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film review
  • Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
  • Directed by Gil Kenan
  • Written by Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman (based on Ghostbusters, by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis)
  • Starring Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Dan Aykroyd, Kumail Nanjiani, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson
  • Classification 14A; 115 minutes
  • Opens in theatres March 22

It is the Manhattan of 2024, and there is something strange in the neighbourhood. A ghost needs to be busted. There is no question as to who should be called.

A family in a recognizable old white ambulance with a familiar insignia recklessly chases and eventually captures the Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon near the Brooklyn Bridge. The city’s mayor is furious – partly because of all the damage and chaos caused by the pursuit and partly because he’s a jerk. The hero nerds who got the ghost smile sheepishly.

The film is new: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Of course, we have seen this kind of supernatural comedy before. In the original Ghostbusters from 1984, New York’s mayor was warned of mayhem that included “40 years of darkness, earthquakes, volcanoes – the dead rising from the grave!” Nobody back then foresaw 40 years of questionable sequels and one controversial reboot. Yet, here we are.

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From left, Celeste O'Connor, Finn Wolfhard, James Acaster, Logan Kim and Dan Aykroyd in a scene from Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.Jaap Buitendijk/The Associated Press

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is the fifth in the franchise that also includes 1989′s Ghostbusters II, 2016′s all-female Ghostbusters and 2021′s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. It is a fun, serviceable, family-oriented exercise in reprise that counts on nostalgia as it brings history and present day together. Though I imagine Frozen Empire will leave critics cold, the geeks – especially the sentimental ones – might warm to it.

The creative team and cast from Afterlife are mostly intact, if tweaked. Gil Kenan directs the film he co-wrote with Jason Reitman. Paul Rudd is around as a friendly face but he does not star here, no matter what the movie poster (and no doubt his salary) suggests.

Though Dan Aykroyd as paranormal specialist Ray Stantz receives plenty of screen time, pal Bill Murray’s presence is a glorified cameo. There is no Sigourney Weaver. Green slime happens for old time’s sake. The Spengler family leaves the Afterlife setting of Oklahoma for the gritty ambience of New York and the old firehouse home office.

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From left, Mckenna Grace, Logan Kim, Dan Aykroyd and Patton Oswalt in a scene from Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.Jaap Buitendijk/The Associated Press

The capable main attraction is Mckenna Grace, who plays boyish 15-year-old budding ghostbuster Phoebe Spengler. She’s put on the sidelines by the mayor because of child labour laws. That mayor is Walter Peck, played once again by William Atherton, who originated the role as an officious environmental inspector in the 1984 film. (Atherton also played jerks in 1985′s Real Genius and 1988′s Die Hard. If you need an annoying authority figure, who ya gonna call?)

New to the ensemble cast is Kumail Nanjiani, from The Big Sick and HBO’s Silicon Valley. He plays a dodgy smart aleck who inadvertently triggers a calamity by pawning a brass orb that holds inside it an entity whose evil superpower is ice-cold temperatures. Told the detailed ancient history of the ball of hate, he whines: “Wait, I’m so confused!”

He’s not alone – the ancient-history intricacies behind the film’s plot are a bit much. There are probably too many characters as well.

The raucous silliness of the original Ghostbusters is a thing of the past. Frozen Empire kicks off with a Robert Frost poem! Though the veteran ghoul chasers played by Murray and Aykroyd are still around, the younger ghostbusters aren’t lovable slob scientists. Rudd’s nice-guy new dad is busy trying to assert himself as a stepfather. The vibe is cute with occasional moments of spooking.

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From left, Celeste O'Connor, Kumail Nanjiani, Finn Wolfhard and James Acaster in a scene from Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.Jaap Buitendijk/The Associated Press

That said, Aykroyd, who co-wrote the summer of 1984 blockbuster with the late Harold Ramis, is the heart and soul of a film that sets new against old. The iconic firehouse is still there, as mentioned, but there’s also a new higher-tech facility for better spectral snatching. Aykroyd’s Stantz beams with fatherly pride when presented with the cutting-edge weaponry. We can see that as a metaphor.

The family and legacy themes extend off-camera. The movie is dedicated to Ivan Reitman (father of Jason), who directed and produced the franchise’s first two films. He died in 2022.

A ghost’s business is unfinished business. Aykroyd, the franchise’s godfather, should now step aside. His business is done; he no longer needs to answer the call.

In the interest of consistency across all critics’ reviews, The Globe has eliminated its star-rating system in film and theatre to align with coverage of music, books, visual arts and dance. Instead, works of excellence will be noted with a critic’s pick designation across all coverage. (Television reviews, typically based on an incomplete season, are exempt.)

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