GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE Brings Generations Together with Mixed Results

Ghostbusters: Afterlife was a Ghostbusters movie in name far more than substance. With its young stars and focus on action, it had more in common with classic Amblin films or Stranger Things than the franchise’s original two installments. That dramatic change in tone, characters, and setting obviously wasn’t a problem for most people. Afterlife boasts a stellar audience score. But its new sequel, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, is a lot more like a Ghostbusters movie. It returns the group to where it all began, the repurposed New York City firehouse. It also features far more of the original squad and a focus on ghost lore in a heartfelt film that combines generations while still keeping the same spirit and focus of Afterlife. Unfortunately too many characters, mediocre visuals, and subpar comedy turns this mixing of eras into a mixed bag of a movie.

Frozen Empire simply has way too many Ghostbusters. By the time the film reaches its inevitable big showdown there are 11 people who are essentially in the group. (Plus there’s a 12th person fighting alongside them.) The overstuffed cast means some of the most important characters don’t get enough attention from the script. Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon, two of the best actors in the world and major figures in Afterlife, aren’t involved nearly as much as they should be. And yet they still get far bigger and more important roles than Finn Wolfhard. He’s mostly relegated into his own unconnected subplot of trying to trap Slimer. (Who is just there because it’s fun to see Slimer.) Those are three of the four new Ghostbusters! Yet they often feel like ancillary figures in what should be their movie.

That’s because in addition to increased roles for original stars Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and Dan Aykroyd, the film also brings back other characters from Afterlife. Logan Kim’s Podcast and Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky make their way to New York, too. Meanwhile the film adds newcomers James Acaster as a paranormal researcher and Kumail Nanjiani as the grandson of a powerful woman. They’re all good (especially Nanjiani, who consistently provides much needed laughs). But there are only so many scenes to go around. With so many people involved, too many important characters are woefully underserved.

The original Ghostbusters in uniform running from the smoking Ectomobile in Frozen Empire
Sony Pictures

The film also still looks too glossy, even if it is slightly less polished than Afterlife, a movie that looks like it takes place inside Speed Racer. A return to the Big Apple does not mean a return to the gritty naturalism of the first two films. This is a shiny, far less interesting New York City than the franchise has given us before.

It doesn’t help that the special effects aren’t especially good either. That mediocre VFX is best captured by a very important, sad ghost played by Emily Alyn Lind. Her blue-tinged spirit doesn’t look awful, but it does look worse than the specters from the two original Ghostbusters movies.

One thing that does look awful is Garraka, the big bad ancient demon who turns the city into an icy hellscape. Sometimes that lanky horned ghoul looks like a cheap CGI-creature they didn’t have time to finish rendering. Other times it looks like a discontinued lawn ornament bought on clearance from Spirit Halloween during the first week of November. I’m still not sure which version of Garraka I prefer. I guess I’d go with the one you can’t see cause he’s locked up in an ancient bronze ball for most of the film.

The movie’s other big issues are with the script itself. Frozen Empire gets too deep into ghost lore at times. It’s internal logic is also non-existent. If you think too deeply about certain plot points for even a second, you’ll get mad. It also misuses one of the franchise’s best villains, William Atherton’s Walter Peck. His story makes no sense when you know what the character has personally seen with his own two eyes. Atherton himself is great, but the writing for the character is lazy and uninspired. It’s a real missed opportunity because “Peck 40 years later” had so much potential.

William Atherton as Walter Peck with a beard and black vest sits at a desk in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

An even bigger problem—my personal biggest gripe—is that the movie isn’t very funny. That’s partly because this franchise is no longer a sci-fi comedy series with some action. It’s a sci-fi action series with some comedy. Well, attempts at comedy. When the script isn’t busy with its overabundance of chase and actions scenes, it’s trying really hard to be funny. Only the harder it tries, the flatter it falls. If not for Paul Rudd’s natural charm, many scenes would be painfully unfunny.

You really feel the disappointing humor when Bill Murray finally shows up and is instantly hilarious with very little effort. He has one of the smallest roles in the Frozen Empire, which would have really benefitted from a lot more of Dr. Venkman. The movie desperately needs a lot more of the easy breeziness that was so important to the original films.

Bill Murray puts his hand on Paul Rudd's shoulder in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
Sony Pictures

With so many foundational issues it might sound like Afterlife isn’t really a mixed bag at all, but it does do some things very well. McKenna Grace’s Phoebe Spengler is still the center of this new era, and she’s just as lovable and delightful as she was in Afterlife. Without her moving performance, nothing Frozen Empire tries to accomplish would work. She’s a really impressive young actress.

Hudson and Aykroyd are also standouts as old guys trying to protect the thing they love most in life. It’s clear from their performances in significant roles that both veteran actors still care about this franchise. Their passion (and talent) is one of the movie’s strongest elements. Along with Grace’s Phoebe, they give this film more heart than any Ghostbusters installment ever.

A poster with Ghostbusters old and new firing proton packs for Frozen Empire
Sony Pictures

How much you care about that versus the subpar humor will go a long way in how you feel about this movie. I don’t necessarily need or want this much heart from a Ghostbusters film. I’d much rather be laughing than getting emotional. But it is one of the movie’s best aspects and a big reason it grew on me the further away I got from seeing it. With a little space I started thinking about the things I liked more and the things I disliked less. That’s at least in part because after Afterlife I was happy to have watched something that felt more like a Ghostbusters movie again.

Frozen Empire is burdened by too many characters telling bad jokes to be good, but it at least put them all in the New York City firehouse. That’s where the Ghostbusters, both old and new, belong. And there are worst things a movie can do than make us care about its characters. Especially when they all obviously love being a Ghostbuster as much as they do.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire comes to theaters on March 22.

Mikey Walsh is a staff writer at Nerdist who thinks Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” from Ghostbusters II is the greatest song ever. ( Seriously.) You can follow him on Twitter and  Bluesky at @burgermike. And also anywhere someone is ranking the Targaryen kings.

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