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“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” Review: A Fan-Service Bonanza with a Larger Scale and More Laughs than “Ghostbusters: Afterlife”

“The series returns to New York City, teeming with spirits that the movie treats with a mostly serious tone.”

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

“In the opening scene of ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,’ there’s more energetic ghostbusting action than in all of ‘Ghostbusters: Afterlife.’ The new team—comprised of the science prodigy Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), now 15; her older brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard); their no-nonsense mom, Callie (Carrie Coon); and Gary the seismologist (Paul Rudd), who is now Callie’s partner and striving to become a stepfather figure—zooms down Fifth Avenue in the revamped Ectomobile, wielding their proton guns against a slimy creature emerging from the sewers. While the creature itself may serve as eye candy, the scene exudes a sense of familial camaraderie, showcasing the dynamic of a family united in busting ghosts.”

Thankfully, the Ghostbusters franchise returns to its roots in New York City, with Phoebe and her family taking up residence in the iconic Hook and Ladder 8 firehouse from the original film. The firehouse is now equipped with familiar gadgets like the Containment Unit, housing numerous captured paranormal entities. Ernie Hudson’s Winston emphasizes the critical role of the firehouse in containing supernatural threats, echoing the premise of the original film: the fate of the world is at stake.

“Ghostbusters,” released four decades ago, was a blend of supernatural absurdity, technological wizardry, dazzling visual effects, and Bill Murray’s irreverent meta commentary. While embodying the ethos of the Reagan era, the film conveyed a sense of apathy towards impending doom. Surprisingly, “Frozen Empire” continues this trend, evolving into a mostly serious paranormal adventure, punctuated by nostalgic nods from the original cast. Dan Aykroyd’s substantial role adds depth and soul to the film, grounding it in the beloved nostalgia of the franchise.

“In ‘Frozen Empire,’ we encounter the familiar blobby green ghosts making token appearances, often regurgitating into people’s faces, along with occasional comic relief from the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man army—a clear attempt by the series to replicate the success of the Minions franchise. However, the film primarily focuses on a collection of occult artifacts and otherworldly forces treated with the same seriousness as they would be in an ‘Indiana Jones’ movie.”

“Among the array of occult artifacts and otherworldly forces in ‘Frozen Empire’ is the Orb of Garraka, an ancient metal sphere adorned with glyph letters that occasionally disintegrate, releasing various spirits. Another notable presence is a human-looking ghost, portrayed by the captivating Emily Alyn Lind, who forms a connection with Phoebe during a nighttime chess game in Washington Square Park. Initially appearing friendly, their budding friendship takes a dark turn when the ghost’s true intentions are revealed. Additionally, the film introduces Garraka himself, a towering 20-foot-tall emaciated devil-mummy spirit with elongated ram horns. Possessing the power to freeze almost anything to death with his ice magic, Garraka transforms Manhattan into a perilous ice palace, freezing even the proton pack voltage squiggles.”

Indeed, the recent iterations of the “Ghostbusters” series have notably dialed down the comedic elements, opting instead to focus on the science-fiction and supernatural aspects of the narrative.

In Jason Reitman’s 2018 reboot, the emphasis shifted towards the scientific intricacies of ghostbusting, portraying it as a serious pursuit rather than a comedic adventure. This approach resonated with audiences who appreciated the technical aspects of the original film. However, some fans felt that the humor, a defining feature of the franchise, took a backseat to the exploration of scientific concepts.

Phoebe’s enthusiastic declaration that “Science is reckless” and Gary’s comparison of science to punk rock underscored the film’s fascination with scientific exploration. Yet, in doing so, the film seemed to overlook the comedic charm that made the original “Ghostbusters” a beloved classic.

While the recent films may have appealed to fans of science fiction and supernatural thrillers, they may have missed the mark for those seeking the humor and wit that defined the original franchise.

Despite its departure from the comedic roots of the original franchise, “Afterlife” found success at the box office by tapping into nostalgia and catering to a new generation of fans.

Conceived as a homage to ’80s Spielbergian adventure films, “Afterlife” blended elements of “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” and “The Goonies,” infused with the nostalgic charm of “Stranger Things.” While the film delved into the intricate mythology of the Ghostbusters universe, including references to Gozer and the gatekeeper, some critics felt that it prioritized fan service over storytelling.

Nevertheless, fans, both old and new, embraced the film, reveling in the familiar imagery of the khaki pest-control Ghostbusters suits and the iconic proton packs. For many, the film’s climax, complete with Ray Parker Jr.’s rendition of the “Ghostbusters” theme, served as a satisfying tribute to the beloved franchise. In the end, it seemed that as long as the film delivered on these nostalgic elements, fans were content, overlooking any shortcomings in the storytelling.

“Frozen Empire” faces the challenge of justifying its existence in a franchise that has already explored various iterations and themes. However, despite this hurdle, the film manages to deliver a livelier experience compared to its predecessor, “Afterlife.”

Directed by Gil Kenan, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Jason Reitman, “Frozen Empire” maintains a brisk pace and an engaging plot. Kenan’s direction infuses energy into the film, whether it’s animating stone lions outside the New York Public Library or eliciting a compelling performance from Patton Oswalt as a library scholar enthralled by the Orb’s mystery.

Despite the need to carve out its own identity within the Ghostbusters universe, “Frozen Empire” proves to be an entertaining and engaging addition to the franchise, offering viewers an exciting and lively adventure.

Kumail Nanjiani’s portrayal of Nadeem as the laid-back slacker turned unexpected hero injects much-needed humor and vitality into “Frozen Empire.” His effortless comedic delivery serves as the film’s driving force, elevating the overall energy and engagement.

Nanjiani’s character embodies the potential direction for the Ghostbusters franchise—a return to the irreverent humor and postmodern sensibility that defined the original film. While “Ghostbusters II” felt tame and “Afterlife” lacked dynamism, “Frozen Empire” demonstrates the possibility of revitalizing the series with a renewed focus on humor and levity.

As the franchise moves forward, it should draw inspiration from Nanjiani’s comedic spark, ensuring that laughter remains a central element. In a Ghostbusters film, the humor should be more than just a faint echo of its former self—it should be vibrant and integral to the experience.

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