20 March 2024

At the movies: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.


I have earnestly tried to not be a hater in manners that mean so much to people. Part of being a critic is finding that line of demarcation between being real and being an asshole, and it’s unfortunate that that line shifts from film to film. The simplest course of action, regardless of whatever film you’re about to watch, is hoping it will be good.

Now that the central tenet of Ghostbusting is seen as an avocation (this was not the case in the ‘80s; I know because I was there), there’s a reverential tone that seems directly at odds with the franchise’s strengths. Real talk: the thing that makes the 1984 film a minor classic is the collision between Dan Aykroyd’s earnest occultism, Harold Ramis’ Canuck comic instincts, Bill Murray’s weaponized “whatever, man,” and the cocaine-addled studio execs adding and subtracting material based on what’s funny and what hits with the most energy. Yes, I’m giving shout-outs to studio notes, because like FlashdanceGhostbusters ‘84 is a quilt of Whatever and it generally works not in spite of that, but because of it. There’s a reason why no subsequent Ghostbuster project has been able to recapture that vibe.

There are two big problems with this particular endeavor, and one insurmountable one.

Firstly, Walter Peck. William Atherton’s EPA man was an easy villain for an original film sprung from the Reagan era, a petty bureaucrat who nearly dooms the city by shutting off the Ghostbusters’ containment field. But the fact of the matter is, he was initially correct before he let his own monstrous ego get in the way. (The actual history of all things Ghostbusting in the films’ universe is dudes not checking their ego.) Government regulation is necessary with enterprises that are affecting the lives of millions of people, and our OG Ghostbuster team was too high on their own supply to even entertain the idea that their brilliant creation needed some checks and balances.

And the legacy of GB84’s Walter Peck is all around us today. By making the EPA into a joke worthy of contempt, it became so easy for Reagan, and the Bushes, and Trump to gut the EPA, leaving us with a pittance of environmental regulations at all. By making regulation into something deeply uncool, you can draw a direct line to Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg, and Martin Shkreli, and every cryptobro who has set their sights on whatever assets you might have. It’s what the kids today call not a good look.

So there was a chance here to honestly reckon with that. In a time of climate crisis, wouldn’t the sensible, revolutionary approach be to reconcile these two conflicting facets? The technology behind Ghostbusting is basically whatever the story needs at any point, with no thought given to impact on the world. And because of this, the tech reads like cryptocurrency or AI, wherein the behind-the-scenes data and water usage is apocalyptic all on its own. This is something that could easily have been addressed, and more than that, been funny. But instead, the decision was made to keep the Ghostbusters aloof, patrician, and beyond reproach by the minds of ‘normal’ folk, and to affirm their right to obliterate beings out of existence. And more of Walter Peck being a supercilious asshole that the audience is made to feel good for hating.

The second big problem is what is obviously meant to be a queer awakening subplot. Possibly lesbian, possible asexual, but definitely something beyond a traditional boy-girl pairing. And in a way, it’s kind of impressive, because you can feel the actual film backpedaling for its life to keep from acknowledging this. Perhaps it’s because of international censors. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to seem too ‘woke’ after the 2016 lady Ghostbusters film became Gamergate 2.0 for the worst people on the Internet. Or maybe it’s because these two characters interact with one another in a way that feels like genuine human emotion, of which there is a genuine paucity. But there are moments when it looks like a Ghostbusters movie is going to actually reckon with some real emotional issues beyond sitcom-level step-parent boilerplate. Just moments, gone in a flash.

The biggest problem with Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is that it’s inert. There’s not really much that feels exciting, despite the characters telling us how exciting it is. Now again, this is where I’m coming from, and I know people who have their own proton packs who will love what’s being offered here. And far from being a Walter Peck-type hater, I’m glad that there are people will find joy in this. But I feel bad for the Stranger Things kid, because he barely even registers. So much effort is given to incorporating whoever they can from previous iterations (still no Slavitza Jovan, though) that people who were real-deal main characters in the last movie, which this is ostensibly a sequel to, are left gasping for air like a goldfish that jumped its bowl.

It’s not all completely empty, though. There’s nothing as movie-killing as the digitally resurrected Harold Ramis from 2021’s Afterlife, and there’s an abstraction of a ghost that possesses inanimate objects that adds some Tex Avery zing whenever it shows up. The supernatural Big Bad makes a great first appearance in a localized fog bank that gives off The Keep vibes. And Patton Oswalt has a one-scene wonder where he’s basically overcome with joy because he gets to do the second ten minutes of Raiders of The Lost Ark where we get the chalkboard exposition dump for the rest of the film, only here done in bas-relief.

Of the new characters, only Kumail Nanjiani gets much to do, and that includes quality improv, pyrokinesis, and rocking Bill Pullman’s hair from Ruthless People. He’s from a multigenerational (but nationally/culturally indeterminate) South Asian/Near Eastern family with a brass battlesuit and their own tradition of battling dark forces from beyond (apparently the fire department was doing something similar back in the early twentieth century, in a momentarily fascinating and then completely abandoned wrinkle in the narrative). But don’t worry, whatever the Ghostbuster way is, it emerges as the supreme ideology. There was no doubt.

At the movies: Problemista.

 Problemista is just an utter delight, and I wish more people were seeing it.

At the movies: Here.


A kind, sweet, scientifically fascinating film about lives intersecting.

At the movies: Dune Part Two.


Dune Part Two. It gets deep here.

At the movies: Madame Web.


Madame Web is a lot of fun, and if you listen to the Cerebrocast, their Patreon episode review of Madame Web is essential.

Pet Shop Boys: Dreamworld.


At last, a Pet Shop Boys concert film.

At the movies: Grace of My Heart.

 A personal fave rave from 1996. Just a killer soundtrack across the board (why aren't the Kristin Vigard tracks readily available?), and some great performances.