Wed, April 24, 2024

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire: Are We Really Doing This?

Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters is the latest film to get both the reboot and franchise treatment in Hollywood, with its newest installment, Frozen Empire, opening this past week. The 1984 fantasy comedy is a classic in American blockbuster and the new film is another in a series of these nostalgia-based re-vamps (see the never-ending Star Wars and Jurassic World films), begging the question, why can’t we leave these film properties alone?

Frozen Empire follows Afterlife (released in 2021), and retains the cast from that film; Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, as well as the three living original busters. It introduces another slew of secondary characters played by Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswald.

The film opens in 1904, where a group of firefighters examine a club room that has been frozen on the inside (talk about a cold open!). They find a phonograph playing mysterious ramblings – an unknown language – and a woman grasping a mysterious orb. In the present, the Spengler family (and Gary Grooberson) continue their usual busting, to the typical ire of Walter Peck (reprised by William Atherton), now the mayor of New York City. He threatens to shut down their operation over the destruction of the city’s property. The youngest Spengler,15-year-old Phoebe (Grace), is crestfallen over her family’s admonishment about capturing ghosts at so young an age.  She confides in a ghost that she discovers and befriends, a 16-year-old girl named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) who died in a fire.

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Meanwhile, Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) is the host of a podcast at his occult bookstore, where a young man named Nadeem (Nanjiani) sells a hieroglyphic orb endowed to him by his late grandmother. When conducting a P.K.E. meter test, they discover bountiful spiritual activity nestled within it. A trip to the public library leads archivist Dr. Hubert Wartzki (Oswald) to reveal that the orb contained the spirit of  Garraka, a demonic god that once tried to freeze the world and, if released, would fulfill his desire. The only force that could contend with Garraka is the most recent owner of his prison, which would be the ne’er-do-well Nadeem.

It is revealed that Melody is a mole for Garraka, sent to control the mind of Phoebe and enable his release. Nadeem assumes the historically dictated role as “fire master,” capable of moving the element, as the Ghostbusters new and old, all together again, set out to defeat Garraka and save the world.

Apart from the task of fulfilling franchise duties, it is unclear why this film exists. It has a handful of off-the-wall jokes that are somewhat recognizant of the original films, but they are diluted by the uninteresting melodrama that permeates pockets of the story. There is a plot point about Gary, Paul Rudd’s character, wanting Phoebe to accept him as a father figure that is completed but scarcely introduced. The movie is also incredibly predictable, and the ending can be forecasted by a sharp-eyed viewer well before the ending of the second act.

The timing of the movie is downright irritating, as there is a lot happening with this motley crew of characters that feels sometimes forced, sometimes ignored, and often unnatural. It brings back the cast of the original film, but hardly does anything meaningful with them besides showing them on the screen for the final fight. There is a (feeble and tired) storyline with Ernie Hudson’s Winston encouraging Ray to “slow down” and enjoy his golden years, to which he replies, “This is how I want to spend them.”

Seeing Hudson on the screen is a delight. Bill Murray’s deadpan works for the dozen or so lines he is given in the film, but Aykroyd’s performance felt phoned in and forced, which is completely excusable. These men should not have to continue these characters into the 21st century. It is a pity that this is one of the few times where audiences would get to see Ernie Hudson or Dan Ackroyd on a screen in 2024, together or separately.

What the movie especially lacks is the charm of the original, which felt like a balance of adventure and parody of adventure films of the 1980’s. In this case, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire becomes another big-budget science fiction film with a barrage of movement, futile attempt at grounding in drama, and blurry CGI that takes itself seriously because it is playing to a fanbase; one that may see the film but won’t remember much about it. The movie is dedicated to Ivan Reitman, who died in 2022, but hardly feels like a tribute apart from being a film with the Ghostbusters name attached.

Fans of the franchise will, of course, contest these views, but Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire proves that not all our beloved film stories need to be stretched beyond their precedent.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a Columbia Pictures film distributed by Sony Pictures Releasing and is now playing in theaters nationwide. It can be seen in Augusta at the Regal Exchange & IMAX and Riverwatch 12.

Dylan James graduated from the Savannah College of Art & Design with a BFA in Dramatic Writing. He has studied both the ‘show’ and ‘business’ aspects of show business since childhood, and writes through sociological analysis, seeking relevance in the art and commerce for the moment.

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