It’s tough to overstate how badly Sony needs this to be a hit.

I’ve already discussed Sony’s ongoing troubles in multiple blog entries. Only a month ago, we discussed the Madame Web fiasco and the imminent collapse of Sony’s Spider-Man efforts. After the third Venom and Spider-Verse entries, those franchises are permanently wrapped and all other viable options have been exhausted.

Sony hitched their wagon to Netflix, a company that continues to break itself in half trying to destroy major studios like it destroyed Blockbuster. Sony came a long way riding the Marvel/Disney coattails, until MCU fatigue set in and Disney took a steep decline. Sony hasn’t been in control of its own destiny for a while now, and the bill for their short-sighted arrogance is finally coming due.

So here we are with Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the latest entry in what could be Sony’s last best tentpole franchise. Trouble is, it’s a movie whose marketing leaned hard and heavy on Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and so many other surviving talents from the original film. A huge step backward from Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a film that billed itself as a franchise refresh with a new generation of characters.
I know this isn’t a popular opinion, and the fans keep insisting that there is no franchise without Murray, Aykroyd, et al. Sorry, but with all due respect, we’d damn well better hope that’s not true. The cold hard truth is that if the franchise hinges on a bunch of men in their 70s and there is no Ghostbusters without them, then this franchise has no future.

Anyway, we pick up a couple of years after the previous film. The Spengler family has taken up residence in the iconic NYC firehouse and they’ve kept the ghost extermination business running. Trouble is, there’s significant friction in this family unit.

  • Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) doesn’t seem to have any practical function on the team, aside from worrying about her kids and giving them orders to proceed with caution.
  • Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is still Callie’s boyfriend, unable or perhaps fearfully uncertain about how to take his place as a stepfather.
  • Trevor Spengler (Finn Wolfhard) is now 18 years old, in that awkward time when he wants to be respected as an adult but doesn’t know how to actually be one.

Each of these characters has the strong beginning for a development arc. All of them are sadly undercooked. The only one with any kind of middle or ending is Gary’s, but Paul Rudd… what happened, dude? On paper, this kind of awkward stepdad should’ve been well within Rudd’s wheelhouse, but he fails to sell the humor or the backbone Gary needed. What the hell?

The lion’s share of character development is given to Phoebe Spengler, once again played by Mckenna Grace. Her deal is that she’s only fifteen and she’s hanging off the side of a 50-year-old hearse, firing particle beams at rampaging spectres. This becomes a point of contention with Walter Peck (a returning William Atherton), now the mayor of NYC, who still holds a grudge against the Ghostbusters. Thus Phoebe gets benched from active duty until she turns 18.

Compare this to Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd, who else?), still running his paranormal bookshop/museum. For both of them, hunting the paranormal is all they know and it’s all they want to do. And neither one of them likes being sidelined because someone says they’re too young or too old to do the job. Of course, the crucial difference is that Ray already had his turn. Phoebe hasn’t even been given the chance to skim the surface of her full potential yet.

On the other hand, Phoebe is still very much a teenager. It might do her good to take some time and figure out who she is. Meet other kids her age, get into trouble, make mistakes, find other interests… y’know, be a teenage girl. Unfortunately, the prospect of getting into trouble and making mistakes means something very different when we’re talking about a girl who regularly deals with paranormal entities and lives in a house with open access to unlicensed particle accelerators. And it’s not like she was ever socially comfortable or knowledgeable in the first place.

Enter Melody, played by Melody Alyn Lind. She’s the ghost of a teenage girl who died in a fire some time ago. Yes, it’s nice that Phoebe has a girl her own age that she can be friends with, and it helps that as a ghost, Melody shares some common interests with Phoebe. Then again, Melody is a ghost and Phoebe is a Ghostbuster, so there’s some tension there. I need hardly add that in this franchise, it’s not always easy to tell which full-body apparitions are friendly and which aren’t.

What else, what else? Well, the post-credits scene of Afterlife implied that the firehouse containment unit is failing, and it does appear that continuously pumping it full of spirits since 1984 has pushed the unit to capacity. The good news is, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) has been busy constructing a bigger and better paranormal research and containment facility better equipped with newer and more modern tech for the job. The bad news is, there’s no quick or efficient way of emptying out the old containment unit into the newer and bigger one. Thus the old containment unit and all the old harmful specters keep on sitting in the firehouse basement as a MacGuffin for our Big Bad.

Oh, have I not mentioned the Big Bad yet? deep breath GAAAAHHH!!!

Okay. Long story short, the Big Bad this time is Garraka, a massively powerful demon with the power to control other ghosts. What’s worse, he can lower temperatures to Absolute Zero, slowing down the Ghostbusters’ particle accelerators until they’re effectively useless. Garraka was captured in prehistoric times by what were a kind of pre-Sumerian Ghostbusters and contained in a brass orb. The orb resurfaces in modern times and we’re off to the races.

All of this and the runtime is only 115 minutes. Sweet high holy mother of fuck.

