Why are the new Ghostbusters movies such a chore?

Film | Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Opens: Now playing, in theatres
2 out of 5

A lot of studio types think the Ghostbusters franchise is a winner. Sure, the original remains a bonafide comedy classic, but its sequel showed a significant drop in quality. The all-female remake was fine but got torpedoed by a weirdly toxic fan base. Afterlife, the predecessor to Frozen Empire, coasted on nostalgia to an off-putting degree (CGI Harold Ramis! Nothing in poor taste about that).

The trailer of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire hinted at a plan for the future: a stand-alone story driven by the new cast members assisted by the old guard to usher in long-term fans. Seemed like a good approach to build a sustainable franchise.

Unfortunately, Frozen Empire fails to deliver. As suggested in Afterlife, the saga takes hard turn towards family friendly content. Bill Murray’s lecherous, sardonic Peter Venkman has been thoroughly defanged. The comedy is basic (oh, great, another character is covered in slime), and the plot is both too much and completely disposable.

Following the previous installment’s adventures at the farm, Egon Spengler’s family has relocated to New York, specifically, the iconic, derelict firehouse from the first two movies. There isn’t much money in busting ghosts and because of damage to the city, they’re now in the mayor’s crosshairs — Ghostbusters’ EPA foil Walter “Dickless” Peck (William Atherton).

Unbeknownst to the Spenglers, a vengeful deity named Garraka is plotting to unleash a new ice age. The case demands all hands on deck, including the original Ghostbusters and ancillary characters from the previous installment nobody cares about.

As you can gather from the plot description, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire has an overpopulation problem. The actual protagonist of the film, the precocious Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) is the only one to enjoy some character development. As for the OGs, they’re sporadically deployed just to move the plot forward, consistency be damned.

I’ve some respect for films that sacrifice character work for plot development — moviemaking is a balancing act, after all — but in this case, the story is clumsy and the payoff, underwhelming. Director Gil Kenan (also responsible for that mediocre Poltergeist remake) thoroughly fails to take advantage of the talent he’s given. Seasoned comedians Murray, Paul Rudd and James Acaster are seldom given the opportunity to be funny, but that’s nothing compared to the painfully underused (and obviously miscast) Carrie Coon.

As mentioned, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire goes hard for the PG crowd with a lesson about the importance of family in times of crisis. Such a lazy, pedestrian message pales next to the counterculture, working-class celebration the original movie embodied. (Although to be fair, Ghostbuster’s anti-EPA message hasn’t aged well.)

It’s increasingly frustrating the best reimagining of the franchise was shot down by trolls who had issues with women in overalls.