A largely dull, post-content movie mess, ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ saps the fun out of the franchise

Ghost wagon: Ecto-1 on the move in ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’.

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE * (116 minutes) PG
There’s a moment in the terrible new Ghostbusters movie where a bag of garbage is brought to life by a spirit from the netherworld.

You couldn’t have asked for a better symbol of what this film is.

Even diehard lovers of the franchise might feel compelled to turn to each other afterwards and ask: Ever get the feeling you’ve just been slimed with something other than ectoplasm?

A follow-up to the pretty good 2021 film Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this obsequious sequel finds the ghostbusting Spengler family – spawned from original ghostbuster Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis, who died in 2014) – resettled in the New York firehouse where the ghostbusters started.

The clan is headed by non-Spengler Gary (Paul Rudd) who gets along with step-son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) but not so much with step-daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Mum Callie (Carrie Coon) tries keeping things together but, well, it’s tough going.

Not quite as tough, though, as sitting through this scramble of a film.

There are few laughs, no spooks, dreadful visual effects – there, it’s said – and a largely incoherent story that might well have you pinching yourself to remain attentive, especially during the film’s messy final reel.

As much as we love to rag on the sorry all-female 2016 Ghostbusters with Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig, at least that film tried to abide by the comedic spirit of the original.

Sure can’t say that here.

Although the film includes clips from the original movie, you can’t help but get the sense director Gil Kenan and co-writer Jason Reitman – son of Ivan Reitman, director of the original and co-creator with Dan Aykroyd – either didn’t watch the 1984 film, didn’t like it or didn’t get it. Because they’ve managed to replicate everything except the original’s giddy sense of fun.

There are a few chuckle-worthy bits sprinkled across the first half (thank you, Patton Oswalt) but as it sluggishly progresses you can virtually feel the fun draining away.

An increasingly sombre tone takes over, weighing things down and attempting, rather desperately, to imbue the shenanigans with dramatic import.

Talk about straying from the brief.

Hobbling the film is an over-long, tangled sequence filling in the complicated backstory of a mystical orb, central to the ghostly mayhem.

Sold by a dimwit (aptly played by Kumail Nanjiani), said orb now threatens to release a giant, nasty horned being from Hell that likes turning things to ice.

There’s also some really baffling, poorly drawn business about all the captured spirits the ghostbusters have been cramming into their storage facility over the decades.

Why didn’t anyone think this would one day be a problem? Hey, it was the ’80s. Who thought things through back then?

That’s about the standard of humour throughout. Har har har.

Like so many of the post-content films crammed into multiplexes and down our throats over the past 30+ years, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is not so much a film as an extended exercise in brand recognition.

It’s an opening weekend movie designed to use decades of name familiarity to draw droves in over the first weekend, hoping any bad word-of-mouth won’t counter the tens of millions spent on signage and spoil the second weekend.

In place of a proper story is an assemblage of Ghostbuster references aimed at keeping sweet with fans.

It’s the epitome of post-content cinema, with story relegated behind dazzle, continual reliance on Ghostbusters nostalgia and pleasing visual triggers.

Hence, the uniforms are the same, the gear is the same, the vehicle is the same, the setting is the same, even the phone is the same.

There are supporting roles from the original cast (Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts); even ghosts and critters from before have cameos, including way too many nods to the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man who, at this point, will probably get his own spin-off movie.

Worse, the story – such that it is – is held together by a frayed strand of coming-of-age clichés and tired tropes about family togetherness.

To wit: 15-year old Phoebe is too young to be a legit ghostbuster, so is forced to stay back while everyone else goes out on ghostbusting jobs.

She rebels, of course, which involves her doing her own thing (befriending a teen ghost) and inevitable friction with Gary, who isn’t her real dad. She even refuses to call him dad.

Can’t see where this over-used arc is going, can we?

Even on its own terms the supernatural elements of the story manage to defy its own internal logic, suggesting that big Hollywood popcorn films actually have run out of ideas.

One especially awful scene involves an experiment with temporary ghostification. So painfully bad, this is. It’s like witnessing the art of movie storytelling dying right before your eyes.

Visually, the film is wall-to-wall blandness, with a finale so dire VFX fans might just cry as we are once again regaled by the usual frenzied exchange of energy bolts – mainly blue energy bolts – zapping across the screen, accompanied by thunderous booms of crackling bass.

Somebody really should step forward and explain why the visual effects here, as in so many big films, are so damned woeful so much of the time.

Of all the movie franchises, Ghostbusters has proved, by any fair measure, to be the most feeble. Afterlife was OK but the original 1984 film still stands as the only really good one, still funny, fresh and clever some 40 years on.

After sitting through this dreck, It really feels like they should have just left it at that.

Final note: We recently had the strike in Hollywood protesting over the threat AI allegedly poses to the art of movie making.

Good on ’em – but the cause will be forever lost the moment an AI program manages to come up with something better than this swill.

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