On the Screen: New ‘Ghostbusters’ struggles to balance original ideas and nostalgia

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” picks up right where “Afterlife” left off, and it also succumbs to a lot of the same problems

In 2016, everything changed for me when I saw the “Ghostbusters” reboot film that starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones.

I never had any affinity for the original “Ghostbusters” of the 1980s, but I fell in love with the 2016 film’s cast, its trashy Fall Out Boy cover of the iconic theme song and the broader concept of the Ghostbusters as supernatural blue-collar workers.

“Ghostbusters” is fun! There’s something about the idea of a team of scientists pulling on overalls and responding to reported hauntings with their gadgets that speaks to me — the silly dance scenes also helped. I saw the film several times in theaters, filled my Tumblr with gifs of McKinnon’s Dr. Jillian Holtzmann, and eagerly awaited a sequel that never came.

Instead, “Ghostbusters” was rebooted a second time, returning to the universe of the original films and centering on children of the original leads in “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” a straight-forward legacy sequel with a lot of charm that I greatly enjoyed.

That film was special because of its central cast: Mckenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard as siblings Phoebe and Trevor, Carrie Coon as their mother Callie, and Paul Rudd as substitute teacher-turned stand-in father Gary Grooberson. It was at its worst when it rolled out Bill Murray back in costume as Dr. Peter Venkman and paused for audience applause.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” picks up right where “Afterlife” left off, and it also succumbs to a lot of the same problems. It’s an imaginative film overstuffed with great performances that has plenty of fun to offer, but it culminates in a muddled climax where many of its characters are left with too little to do.

The family dynamics of the core cast are the most interesting thing the film has to offer, as they navigate their odd work-life balances now back in New York City and the iconic firehouse. They’re thrust into a high stakes adventure when an ancient ghost god is accidentally reawakened and begins insidiously pulling strings to create an army of ghosts — starting with the countless specters already in Ghostbuster custody.

The film buckles under the weight of following up on the stories and characters introduced in “Afterlife” as it also tries to balance new storylines and much larger features for the original Ghostbusters — especially Dan Aykroyd’s Dr. Ray Stantz — and blowing out its universe in a big way by introducing new mythology, new magical powers and a whole new science division for the Ghostbusters enterprise.

Almost all of this is solid. Grace shines as Phoebe deals with the emotions of being benched by pesky labor laws, the new villain is menacing and effective, and it’s exciting to see fresh concepts introduced to a franchise that has seemed mired in its own history.

The problem is that there is just too much going on. There are too many main characters vying for screen time and the result underserves all of them. Trailers made a big deal of Annie Potts’ Janine Melnitz finally suiting up as a Ghostbuster, but she isn’t given anything to do in the film’s climax. Another character wholly disappears without explanation.

There’s a beating heart in Rudd, Coon, Grace and Wolfhard’s characters that the film is afraid to let shine on its own without reminding the audience that Bill Murray is back too. That’s not to say I’m against the original cast sticking around — Ernie Hudson’s Dr. Winston Zeddemore is a delight in his new role at the helm of the Ghostbusters operation — but the film is trapped at a crossroads between pandering to people who like the old movies and creating something interesting and new.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is a fun evening out at the movies, with imaginative thrills and more standout performances by great actors than it knows what to do with. Its messy ending and a feeling of bloat are hard to shake, but I’m still plenty excited to see where this franchise goes.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is playing this weekend at the Kenai Cinema and the Orca Theater. Check showtimes and purchase movie tickets at catheaters.com or orcatheater.com. The film will come to the Homer Theater on April 12.

Reach reporter Jake Dye at jacob.dye@peninsulaclarion.com.