The Spool / Movies
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire struggles to materialize
We ain't afraid of--or laughing at--no ghosts in Sony's frosty attempts at reviving the franchise.
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MPAA RatingPG-13
StudioColumbia Pictures,
4.0
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There are few names as deeply ingrained in the fabric of American pop culture as Ghostbusters, the action-comedy franchise spawned by Ivan Reitman’s beloved 1984 film. Nonetheless, despite its staggering financial success (netting nearly 300 million against a 25 million dollar budget) and pop culture permeance, Sony has had trouble recapturing the magic in later entries. Neither 1989’s Ghostbusters II, 2016’s Ghostbusters, and 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife have neared the original’s success. 

Despite that, it seems the Ghostbusters franchise has finally found a sequel concept it’s willing to forge ahead with. The franchise’s latest installment, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, is a direct sequel to Afterlife. It once more reunites Egon Spengler’s (Harold Ramis) children with the three living original Ghostbusters— Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Bill Murray. Despite an intriguing subplot for Phoebe, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is an incohesive, unoriginal entry. It coasts on fan service to carry a paper-thin plot and a lukewarm crop of characters, new and old.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (Sony Pictures)
Bill Murray and Paul Rudd discuss their love of fog machines. (Sony Pictures)

Picking up two years after the events of AfterlifeFrozen Empire follows the Spengler family (Carrie Coon, Paul Rudd, McKenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard) to New York City. After the previous film’s tradition-breaking decision to unfold in rural Oklahoma, this returns the franchise to its true home. Bankrolled by the uber-wealthy Winston (Hudson) they’re back operating out of the old Ghostbusters firehouse. There the Spenglers struggle to juggle ghost-hunting with their interpersonal dynamics. That’s all while working to keep the mayor (William Atherton) from shutting the family business.

However, Atherton’s vindictive mayor hits the back burner when an unassuming customer, Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), sells Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) a mysterious artifact. It contains Garraka, a terrifying spirit hell-bent on transforming New York into an icy wasteland. United (or, in some cases, pulled out of retirement) by a common threat, the Spenglers join forces with the original Ghostbusters trio (and beloved secretary Janine Melitz) to put a stop to Garraka and save the City (again). Undeniably, it’s a delight seeing ECTO-1 peel around blocks, sirens blazing. The opening chase sequence is a formidable attempt at recapturing the original’s magic, if a little overzealous with new gadgets. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (Sony Pictures)
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’s big bad. He’s shy. (Sony Pictures)

But while the franchise may have returned to its location roots, it struggles to channel the fierce wit and dry humor that made the original such a smash hit. Despite Reitman penning Frozen Empire’s script, the film is strangely (and, at times, painfully) devoid of humor. In terms of tone, the film is far closer to a family action-adventure film and it suffers for it. 

Certainly, it’s no crime to want more grounded emotional stakes, but when a film’s ensemble cast is as large as Frozen Empire’s is, developing cohesive, affecting stories for each character becomes a fool’s errand. In trying to give each Spengler some semblance of an arc, the film spreads itself far too thin, delivering a baker’s dozen of underbaked subplots. Coon’s Callie and Wolfhard’s Trevor shoulder the brunt of this problem. Writing both characters out of the film would change nothing, even if Trevor’s involves fan fave Slimer. 

Speaking of Slimer, his fan service friendly return (along with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man) highlights the stark visual contrast between the ’84 Ghostbusters and Frozen Empire. Despite borrowing the original’s campy, colorful creature designs, the film composites them against gray CGI skylines and muddy tableaus. Still, even if the color grading leaves much to be desired, Eve Stewart’s production design delivers a faithful recreation of the Ghostbusters firehouse, including ample (often gleeful) use of the firepole.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (Sony Pictures)
McKenna Grace has an old friend she’d love for you to meet. (Sony Pictures)

Fluffy, inconsequential subplots like Trevor’s Slimer saga might be forgivable if they’re vehicles from good comedy. Unfortunately, it’s not as if any of these characters are particularly funny. Grace, Coon, and Wolfhard are all formidable dramatic performers, but Rudd’s the only member of the quartet who could truly be considered a comedian. Yet, for all his charms, not even Rudd can make this script funny. Frozen Empire has the same brand of bland quips he’s undoubtedly gotten used to after so many MCU installments. 

It’s not as if there aren’t other comedians in the cast though. British comic James Acaster features in a supporting role as Lars, a scientist on Winston’s payroll. But even Acaster’s signature brand of offbeat deadpan is rendered toothless and sanitized under Kenan’s direction, forced to deliver half-baked jokes courtesy of Kenan and Jason Reitman’s script. The sheer lack of humor in the script is especially egregious considering Akroyd’s involvement with the project. Given his prominent role here and co-writing the first, his not punching up the script feels like a lost opportunity.

The Previous Generation (Sony Pictures)
Annie Potts, Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, and Ernie Hudson politely make room for the next generation. (Sony Pictures)

Still, there is one Spengler whose story takes a refreshing turn—McKenna Grace’s Phoebe, who serves as the film’s pseudo-protagonist. Sidelined from active Ghostbuster duty, Phoebe strikes up an unlikely friendship. Her new pal, Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), is a melancholic, chess-loving ghost living in Central Park. The Phoebe/Melody dynamic is an unexpected delight. Though never progressing past platonic, the duo’s connection hints at themes of self-discovery and identity very much in line with Phoebe’s character. They’re remarkably thoughtful for an otherwise milquetoast family action flick. The subplot suffers from the film’s inability to juggle all its plates though. Like Nanjiani’s Nadeem, Melody often feels shoehorned into the story. She too often disappears for long stretches only to reappear when you’ve forgotten about her.

When all is said and done, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a mostly inoffensive family-oriented action flick made infinitely more disappointing through its association with the Ghostbusters name. It lacks the wit and comedic chops of the original, failing to deliver a compelling or cohesive story. Not even bright spot Grace can save it.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire rolls into theatres in ECTO-1 starting March 22.

SimilarAnnie Hall (1977), Back to the Future Part II (1989), Back to the Future Part III (1990), Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan (2006), Breakfast at Tiffany's (1961), Constantine (2005), Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer (2007), From Russia with Love (1963), Ghost (1990), Goldfinger (1964), Hellboy (2004), Home Alone 2: Lost in New York (1992), Jaws: The Revenge (1987), King Kong (1933), King Kong (2005), Live and Let Die (1973) Manhattan (1979), Men in Black II (2002), North by Northwest (1959), Ocean's Eleven (1960), Shaft (2000) Snakes on a Plane (2006), Spider-Man 2 (2004), Spider-Man 3 (2007), Stranger Than Paradise (1984), Superman Returns (2006), The Apartment (1960), The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005), The Green Mile (1999), Volver (2006),
MPAA RatingPG-13
StudioColumbia Pictures,