Saturday, March 30, 2024

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. A Review (Review #1803)



One of the great mysteries of film, for me at least, is the continued love if not obsession for Ghostbusters among a group of devotees. Don't misunderstand me: I think well of the first Ghostbusters. It was one of the first films I saw when theaters reopened post-COVID. Oddly, my only takeaway from seeing Ghostbusters that time was how surprised I was over how long the film was. However, I do not understand why for some, Ghostbusters is something to adore if not worship. Men in their forties and fifties insisting on more adventures with our spectral hunters to where we get an entire franchise is something that puzzles me. The first film was fine, but I never saw a need for more. 

Nevertheless, Ghostbusters has spun now three more films and two cartoon series. I do not remember seeing Ghostbusters II. I detested the 2016 reboot. I thought Ghostbusters: Afterlife was serviceable if not particularly good. Now we get Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Will this be a triumphant return to a beloved franchise or an abomination that hopefully kills off this franchise? 

The Spengler family: matriarch Callie (Carrie Coon), now-adult Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and fifteen-year-old girl genius Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) have left Oklahoma and now live at the firehouse where Callie's father, the late Egon Spengler, had the Ghostbusters headquarters. High school teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is also there, though his status among the Spenglers is unclear. The firehouse, however, is not just an old building. It is the former headquarters of the Explorers Club, where in 1904 the members were frozen in fear. Now, a century-plus later, the new Ghostbusters meet challenges old and new. The old is the cantankerous Mayor, Walter Peck (William Atherton), who still hates our spectral fighters. Their newest escapade results in destruction and a forced grounding of Phoebe, which she openly hates and has contempt for.

The only bright spot for our surly teen genius is a growing friendship with Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who just happens to be a ghost. The original Ghostbusters, meanwhile, are doing their own things. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs a supernatural shop and hosts a seance-type podcast produced by Podcast (Logan Kim), who is yet another Oklahoma exile. Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) is still bankrolling the Ghostbusters with a new holding center for the various ghosts previously captured. The paranormal center is run by Dr. Pinfield (James Acaster) where Trevor's Oklahoma love interest Lucky (Celeste O'Connor) is also working there. Stantz comes across a mysterious orb brought to him by Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), who is interested only in the quick cash his late grandmother's trinkets can bring him.

We find eventually that the orb contains the powerful demon Garraka, who will freeze the world but needs a ghost army to conquer the world. To do so, he uses Melody to con Phoebe into separating her spirit from her body so as to control a human. Nadeem finds he is a Fire Master, able to combat Garraka, even if he is unaware of anything about being a Fire Master. Will old and new Ghostbusters be able to join forces to defeat Garraka and save the world?

Watching Frozen Empire, I cannot help but think that screenwriters Jason Reitman and director Gil Kenan decided that fans of the old series and fans of the new series needed to have something for them. As such, they gave each of them their own movie and sliced both of them into one. It is absolutely astonishing that Frozen Empire felt that we needed thirteen characters, some with extremely tenuous connections to anything. 

Lucky, Podcast, Trevor, Pinfield and Patton Oswalt's Dr. Hubert Wartzki could have been eliminated without any interruptions to the plot. Oswalt was in exactly one scene, which served as infodump and who was not heard from again after he gave the needed information. Worse, the story he told could have been told by Stanz or even in an opening precredit sequence. Frozen Empire is so stuffed with figures that it cannot hold. 

There was no need or reason to have Lucky or Podcast at all in the film as both did nothing to justify their existence. You could have dropped Podcast and given his tasks to Trevor. You could have done likewise with Lucky and given her tasks to Phoebe. It would have allowed them to do more than what especially Trevor did. His whole arc was to fight Slimer, a subplot that could have easily been eliminated. Slimer had to be there because he is a classic Ghostbusters fan favorite, but other than being one more "memberberry", Slimer was irrelevant. 

Trevor, sadly, was equally irrelevant to Frozen Empire. For long stretches, he disappeared from the film, and it says everything about his character that his absence could go unnoticed and not affect anything in the film. Same goes for Lucky, for Podcast, and worse, for the original Ghostbusters cast. Aykroyd and especially Bill Murray also could have been gone. Murray pops in for a quick scene with Nanjiani and then at the climactic battle, not even bothering to take anything other than his paycheck. 

There is a schizophrenic manner to Frozen Empire, as if Reitman and Kenan felt that the mere appearance of Murray's Peter Venkman would be enough to make people cheer. Maybe it did, but why have him there if you won't do anything with him? What you have is, again, two movies jumbled into one, which ultimately short-changed everyone.

It does not help that the character Frozen Empire focuses on is thoroughly unlikeable. Grace's Phoebe starts off as a bratty bitch: obnoxious, belligerent, openly disrespectful and smug. If all that was not bad enough already, Phoebe makes a cacophony of dumb decisions for someone we are repeatedly told by others (and by Phoebe herself) that Phoebe is the brightest person around. The nadir of the "Phoebe is incredibly stupid for someone incredibly bright" comes when she willingly separates her spirit from her body for potential ghost lesbian sex.

As a side note, I never thought to write the phrase "potential ghost lesbian sex", but Frozen Empire hedges its bets on whether or not Phoebe and Melody were or wanted to be more than friends. 

It is never established whether the fifteen-year-old Phoebe and the forever sixteen-year-old Melody were in love, in lust or just friends. Was this relationship going Ghost or going Casper? Given that the body/mind separation would last only two minutes, what on earth did Phoebe think she could accomplish with Melody in such a brief amount of time.

Frozen Empire also attempts to throw in some epic backstory about the Fire Masters, but there was no buildup to it. Instead, it is just thrown in there. Apart from a scene between Aykroyd and Hudson where they talk about needing to move on, there are no performances. Paul Rudd was relying too much on his Paul Rudd persona, affable and slightly diffident. Coon's Callie did what she could but there was no character there. Nanjiani equally did what he could to make this silly character anything worth noting, but all the gags involving Nadeem were obvious. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a big ball of nothing. I know many people, especially Ghostbusters fans, absolutely love the film. That is their right, and no number of appeals to logic will dissuade them from the love they see things through. Overstuffed, rambling and split between giving old fans things to squee over and trying to move things forward, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire left me thoroughly cold.  

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