GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE – Official Trailer (HD)

It’s possible to reboot right. Rare, but possible. The recent Scream double-whammy managed to bring things up to date and rediscover its soul, largely by slashing through knotty old roots and going back to a more simple ‘mask-bloke stabs people and breaks established horror conventions’ way of doing things. Christopher Nolan’s Batman stood on its own and generated its own icons. Much as some hated it, the second go at adapting Stephen King’s IT was a smash.

All of them got the seed of the original idea and kept it at the core. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire constantly swings and hits air, largely because it’s trying to play baseball with a pool cue. It doesn’t really know what it’s supposed to be doing. There’s frequent potential, and often looks like it’s suddenly going to change gear and get brilliant, but this promise gets busted as quickly as it shows up.

Following on from 2021’s Afterlife reboot, the Spengler family have moved from Oklahoma to New York, to the original Ghostbusters firehouse which has been bequeathed to them by ex-’Buster-turned-philanthropist Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson). Having caused mayhem while trying to capture a sewer dragon, they’re put on a final warning by Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton), and precocious, nerdy Ghostbusting natural Phoebe Spengler (McKenna Grace) is singled out for being too young to be employed as a Ghostbuster anyway. Dejected, she befriends the ghost of a girl who died in a fire along with her family, Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), and unloads her loneliness and family angst onto her.

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Meanwhile, ex-Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) comes into receipt of a mysterious orb, via a customer hawking his grandma’s old stuff to his occult shop. It turns out to be imprisoning an ancient god with the power to freeze the Earth. When he’s unleashed, the Ghostbusters have to stop him – hard when he can freeze and smash the very beams from their proton packs.

As a set-up, it’s a good start. And the actual start is good, too – firefighters on a horse and trap rushing from the firehouse 100 years ago to answer a call from an explorer’s society, only to find no fire, instead entering a room in which the inhabitants have suddenly been frozen solid. Ditto the twist when the demon is released and for a moment things take a genuinely sinister turn. The problem is it doesn’t know how to build on the premise or tell the story in any way that pulls you in, with any consistent pace, or proper sense of excitement and tension.

Instead, it drops in a million references to the original, without actually using them in any meaningful or smart way. The firehouse is infested with miniature Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men, apparently just so they could have a cute sequence of them lolling about like fat little kittens. Ray encounters the ghost in the library again, with no link to anything else, like nodding at someone you went to school with at a traffic light then going about your day. Oh look, here’s Slimer, just in the attic under a pile of garbage who keeps covering Finn Wolfhard in goo. And look here, it’s Bill Murray as Peter Venkman, little more than a walk-on, phoning it in so lazily you imagine his remuneration will come from Verizon, rather than the producers. Annie Potts’ return as brassy New Yorker receptionist Janine Melnitz is potentially great, but completely underused.

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This is a problem with the whole thing. Almost every good idea is given a spot, then put down as the attention moves elsewhere, without giving things time to breathe and grow. Being back in New York isn’t played up to as fully as it could be. Venkman coming face to face once again with Peck – the snivelling Environmental Protection Agency jobsworth from the 1984 original, to whom he gives one of the greatest movie burns of all time with his “dickless” remark, who’s crawled his way to being mayor – should be open season for a gobshite like him. In the event, it’s like the writers were told about the pair’s history afterwards and a couple of lines quickly added in.

Even the mighty demon, when he’s finally, finally unleashed and begins freezing everything, gets about 10 minutes before he’s dispatched with surprising ease. Considering his – actually brilliantly conceived – icicles have breached the ghost containment unit and every spectre ever caught, ever, is on the loose and in his service, you want more chaos. Moreover, you want the original gang, back together for the first time in 35 years (minus the late Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler), to have more prescience than this slightly awkward work reunion party where nobody knows what to say to one another anymore.

It’s all so loosely threaded together that it needs James Acaster’s Basil Exposition-ish ghost scientist Lars Pinfield to keep telling you how things work. And he’s at a vastly different temperature to everyone and everything else. And he’s not very funny, no matter how hard he tries. Nor is Paul Rudd. Nor is anyone.

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Things are best summed up when Phoebe first meets Melody, playing chess at night in an empty Central Park. She’s surprised and slightly put out that a human isn’t shocked or bothered at encountering a ghost. It’s meant to demonstrate what a connection Phoebe has to the supernatural world and her grandfather Egon’s work. Actually, it just shows that sometimes, ghosts can be very mundane and unexciting indeed.

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