‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: Avoiding Repossession

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, a stronger legacy sequel entry that finds a solid balance between the golden years and new steps forward.
User Rating: 6

It’s odd to try and establish definitive lines for what belongs in a Ghostbusters movie. That said, there always has been something strange in this cinematic neighborhood. What began as a slobs vs. snobs 80s comedy matched with a supernatural hook has now evolved into an apparently generational adventure-fantasy-comedy series, complete with new mythologies to cover, in addition to the younger characters. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire manages to outdo 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife thanks to a stronger script with less reliance on callbacks to carry so much of the weight of the film. Does it justify this desire for Sony to shape this idea that began as “blue-collar workers serve as spiritual pest control” into an ever-expanding universe? Hard to say. But this time around, the pieces are more securely in place, which ultimately allows bustin’ to feel still mostly pretty good.

In the previous film, Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) and her kids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), managed to learn the truth about their estranged patriarch, Egon (the late Harold Ramis). This led them to take on the family business back in New York City, where they now work as Ghostbusters, along with science teacher/Callie’s boyfriend, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). Their actions raise some questions, with their existence again being picked apart by William Atherton’s Walter Peck (he’s somehow been elected to mayor).

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My chief concern with how this film was being sold revolved around the positioning of character importance. I was not a big fan of ‘Afterlife,’ but Grace’s Phoebe did stand out as a fully realized character. Looking at just the poster, was Paul Rudd really about to suddenly take center stage this time? Fortunately, no, that is not the case. ‘Frozen Empire’ wants to work as an ensemble, benefiting the film. Grace ultimately stands out as the character receiving the most significant arc (while Wolfhard’s Trevor continues to feel like an afterthought), but I can appreciate how this film wants to make room for all the Ghostbusters it can.

That also speaks to the film’s lack of reliance on obvious nostalgia-baiting this time around. While there are still obvious callbacks and some frustrating elements that serve no purpose other than to be pointed at by the audience for the sake of recognition, this is a movie making the wise choice of not just recreating the glory years but moving forward in exciting ways. Sure, that also means expanding the threats out there and raising the stakes in a way that reduces the irrelevance that comes from watching funny folks with mini nuclear reactors on their backs blasting away at apparitions, but so be it.

The plot revolves around an ancient artifact unearthed by a lazy online reseller played by Kumail Nanjiani. It contains a primeval being that could unleash a second Ice Age if released. To get to the bottom of what’s happening, the various Ghostbusters put together all their resources to try and figure out what’s going on before it’s too late.

Directed by Gil Kenan, who co-wrote the previous film with Jason Reitman (they’ve essentially swapped duties for this feature), there’s a bit of a laid-back approach to the unfolding plot. That is somewhat in line with the original nature of the Ghostbusters. Still, at the same time, I did keep wondering why more urgency wasn’t being placed on an object screaming “bad news” at all of the characters. What I did appreciate, however, was the film’s willingness to explore its fantastical side a bit more.

We’ve seen Slimer, Terror Dogs, Zuul, and Viggo the Carpathian, but unless you want to get into the weeds with the cartoon series, exploring the ghosts on any deeper level has never really been a part of this series. This movie has fun ideas for what further research has led to when it comes to trapping ghosts in containment units. At the same time, a character embodied by Emily Alyn Lind leads to a significant relationship to create empathy for one of these specters instead of just seeing them scream and slime their way around town.

With that comes another benefit of Frozen Empire. The choice to include the original Ghostbusters again has led to more substantial uses of their talent. By making them more essential to the plot, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson get to really act and have fun, and Bill Murray doesn’t seem to be trying to actively sabotage the movie. Essentially, this whole enterprise feels rather thought out. Instead of grimacing with displeasure at a film desperately trying to match lightning in a bottle, I can recognize that Kenan and Reitman have found ways to explore what they have somewhat refreshingly, even with a layer of familiarity running through it.

Plus, it doesn’t hurt that this film looks great. Sony has consistently done well with Ghostbusters, matching its comedy roots with a budget to support its ambitious approach to visual effects. For a film that has horror elements yet is still designed to appeal to general audiences, there are neat choices for the ghosts we see, the threats presented, and the kinds of ghostbusting action that goes down. Given all that I’ve harked upon regarding the studio’s need to fit these films into the franchise box, it’s at least doing the work to compete visually, which is appreciated.

If you want to put on the theme music and relax with another entry in the world of Ghostbusters, this is an acceptable approach. There are a lot of friendly comedic faces working well enough together, the ECTO-1 gets its time to shine, and there’s enough progression in Frozen Empire to feel like a solid step forward from where things began. Do I still have hangups regarding how far the 1984 classic can really be taken (let alone concern about its shortcomings regarding simple things like more defining of a character named Podcast)? I suppose, but new fans are climbing on board, and I ain’t afraid of none of that. So if the Ghostbusters are gonna keep getting calls, at least I’m seeing more that is worthwhile.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire opens in theaters and IMAX on March 22, 2024.

6
Fair
Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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