Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Year: 2024
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Director: Gil Kenan
Producer: Jason Reitman
Writer: Gil Kenan/Jason Reitman
Cast: Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, McKenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie hudson, Bill Murray, Annie Potts, Jumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Logan Kim, William Atherton

Like that of The Terminator, Die Hard, The Matrix, Alien and countless others, the Ghostbusters franchise looked like it was going to be one of rapidly dwindling fortunes and ever-diminishing returns.

So what a nice surprise to see that, like with the Predator series, they can still make an enjoyable movie. Better yet, it didn't need a stripped back, low-fi, alternative setting to revitalise the name like Prey did for the Predator name.

It seems to have the same budget, scope, studio mandate and everything else the disappointing Ghostbusters; Afterlife had, it's just that in the hands of director Gil Kenan (who co-wrote the last film with Jason Reitman, who co-writes here) it's a better movie.

That's especially the case because the narrative backbone didn't promise much, and the new bad guy – a spirit who brings about freezing conditions as a metaphor for him being so scary he literally scares you frozen to death – is just another disposable CGI villain.

And it's even more the case because once more it shoehorns in the OG cast, none of whom do a very good job. Bill Murray as Peter is just there to collect his money and issue a few quips, Dan Aykroyd as Ray has an expanded part to play in the story but you're reminded that although his shrubby, childlike eagerness worked perfectly for the original, he's not that great an actor.

And Ernie Hudson, as ghostbuster-turned-industrialist Winston, is only the progenitor of a particular story development because I don't think he has (or possibly wants) much acting work these days.

Most of it's in the hands of the new ghostbusting family, Spenglers Callie (Carrie Coon), daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Callie's boyfriend, Phoebe's science teacher from the last film, Gary (Paul Rudd), who's doing his best to be the kids' dad as well as their buddy.

The gang go about their business busting ghosts as Ray comes across an ancient artifact that imprisons the aforementioned CGI god monster thing, a creature that feeds off negative emotions that lower temperatures, and the race is on to solve the mystery of the MacGuffin before it sets the apocalyptic evil loose on New York.

A few subplots neatly service the pathway to the climactic smackdown. One is when Phoebe, who's been put on the sidelines because of negative press whipped up by fan service new Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton) about her age, befriends the ghost of a teenage girl who haunts Central Park and becomes a friend to share her frustrations with.

Another is the revelation of Winston's second containment site across the river, recruited into service years ago when the basement-level firehouse containment unit started bursting at the seams.

It's far from perfect, but it's more fun than Afterlife, which felt like it had teleported in from some other franchise. Kenan wields more finesse combining story elements with slavish fan service in his writing and direction (still not very smoothly done, but smoother than Reitman did last time around).

On the downside, the older cast look like they can't be bothered mustering the energy to really be present, the younger cast just aren't talented enough to carry their parts and the script has plenty of moments where it falls on its face.

Most critics haven't been as kind as I have but the real surprise is that it hasn't even earned $200m back from a budget of $100m – a bona fide flop on a par with Afterlife.

No studio suit greenlights anything because it has a devoted fanbase, so this might be the last we see of the Ghostbusters name until the near-inevitable 2033 reboot to celebrate the life of Aykroyd, Murray or Hudson when one of them dies?

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