse but because they felt the need to lean into the same ugly trope of "our heroes grow up to be broken and alone"*. The rest of the movie was meh.

    {queue Goldbloom} "your studios were so preoccupied with whether or not they could puke out more IP based movies, they didnt stop to think or care if they should".

    Peace .n. 65', 300lb Twinkies


    (*Seriously...Hollywood can we be done with that trope??? Logan, Egon, Indy, etc? There are OTHER ways to provide emotional resonance and redemption without making our heroes broken loners who've been abandoned by all they love in their twilight years (note: Batman gets a pass when they inevitably do a live version of The Dark Knight Returns cuz Frank Miller wrote it so brilliantly decades ago)).

    1. The wisdom and wit of Dr. Ian Malcolm lives on. God, I love Jurrasic Park.