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HomeBollywoodThe Spooky Reboot Finds Its Groove In A Fun, Scary Sequel

The Spooky Reboot Finds Its Groove In A Fun, Scary Sequel

Quite alarmingly, the fifth entry in the Ghostbusters series — following straight on from the unexpectedly charming Afterlife — starts by quoting all 51 words of Robert Frost’s 1923 poem Fire and Ice, which posits two very different apocalyptic scenarios for the end of the world. Has the franchise suddenly fallen prey to the glum Christopher Nolanization of what we used to think of as bubblegum entertainment? Is Paul Feig’s controversial 2016 all-female iteration about to be frozen out of the canon? Will it be worthy and… boring?

Well, if you liked Afterlife, and not everybody did, the answer is no. It is confusing at times, and not everything works, but Frozen Empire does a very good job of keeping the flame alive, 40 years after the fact. As opposed to The Dial of Destiny, which leaned way too hard into the modern-day appeal of an action hero who’s now 80, the new-era Ghostbusters is determined to start from scratch, and it’s telling that this film, like its predecessor, is at its weakest when trying to work in cameos for original stars Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson.

A preliminary sequence set in the summer of 1904 takes place at the building that will later become the Ghostbusters’ New York HQ in the 1980s. Back in that time, it is the base of the all-male Manhattan Adventurer’s Society, and, although it’s a boiling-hot day in July, their meeting brings out the emergency services who find that all the attendees have been frozen where they sit, in mid-action and mid-sentence. A woman in a heavy metallic veil, holding a mysterious bronze orb, is the only living witness to these bizarre events.

Cut to the present day, and the Spengler family — the descendants of Egon (the late Harold Ramis), who saved the world in Afterlife — are chasing the ghost of a sewer dragon through the streets of Manhattan in the Ectomobile. Egon’s daughter Callie (Carrie Coon) and former teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) are now an item, having apparently resurrected the Ghostbusters brand with Callie’s kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), now 18, and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), now 15. As it was back in the day, the job is still a labor of love (“We’re all being paid with memories,” says Grooberson, as they career down what could well be Broadway, destroying great swathes of it in the process).

The ghost-chase leaves a trail of carnage, which does not impress Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton), the “dickless” EPA villain in the first movie. Peck’s hatred of the Ghostbusters is a callback that may not spring immediately to mind, but Atherton reprises his bad-guy duties like a pro, focusing on Phoebe — to him, effectively child labor — as the weak link that he can exploit to finish them off forever. Meanwhile, original Ghostbuster Stantz (Aykroyd), has opened up a secret research center and spectral depository in a former aquarium in order to cope with the overflow that’s straining HQ’s containment unit and liable to cause “a psychic jam as big as the American West”.

With its core protagonists in place — the Spenglers plus Grooberson and the original Ghostbusters minus Ramis — Frozen Empire makes the strange decision to add three more characters to the mix, even while bringing back two key players from the last film — Podcast (Logan) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) — then effectively leaving them on the benches. One is paranormal scientist Lars, played in lieu of any available actor by British standup James Acaster, the other is Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani), a chancer who comes into possession of the bronze orb we saw in the (literally) cold opening.

The third, and sadly the least likely to return, is Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a melancholy teenage ghost that Phoebe encounters while playing al fresco chess. Burned alive in a horrifying tenement fire, Melody befriends Phoebe, and their cross-dimensional friendship is a deliberate and very sweet distraction from the plot that’s being laid out; an attempt by a monstrous ancient creature called Garraka to infiltrate modern civilisation and destroy mankind using the paralyzing Death Chill (“The power to kill by fear itself”).

As was the case in Afterlife, the first 90 minutes or so is a prelude to the heritage bit, where the skies over (insert town/city here) turn into a CGI maelstrom reminiscent of Fantasia’s “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence and the OGs — Original Ghostbusters — rock up at the last minute to unload their proton packs (there’s even a sense now that the franchise is trolling us with how much of the famously unpredictable Bill Murray we’re actually going to see).

But, unusually for a reboot, this fan service actually gets in the way of what’s good about this new iteration: Rudd and Coon have a warm and understated flaky chemistry that really works, while Wolfhard and — especially — Grace feel real, awkward and honest in a way that blockbuster teenagers haven’t in a long time.

Just as Afterlife was dedicated to Ramis, Frozen Empire is dedicated to co-writer Jason Reitman’s father Ivan, who directed the original Ghostbusters and also the 1973 exploitation film Cannibal Girls (“These girls do exactly what you think they do!”) which is referenced here in an in-joke, just as it was in Afterlife. One gets the feeling, though, that Reitman Jr. knows that it’s time now to let go of that legacy.

If there’s to be a third with this cast, there are some interesting seeds sown here, not least in Grace’s terrific but somehow never quite fulfilled performance as the supersmart but emotionally vulnerable Phoebe. Likewise, there’s plenty of scope to develop Wolfhard’s Trevor, now trying to establish himself as an adult within this new, unconventional family unit. And, though some familiar monsters return (this time the gelatinous Slimer and the terrifying old lady in the library), the scares are inventive and pushed about as far as they can go in a family-friendly comedy, just as they were in the not-so-tame ’80s.

There’s a good chance that this is where the current franchise will end, as the once-younger cast ages out (and, quite frankly, the new characters aren’t interesting enough to justify a whole new movie). But there is potential, too; there’s perhaps another movie in this reboot universe, one in which the ragtag Spenglers are finally allowed to confront something weird by themselves — even if it don’t look good — without needing to call for backup.

Title: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Distributor: Sony
Director: Gil Kenan
Screenwriter: Jason Reitman, Gil Kenan
Cast: Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Dan Akroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts
Rating: PG-13
Running time: 1 hr 55 min

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