Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review | A haunted, overstuffed freezer with a terrific performance on the shelf

Ghostbuster: Frozen Empire
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Ghostbusters 5 – or Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire – is determined to try to please everyone. Here’s our review:

There are a lot of firefighters from 1904 in the opening of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. I learned from this brief sequence that these heroes of old are adorned with admirable levels of facial hair, and react with understandable shock when they walk in on a room full of frozen people. I think I would too.

That’s the brief background we’re given to get the plot started, and then in double quick time, we’re picking up a little while after the second end credits sting of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, with a very clear determination to get to work, and quickly.

While the opening half hour is scattered with occasional ‘previously on’ plot points being relayed to us by various characters, writers Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman figure the best plan is to get us in a fast-moving Ecto-1, zipping through the streets of New York City in pursuit of some ghoulies.

The message is clear: the family of the last film? They’re now the Ghostbusters, and the film wastes little time getting its proton packs out. That’s in contrast to its predecessor, Afterlife, which was a lot more patient in establishing its foundations.

Afterlife's big strength was that it invested time in setting up that struggling family unit of Carrie Coon’s Callie Spengler, her children Phoebe (McKenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and schoolteacher love interest Gary (Rudd). I found this build-up the highlight of that film, and it gave what followed a bit more weight.

Frozen Empire makes different choices.

Now? The quartet lives in the old New York firehouse, and even though they might not admit it, they’re a family unit. Much has happened in the interim. They no longer have to deal with relatable stuff like how to pay the bills and working through the artefacts of a deceased relative. They’re suited up, and there’s a new supernatural threat on the horizon.

Some necessary plot stuff, then: the Ghostbusters are now funded by Ernie Hudson’s Winston (he gets little more than a cameo when it comes to actual screentime, but dammit, it’s good to see him), and thus have a lot more money to spend on spangly things. They’re still not in the good books of the local authorities, and still work with an admirably old IBM PC with a green monitor.

So much has happened between films, though, that we get a guided tour of what they’ve been up to, in turn reminding me of the wonderfully daft Roland Emmerich action flick White House Down. Just the feeling that everything you’re being told and shown in the first half hour will have some part to play. Not telling you if I was right or wrong.

Dan Aykroyd, meanwhile, has been reinstated to the main ensemble as Ray, rather than getting a brief cameo. When he first appears, he’s holding a book called The World’s Weirdest Newspaper Stories, but his hand is covering the first letter of the final word. In a British election year, a bold choice I thought.     

Oh, there’s more people too: Patton Oswalt gets shuffled in to explain some stuff, James Acaster is told to talk about science but isn’t given a decent character to channel his words, Logan Kim hits something with a hammer as Podcast, Celeste O’Connor fires an impressive test weapon, and Kumail Nanjiani gets to play with fire a little bit. There are a few things you’ll want to discover yourself too, even if half of them are guessable. It’s not a small ensemble of primary characters.

Thus: the challenge for the film is to find something for all these people to do, while also playing out the story of a frozen threat to the city, while also parading a bunch of stuff to keep legacy Ghostbusters fans happy. No small feat, and a task too big for the film.

Still, there’s a huge positive to it. The absolute standout, as she was in Afterlife, remains McKenna Grace. She’s the biggest success of these two films, and whichever casting genius decided she was the right fit for Phoebe deserves extra coffee (even if she only tells one science joke this time). She gets the film its third star down at the bottom there.

It helps that Grace is given the most interesting things to do, too, with a really good subplot as she befriends a ghostly figure. The script gives her the best moments, and she repays it with a young performance on a par with Christina Ricci in The Addams Family. Carrie Coon fights to impress, although her character is a little more homogenous than last time around. Paul Rudd is fun, but left driving badly and trying to recite life advice. Finn Wolfhard all but disappears.

It’s the size of that ensemble that really hurts Frozen Empire, because the film simply runs out of jobs for everyone to do. Aykroyd, bless him, stands there telling us things, but then the movie happily replays previous clips and demonstrates that the Ray’s glory days may be behind him. And that’s another issue: Frozen Empire is adamant that it wants to tie itself to Ghostbusters old and new, but by doing so, it sacrifices the time and space to give us a really good story, and strong character arcs.

Towards the end of the film, there’s a moment that really sticks in my mind: where the many characters are all stood around, giving me time to count them up. The way the shot is blocked, they couldn’t quite get everyone in the same frame. I’m not surprised.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is well directed, slick, has its moments, and sports impressive facial hair. Yet eventually, I’m afraid I was yearning for a much simpler film: not longer, just a little less in it, on the condition that not one frame of McKenna Grace’s performance is sacrificed.

There’s enough here to build to a sixth Ghostbusters, and that reportedly remains the plan. I do think a bit of course correction wouldn’t hurt.

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

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