Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review – who ya gonna call? Not this lot

Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Logan Kim in Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia Pictures)
Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace and Logan Kim in Ghostbusters: Afterlife (Columbia Pictures)

“It was the Eighties,” demurs Ghostbusters secretary Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts), one of many first-film alumni present here, about half an hour in. “So nobody was too worried about the future.”

Optimistic perhaps, but a part of me likes to think – hope – that this line is the writers of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire trolling Hollywood.

That’s because in the 2020s, everyone involved in and/or writing about Hollywood seems to do little else than worry about a perpetually in-crisis future – blaming streaming or prestige television or Covid or Putin or Meghan Markle or whoever – while having no solutions other than endlessly recycling the past.

Ghostbusters came out in 1984. That year, as well as just a single (Madame Web-level disaster) superhero film in Supergirl, the world was introduced to – deep breath – Gremlins, Dune, Police Academy, The Karate Kid, Spinal Tap, Indiana Jones, Beverley Hills Cop, Terminator and Nightmare On Elm Street.

That’s almost £1bn-worth of everlasting franchise a month. Forty years on we just get iterations of this: a lazy, confused, bland, incoherent piss on a grave that, in trying to be all things to everyone, will please no one: not even the lonely virgins who conspired to kill the (actually pretty good) female reboot in 2012 before it had hit cinemas.

And it ends up squandering three generations of superb acting talent in the process. We get the OG Ghostbusters (Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson), the young buck Ghostbusters (Finn Wolfhard, Celeste O’Connor, Mckenna Grace) and the inbetweener Ghostbusters (Paul Rudd, Kumail Nanjiani, Carrie Coon).

Add in Slimer, the miniature Stay Puft marshmallow men and a few other characters – including William Atherton’s deliciously oily Walter Peck from the first film – subtract a few action scenes and we’re talking maybe three or four minutes of screen time per character. You cannot concoct a three-dimensional character in three or four minutes.

The plot is – sigh – there are no ghosts, then there are some ghosts, then those ghosts get busted, then a big seemingly unbustable ghost turns up and the overpopulated squad scramble around for a way to trap it.

We are, at least, back in New York – Ghostbusters being as New York as a $1 slice of pizza, moody, silent yellow cab drivers or smoke coming out of manholes – but it’s not really used well as a backdrop.

There are not as many wink-wink references to lines and scenes from the first film as in 2021’s Afterlife – that would be difficult – but still too many. There’s the same whimsical orchestral score as the first film, Ray Parker Jr’s theme song over the credits, oh, and a half-baked, inter-dimensional, ghost-on-not-ghost, maybe-lesbian subplot.

 (Columbia Pictures)
(Columbia Pictures)

I just spent a lot of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire thinking about American Fiction writer/director Cord Jefferson’s Oscars speech in which he pointed out that, even just from a business point of view, Hollywood would surely be better off making 20 $10m movies instead of pinning all their hopes on a couple of $100m films like this.

The original Ghostbusters was a film about four middle-aged, balding, perma-smoking (“I gave up in the Nineties,” says Ackroyd at one point) losers. It was awash with oddball comic genius: not least from Bill Murray, who improvised the entire film and came up with a half dozen of the most iconic movie one-liners of all time in the process. The opposite of this in other words.

While writing this review, I somehow ended up on the Wikipedia entry for ‘1985 in film’ (a year that, by the way, brought us Back to The Future). “The year was considered an unsuccessful one for film,” it reads.

“Despite a record number of film releases, many films failed at the box office, and ticket sales were down 17% compared with 1984. Industry executives believed the problem, in part, was a lack of original concepts.”

It’s hard not to think, watching Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, that Hollywood needs to take heed of this. And quickly.

In cinemas from March 22