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Frozen Empire

Director – Gil Kenan – 2023 – US – Cert. 12a – 115m


Back in New York, running the family Ghostbusters business out of the old fire station, the Spenglers must thwart an evil entity who possesses the power to freeze things – out in UK cinemas on Friday, March 22nd

This sequel to Ghostbusters Afterlife (Jason Reitman, 2021), written by the same three-man writing team of father and son Ivan and Jason Reitman and Ghostbusters geek Gil Kenan, picks up and runs with some of the strengths of its predecessor even as it dispenses with others. One thing it dumps is the previous entry’s completely out-there originality; instead, it follows the time-honoured principle of Hollywood movie sequels: go out and make the first movie again.

It’s basically a rehash of the original Ghostbusters (Ivan Reitman, 1984) with the younger generation of Spenglers standing in for the old, and with Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd), Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts) and Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) from the original helping the newer characters out. There is not, perhaps, as much of Bill Murray as one would like, and his heart doesn’t seem to be in it. Otherwise, though, fans of the franchise will probably be happy.

The previous movie pushed the boat out with its isolated Oklahoma small town setting, and got a lot of mileage out of that; this one takes the franchise back to familiar New York territory, as telegraphed at that earlier film’s close. The previous movie had the Spengler siblings discovering about the grandfather they never knew, Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), one of the original Ghostbusters, along with all his ghosthunting kit, including iconic station wagon Ecto-1 aka the Ectomobile. But you can only take that journey once – once grandfather has been discovered, he’s been discovered. The previous movie had lots of ghosts, including a big villain who appeared for a confrontation with our heroes at the end, in which they had to banish him to somewhere outside of our world to prevent him from wreaking havoc. The latter is standard Ghostbusters fare; everyone loves it, and sure enough, it’s back again for Frozen Empire.

The previous movie also had single parent mum Callie (Carrie Coon) and her teenage kids, siblings Trevor, 15 (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe, 12 (McKenna Grace), and gave all of them quite a bit to do, throwing in Paul Rudd as Phoebe’s science teacher Grooberson, who becomes her mum’s love interest. The new film is set three years later, and all four characters are back as a Ghostbusters family.

This time around, however, the weight of the piece is placed firmly on Phoebe / McKenna Grace, now 15, at the expense of the others. Grace was outstanding in the earlier film and is just as good here, so one can understand that choice; however Coon also impressed, yet is largely sidelined here. The latter is given one wonderful moment when she tells Trevor, now 18, that he’s old enough to handle a tough situation on his own, which allows the script and the movie to develop ghostly complications.

Veteran performers Dan Ackroyd and Annie Potts are inevitably funny, however Bill Murray wanders around as if in a daze in the few scenes in which he appears, nice though it is to see him here. Podcast (Logan Kim), returning from the previous film, makes for a striking double act with Ackroyd, as makers of a podcast in which they decide whether artefacts brought to them have any ghostly value or not – and, if not, they get unceremoniously crushed by the head of Podcast’s massive hammer.

One suspects that has more to do with comic actors doing what they do than with directorial input. Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani, writer and star of hilarious indie The Big Sick, Michael Showalter, 2017), is a slacker who, to get by, is selling off his late occultist grandma’s possessions, among them a hand-sized sphere that is actually the prison of the evil being who will threaten the world in the final reel. Nadeem will eventually make the unlikely transition to become the Firemaster, an appropriate adversary to pit alongside the Ghostbusters against a demon who freezes things. You can sense that the Nadeem character is supposed to be funny, but much of the time, he’s just irritating. Nanjali is a highly gifted comic, so one presumes more directorial input was needed. When Nadeem finally gets it together as the Firemaster, there’s something almost heart-warming about him, but that never really compensates for the misfiring humour.

The monsters, who include the diminutive, Stay Puft Marshmallow Men and the ever-popular Slimer, are well up to franchise par both as characters and as regards the peerless effects work used to realise them. The demon who our heroes must confront at the end is set up in the 1903 opening scene when the good gentlemen of the Manhattan Adventurers Society are discovered frozen to death in their smoking room. He has the ability to freeze everything around him, including positronic rays, which renders the Ghostbusters’ regular weaponry useless against him. He also does a nice line in retrieving his missing horns from Nadeem’s grandma’s closeted museum of occult artefacts and screwing them back into the sides of his head.

Although never more than a distant bogeyman in terms of character engagement, as is expected for final reel Ghostbusters’ occult adversaries, he’s nicely handled by the production in terms of visual spectacle and conflict, causing narrow, spiky icicles to sprout out of the ground all over the place.

A second plot running in parallel to the climactic monster one has New York’s Ghostbusters-hating mayor (William Atherton, the “thanks to dickless here” mayor’s aide in the 1984 film) ground the underage Phoebe following all the mayhem caused by an opening Ecto-1 pursuit of the Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon. Left at home while the other three go off Ghostbusting, she ventures out to the chess tables in Central Park to play against herself and finds she is playing against an unexpected adversary, the ghost of sixteen-year-old Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) who burned to death in a fire. The two girls’ friendship subsequently develops, which is not something you would expect a Ghostbusters film to deliver, yet is arguably the best thing in this one.

Ultimately, this is a crowd-pleaser that, aside from the bonus of its unexpected and actually rather good teenage girls’ friendship subplot, delvers everything expected of it but little more. Alas, it doesn’t take bold, franchise-changing risks in the way that Ghostbusters Afterlife did. That makes for solid and enjoyable rather than brave and groundbreaking fare.

Ghostbusters Frozen Empire is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, March 22nd.


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