" You did it without thinking, whcih leads me to believe you could have a career in marketing. "
— Danny DeVito, The Big Kahuna

MRQE Top Critic

Straight To Hell Returns

Post-Repo Man cult favorite returns with improved special effects —John Adams (review...)

Alex Cox returns... Straight to Hell

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The Ghostbusters series has found a new calling: telling stories with heart.

Spin Doctors

Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) spies a Stay-Puft
Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) spies a Stay-Puft

It’s popular — even easy — to throw shade at a long-running series of any sort, but especially at a series like Ghostbusters, which is marking its 40th anniversary this summer.

It’s easy, but not necessarily fair.

Sure, Ghostbusters 2 was a dud at the time of its release in 1989, overshadowed by Tim Burton’s Batman and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In retrospect, it has its merits.

More merciless was the inexplicable mauling of 2016’s female-led version. That one worked really well, but it was a shame the remaining original Ghostbusters stars made cameos as completely different, unrelated characters. It would’ve been cool to see Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray hand over their proton packs to Kate McKinnon and Melissa McCarthy.

But hold on. Maybe it’s just as well that didn’t happen since Aykroyd and Murray slipped on their ghostbusting suits once again in 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. What an emotional movie moment, especially with its tribute to Harold Ramis. In Afterlife, new life was breathed into the series, led in large part by a great turn from Mckenna Grace (Young Sheldon) as Phoebe, Egon’s granddaughter.

Now, in Frozen Empire, Phoebe becomes the heart of the story — and it’s a pretty good one.

Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon

Frozen Empire begins with a backstory that starts in New York City in 1904 at a meeting of the Manhattan Adventurers Society. The whole membership is frozen stiff by an evil spirit. In the middle of the summer.

Cut to 120 years later and that menace, Garraka, is back. With Frozen Empire, it’s a relief much more time was put into creating a wholly new evil. Garraka has his own backstory, in which he’s imprisoned in a spherical cryptex-type artifact. As his story — and Frozen Empire — unfolds, he turns out to be quite a cool monster. Um. Yeah. Pun intended.

But that’s not Frozen Empire’s real hook. That lies in Phoebe. It’s so disappointing when she’s benched — by legal threats from the mayor of New York City, a creep by the name of Walter Peck (William Atherton). Remember him? He was with the city’s EPA 40 years ago, in the original Ghostbusters. He was a party to the “dogs and cats living together” conversation.

Peck still hates the Ghostbusters and, yeah, it’s a nice bit of nostalgia to see him back on screen. But his return is also a device that brings Frozen Empire’s heartfelt narrative twist.

Phoebe’s benching leads to her playing a solitary game of chess in a park. And there she meets Melody (Emily Alyn Lind, Gossip Girl). Melody’s a 16-year-old ghost who wants to see her family again. Garraka could make that happen. Phoebe wants to know what it’s like to be a ghost. Garraka would enjoy making that happen.

Tie this into to a comment Ray (now an antiquarian) makes about busting ghosts being the thing he loves doing most and the movie being dedicated to Ivan Reitman, the original Ghostbusters director who passed shortly after Afterlife’s release, and there’s something special there. Something special that’s buoyed by terrific performances by Grace and Lind.

Push the Button!

It’s a trade-off.

Frozen Empire isn’t as magical or funny as the original — or Afterlife — but it still works as a piece of pop culture entertainment featuring a healthy amount of heart and a nifty new source of evil.

On the flip side, it was disappointing Afterlife went for a retread by bringing back Gozer and the gatekeepers construct. But — wow — what a heart for the characters.

Slimer — looking chubbier than ever — is back. And so is an army of miniature Stay Puft marshmallow men. Their playful, manic antics are reminiscent of Gremlins.

While Gil Kenan co-wrote both Frozen Empire and Afterlife with Jason Reitman, he’s got big shoes to fill in trying to step in as director and pick up the series after both Reitmans Ivan and Jason left their mark. Having started out with a splash helming the animated Monster House in 2006, Kenan could use a little more time cutting his teeth behind the camera before taking on a movie this high in profile. But, he does a good enough job to make Frozen Empire work. And it works its best moments not with extravagant special effects but with heart.