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  • Writer's pictureSaxon Whitehead

'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire': A Fun, Overstuffed Sequel

The legacy of the Ghostbusters franchise is more complicated than it probably should be, as there is a weird sense of prestige that die-hard fans surround it with. There is no denying that the original film is beloved, but just about every follow-up to it has seemed to lose the plot a little. Ghostbusters II manages to stay fairly close to the original's combination of comedy and sci-fi, but it also caused the series to lay dormant for decades due to its mixed reception. Perhaps that is why any attempt to revive the franchise has struggled, as it seems most filmmakers can't quite strike the balance that the original film does. The controversial 2016 reboot leaned hard into the goofy, comedic side of the franchise, while 2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife is more serious, and leans more into the sci-fi and fantasy elements of the series. It is as if the franchise has tried to course correct as aggressively as they can with both of these films, and loses sight of what made the original film work as well as it did. Granted, the original Ghostbusters was able to pull off its tone in a way that seems difficult to fully replicate, but you would think it wouldn't be that difficult to make a decent sequel to it.

This brings us to the latest film in the franchise, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. I wasn't a big fan of Afterlife, and since this is a direct continuation of this, my expectations were fairly low for this one. It didn't help that the trailers were pretty bad, with the first one in particular having me think the film was going to be Ghostbusters meets The Day After Tomorrow. Thankfully, this is not what we get with Frozen Empire, and instead, we get something that comes closer to finding the right balance between comedy and sci-fi than the previous two films did. It doesn't fully recapture the lightning-in-a-bottle feel of the original, but it at least remembers that these movies are supposed to be fun, which is more than I can say for Afterlife. It definitely has its issues, and still has me skeptical on any possible future installments in the franchise, but it is a goofy, entertaining blockbuster that I enjoyed far more than I was expecting to.

Picking up three years after the events of Afterlife, the film returns the franchise to New York City. The Ghostbusters have been revived thanks to Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and a new team consisting of Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), her children Phoebe and Trevor (Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard, respectively), and her boyfriend, Gary (Paul Rudd). Meanwhile, Ray is sold a mysterious brass orb which appears to hold an evil, powerful force that could potentially cause a second ice age. As the force grows stronger, the new Ghostbusters must join together with the original ones to save the world.

The film flows much better than I thought it would, as the promotional materials made the story seem messy and I was worried that the tone was going to be similar to Afterlife. While the former is somewhat true, the tone definitely has some much needed levity to it that helps it significantly. There is a scatterbrained quality to the storytelling, but that is mainly because the film has to balance characters both new and old, and tries to expand on them and the franchise as a whole. In other words, there is a lot the film is juggling, and it feels like they could have streamlined it a little. Some plot elements feel a bit tacked on, but overall, the storytelling comes together fairly well. Co-writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman definitely blend comedy and sci-fi better this time around, even if some of the jokes feel a bit stale. It isn't necessarily a "good" script, but it is an improvement over the last film, and comes together better than it should.

Part of why this film might have worked better for me compared to Afterlife could be due to Gil Kenan being in the director's chair instead of Jason Reitman. Reitman is a decent director, and I can understand him wanting to take the reins of the franchise considering that his father, the late Ivan Reitman, helmed the first two Ghostbusters movies. However, Kenan seems to be a better fit for the material, at least when it comes to the genre elements of it. The film's comedy might be iffy, but the supernatural aspects work rather well. Kenan has experience with horror and ghost movies, and I think this is a huge advantage to him and the film in general. It helps that he remembers to make the film fun, as the film manages to stay enjoyable despite its flaws. I also appreciated that the film brings back puppets for some of the ghosts, as opposed to making all of them CGI. It recalls the charm of the original film without feeling pandering, and it helps the ghosts be more effective in the process. The film also moves along at a decent clip, and once it gets to the central conflict, it really takes off. If they do make more Ghostbusters movies, I do hope that Kenan returns to direct, as the moments he finds his footing with Frozen Empire show that he has good ideas on where to take the franchise, and he is capable of handling it fairly well.

The inclusion of some of the original Ghostbusters is certainly a big draw here, but the film uses them sparingly. This might be for the best, as it keeps them from overshadowing the newer characters of the franchise, and keeps the film from feeling too reliant on nostalgia. Sure, there are a handful of callbacks, but it doesn't draw from that well all that much. It is nice to see some familiar faces in the mix, with Ernie Hudson and Dan Aykroyd doing some solid work here. Hudson gives the film a small dose of gravitas, and Aykroyd taps into the distinct energy that he brought to Ray Stantz in the original films. I also liked William Atherton's reprisal of Walter Peck, an adversary of the Ghostbusters, and he plays the "guy you love to hate" role so well. Of course, Annie Potts and Bill Murray are fun to watch, but are sidelined for much of the film. They are both kind of doing their usual schtick with their respective characters, but they are both such reliable presences that it works out fine.

As for the newer additions to the cast, I am once again puzzled that the film would bring on someone as talented as Carrie Coon and give her such a thankless role. Granted, this practice is nothing new in Hollywood, but still. She makes the best of what she is given, but the role is so thinly written that she kind of fades into the background. Afterlife has a similar problem with her character, and it is so disappointing to see someone of her caliber be wasted the way these films have done. I was surprised that Paul Rudd was minimized as much as he was this time around, as he had a slightly more substantial role in the last film. The little bits we get of him are fine, and mainly use his charm to elevate some of the film's weaker jokes, but it is still a bit shocking that he isn't in all that much of the film. Mckenna Grace is arguably given the most to work with out of the main cast, and does well with it. Her plotline is a bit questionable, but her performance is so good that it makes up for it. I also appreciated the newcomers to the franchise, specifically Kumail Nanjiani as Nadeem, the man who sells Ray the orb that establishes the film's main conflict, and James Acaster as Lars, a no-nonsense paranormal scientist who works with the Ghostbusters. They are both quite funny, and were easily two of my favorite performances of the whole film.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire doesn't completely restore my faith in the future of the franchise, but it at least makes me feel cautiously optimistic for it. The film suffers from being a bit scattered and perhaps has a little too much going on with it (both narratively and with the amount of characters it has). But I can't deny that I had fun watching it, and it certainly exceeded my (admittedly low) expectations. For a spring blockbuster, it isn't half-bad, and it is definitely an improvement over Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Frozen Empire may not fully crack the code on making a Ghostbusters sequel, but it is at least fun and entertaining, and acts as a step in the right direction for the franchise.

Rating: 3/5

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