No doubt about it, this movie has a serious issue with trying to cram too much into too little runtime. And managing all of this might have been doable if the screenwriters didn’t waste their time on shit that didn’t matter.

Slimer shows up, and he contributes nothing except for nostalgia, get him the fuck outta here. Annie Potts and Bill Murray show up, but they could’ve been cut and nothing would be lost except for fan service, get them the fuck outta here. The Librarian Ghost only shows up for a brief and useless cameo (like the Ghostbusters never circled back to deal with her in forty goddamn years?!), get her the fuck outta here.

The miniature Stay Pufts are back. Their inclusion here makes no sense, they contribute nothing to the plot, and their slapstick comedy has worn out its welcome. Get them the fuck outta here.

Then there’s Kumail Nanjiani, here playing the poor schmuck who finds Garraka’s orb. And then they keep him around for the rest of the film. Much as I love Nanjiani, his character contributes literally nothing that couldn’t have been done by the other main characters or some random plot device. Yes, I get that he’s struggling to accept his place in a world where the paranormal exists and he’s grappling to accept his heritage. So are the rest of the main characters. And if his development isn’t going to affect theirs in any way, get him the fuck outta here.

Patton Oswalt only shows up for one scene as an exposition machine, but it’s a vital function and we all love seeing Patton Oswalt geek out over esoteric shit, so we’ll let that slide. We’ve also got James Acaster on hand as a paranormal tech expert in Winston’s employ. He serves a function anyone in the cast could do just as well, but he’s expendable, so we’ll keep him around to get injured so nobody important has to be.

Unfortunately, all this excess comes at the cost of some prominent collateral damage. Yes, all the main characters except for Phoebe are pathetically underdeveloped, but the major casualties are Podcast and Lucky (respectively played by Logan Kim and Celeste O’Connor). I was really looking forward to watching these two become fully-fledged Ghostbusters, taking their place beside Trevor and Phoebe as the new team of the franchise. Instead, they’re pushed aside in favor of the awkward stepdad, the mother who has no practical value to the team, and all the established legacy characters. They might as well not even be in the movie at all. What the hell?!

To be clear, it’s not like the film is completely void of merit. Gil Kenan shows a keen awareness of the subversive horror/comedy blend that made the original Ghostbusters so beloved. The ghosts and their methods of haunting throughout are all delightful to watch in their own ways.

Afterlife repurposed the Ecto-1 as a means to bring some energy and speed to the ghostbusting, and I love to see that brought back (for only one action scene in the opening, but still). Perhaps more importantly, the previous movie also brought up genuinely poignant themes about death and grieving and moving on, all of which are elegantly developed further with the Phoebe/Melody relationship. I find it genuinely fascinating how the premise of the franchise opens up all manner of questions about death and the afterlife and what waits for us on the other side. This film tackles that conceit head-on, stating outright that the characters are still grappling with those questions, and the proven existence of ghosts has only raised a hundred new questions for every new answer. Compelling stuff.

The frustrating thing about this movie is that in a vacuum, each individual plot thread makes sense. But when they’re all slammed together like this, with too little screentime and too much fan service between them, they suffocate each other instead of supporting each other. This movie desperately needed a climax that dovetailed all the various plot threads and brought them all together into a single cohesive whole. What we get instead is a product of filmmakers who paint themselves into a corner, using technobabble to explain why a piece of tech isn’t as FUBAR as it clearly and plainly is.

In the end, what’s accomplished? The old Ghostbusters pass the torch to the new generation? That was the whole point of the previous movie and it didn’t stick. The Ghostbusters are lauded as the heroes of NYC? That was supposed to happen all the way back in the first movie and THAT didn’t stick. It’s gotten to the point where the franchise has so much baggage, it’s tough to believe any serious change in the status quo will ever stick. Hell, we don’t even get a post-credits scene worth a damn in this entry.

With Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, one question kept running through my head: What are we doing here? What’s the goal? What are we trying to accomplish? What’s the big picture for this franchise moving forward?

How can we focus on any one plotline or theme when the filmmakers can’t or won’t focus on any one of them for a sufficient length of time? How can we develop either generation of characters when the newcomers keep getting short-changed and most of the legacy characters are only there for the sake of it? Do you want a quick and breezy two-hour romp, or do you want a 150-minute epic?

This isn’t a case of filmmakers who didn’t know what they wanted to make except money, this is a case of filmmakers who wanted to make three movies at once. This is a case of filmmakers who knew a sequel wouldn’t be guaranteed, so they threw everything at the wall, hoping something would be intruging enough to keep the fans coming back. It’s like Predators all over again.

This is a franchise run by people who desperately need to get their shit together. Figure out what you’re doing and don’t make another entry until you do. As for Sony, I’m honestly sorry to say that as with Disney and WB before it, Columbia Pictures is on track for a disgraceful centennial year. Please, Sony, sell your film holdings to somebody who knows what they’re doing and put your attention toward shoring up the electronics division.


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