Who ya gonna call?

Who ya gonna call? March 29, 2024

Image: IMDB

I started to write that the Ghostbusters franchise has had only mixed success–both Ghostbusters 2 and Ghostbusters: Answer the Call notoriously underperformed, while the original movie, video game, animated series, and Ghostbusters: Afterlife are all solid home runs. And yet, two not-so-great films set against two fantastic films and a solid video game (not to mention dozens of excellent animated episodes) can hardly be counted as “mixed.” So I think it’s better to say that the franchise is an artistic success. We have hundreds of hours of solid entertainment that is generally both family friendly (for the most part) and thoughtfully made, and stands up to multiple levels of analysis. The only real question is whether Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire will contribute to that success, or detract from it?

And the answer is: really kind-of neither. It’s an okay movie. Not great, not terrible, just okay. Really this would have made a good, solid, three-part Real Ghostbusters episode. As a movie it definitely has its strengths, but it also has its flaws–and the two kind-of balance each other out.

If you’ve not seen the trailer, the plot is pretty straight-forward [spoilers abound henceforth!] Ray Stantz has gotten his hands on an ancient version of a ghost trap containing within it an ancient god (because of course he has). He turns it over to Winston Zeddemore’s ghost busting compound [and can I throw in an aside here that is mostly irrelevant, but somehow Ernie Hudson is both the oldest of the original four Ghostbusters and the youngest looking. Seriously, if you told me he was in his late 40s or early 50s I wouldn’t argue with you…] who proceed to study it. But then! Phoebe, while undergoing a personal crisis over the difficulties of being a teenager and knowing where to fit in with the family and with society, befriends a ghost who tricks her into temporarily becoming a ghost herself and freeing said ancient god, who plans to empty the original ghost containment unit and form an army of ghosts to conquer the world. Only the Firemaster can stop him, with an assist from both the original Ghostbusters and the new generation.

Again, there’s the kernel of a great plot there, but given how difficult and convoluted even my one-paragraph summary is, you can see that there’s a problem with the plot. Frankly the movie tries to do too much. They wrangle the problem of the aging original Ghostbusters (at one point Winston berates Ray for investigating a ghost and endangering both himself and the kids–and at his age!), the problem of teenagers trying to fit in with the family and the world (but not really able to define their own terms), the problem of an ancient god trying to destroy the world, and several lesser threads left from earlier films (just how full is that containment unit anyway? is there a maximum capacity?).

One thing Frozen Empire has going for it: reflection on the afterlife generally, and what that means for us as individuals specifically. The previous series just ignores the question of the afterlife that incorporating (heh) ghosts into a plotline inherently raises. To its credit, Frozen Empire acknowledges the question, admits our general ignorance, mentions something about quantum physics (as if those two words are a talisman that can be used to answer the mysteries of the universe, rather than simply being a field of study that asks more questions), and then moves on with the plot. There were a lot of places for reflections on the afterlife to go wrong, and the movie doesn’t really go that route. Instead we get a touch of free will, but are largely left with ghosts as beings who face the same moral choices that you and I do and their destination still a matter of mystery to the majority of the world.

Which means that Frozen Empire is a great conversation starter for those of us whose faith offers truths (albeit limited and shadowy ones) about the afterlife. That it’s also an okay movie is that much the better, even if we can wish that it had lived up to the potential of its predecessor.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast an Amazon Associate (which is linked in this blog), and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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