Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire May Be Messy, But It Made Us Feel Good

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire May Be Messy, But It Made Us Feel Good

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire feels like the first real Ghostbusters sequel since 1989’s Ghostbusters II, even though it isn’t. In between, we had 2016’s Answer the Call, a controversial, largely unrelated entry. There was also 2021’s Afterlife, a valiant, well-intentioned effort that had to simultaneously lay the groundwork for a new generation of Ghostbusters while also appealing to classic fans. Now though, with all those pieces in place, Frozen Empire hits the ground running, delivering on the promises of all its predecessors: A new team of Ghostbusters, helping the old ones, in their old stomping grounds of New York, saving the world from something big and spooky. It often favors tone and attitude over a propulsive story, which can drag things a bit, but that tone and attitude nail the indescribable feeling of a Ghostbusters movie, even with a laundry list of problems.

Frozen Empire achieves that feeling by finding a delicate, yet delightful balance between the past, present, and even the future. Nostalgia for the original films is sprinkled throughout while a formidable new villain rises from centuries before. A family must bond while dealing with the modern problems of life as a Ghostbuster. And concepts about what Ghostbusters are, and can become, are explored in the film as well. Some of those ideas work better than others, and there are some glaring issues, especially near the end—but the whole movie is constructed as a love letter to the world of Ghostbusting, even at the expense of pacing, logic, and character. Basically if you, like me, are a fan of Ghostbusters and everything that entails, those problems take a backseat because the movie is such a fun hang.

The Spenglers in trouble.

After the events of Afterlife, Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) gifts the original Ghostbusters firehouse in New York to the Spengler family of Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). The family now lives there and, with the help of Callie’s boyfriend Gary (Paul Rudd), they bring back the Ghostbusters. This happens almost instantly, throwing us right back into that family-forward fun that worked so well in Afterlife. Honestly, if the movie was just two hours of the Spenglers driving around and busting ghosts, it would be pretty great, and so anytime that happens, it’s huge plus.

Frozen Empire also spends a fair amount of time with the original Ghostbusters: Winston, Ray Stanz (Dan Aykroyd), and to a lesser extent, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray). We see how they’ve continued to work together and kept their idea of Ghostbusters alive, in large part thanks to Winston’s considerable resources. However, those guys know better than most that busting ghosts is not an exact science. And when the Spenglers get in trouble with the city, Phoebe is forced to stop working with the team.

With free time on her hands, Phoebe befriends a teen ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). Seeing a human and a ghost simply be friends is kind of a big swing and not everything about it lands. There’s an unspoken romance, for example, that feels almost purposefully implicit rather than explicit. Nevertheless, through their relationship, Frozen Empire does something no other Ghostbusters movie has ever done: actually talk about the fact these people live in a world where we know ghosts exist! Via Phoebe and Melody, Frozen Empire discusses larger concepts like the afterlife, what it’s like to be a ghost, and more. It’s not essential to the plot or anything, but these welcome additions give the film some much-needed weight and a real sense of evolution for the series.

Slime from the ceiling is a bad sign.

Make no mistake though, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire isn’t some serious rumination on death. It’s very much about busting ghosts, which it tackles from several different directions. There’s action, there’s mystery, and there’s investigation. Plus, some of the best moments derive from the ways writers Gil Kenan (who also directs) and Jason Reitman (who also produces) have figured out to advance the core ideas of the franchise. The film posits that 1984’s Ghostbusting tech would be outdated by now, right? What new ways, if at all, can someone capture or hold a ghost? Does there only have to be one set of Ghostbusters?

A lot of care was taken to weave those sorts of winks and nods throughout the story, the bulk of which centers on Phoebe. Her prominence is a clear indication Kenan and Reitman knew the character was the best part of the last movie, and Grace doesn’t disappoint. Now though, as a full-on teenager, Phoebe is struggling with her mom, herself, and her place in the world. She’s not as fun or funny as she was in Afterlife, but she’s more layered, interesting, and, in the end, heroic.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everyone else in the movie, and there are a lot of other people in this movie. With the focus mostly on Phoebe, almost everyone else takes a decided back seat with a very narrow point of view. Gary struggles with his undefined role among the Spenglers. Callie is at odds with Phoebe while also scrambling to keep everyone together. Trevor feels like he’s not being respected since he’s now an adult. Frozen Empire even squeezes Afterlife castmembers Logan Kim (as Podcast) and Celeste O’Connor (as Lucky) back in, as each Oklahoma resident has somehow figured out a way to be conveniently close to the Spenglers in New York. It can be disappointing to see this huge cast largely underused, especially as they all stand around awkwardly in the final act, but each at least has some role to play when a ghost needs busting or a piece of the plot needs explaining.

James Acaster plays an important new role as Winston’s employee, Lars.

One exception to this is Dan Aykroyd’s Ray. Ray has always been kind of the second best of the Ghostbusters, but with Bill Murray not in the movie as much, Frozen Empire really gets a chance to shine a light on him in a way the other movies haven’t. We learn about Ray’s insecurities, his dreams, and his ambitions. And, as you’d imagine, Aykroyd is more than up to the task. Every time he’s on screen you can practically see the joy and pride exuding out of him. He’s been waiting for this his whole life, and that goes for both the actor and his character.

With Ray and Phoebe—two of the funniest people in the series—as focal points, you’d imagine Frozen Empire is quite funny. However, that’s not the case. The movie is entertaining and humorous, but unfortunately lacks the big laughs you might expect from a cast and crew of this caliber. Paul Rudd does his best, and the additions of James Acaster, Kumail Nanjiani, and Patton Oswalt were smart, but of the three, only Nanjiani is given anything of real substance to do. Thankfully, he knocks it out of the park but he can’t carry the whole movie as a supporting character.

About that whole Frozen Empire thing.

Another huge problem with Frozen Empire is that the third act feels incredibly rushed and confusing. The big bad is a ghost named Garraka and a lot of time is spent learning about his mythology, with only some of it making sense. Even so, all of it and more gets thrown in a blender, resulting in an awkward, rushed finale where almost a dozen Ghostbusters just kind of stand around helpless. It’s a massive letdown after a movie that’s been more methodical than not setting up the stakes for what the Ghostbusters have to do. Thankfully, unlike Afterlife—which just ended without any good solid conclusion—Frozen Empire sticks its final landing, wrapping everything up in a way that’s satisfying but also forward-looking. Just in case the Ghostbusters come back again.

So no, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire isn’t a total triumph. It’s got big problems throughout and won’t sit in your memory alongside the original film or its sequel. But, if this movie had come out closer to those films, it would’ve felt like a perfect, logical continuation. A slight downgrade as the franchise continued to expand. Here though, Frozen Empire achieves much of its success from all the groundwork laid in Afterlife. If nothing else, the best thing Frozen Empire does is somehow complete the arc of that movie in a way that improves them both. Plus, it just feels like a proper Ghostbusters movie. And busting makes us feel good, even when it’s messy.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in theaters Friday.

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