Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire – movie review

If I say “who you gonna call”; you say… “Ghostbusters”, right? And that kind of sums up where this franchise is at. It’s all about familiarity now. Originality and nuance have long since left the building as the producers look for ways to tap into nostalgia, while at the same time introducing a younger audience to their particular brand of horror-lite comedy.  The second in the rebooted-reboot series that began with Ghostbusters: Afterlife (2021) is titled Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. But they could just as easily have tagged it as Ghostbusters: More of the Same.

If you saw Afterlife, you might recall that the basic plot is that the Ghostbusters (in that case, the “old” Ghostbusters) have trapped some spirits, but a great hidden evil threatens to unleash them on the world. In Frozen Empire,  the Ghostbusters (in this case, the “new” Ghostbusters) have trapped some spirits, but a great hidden evil threatens to unleash them on the world. Sure, the action has shifted from backwoods Oklahoma to New York City (vibing with the 1984 original). There’s also some hooey about teens feeling unappreciated and finding family, but this film hits all the beats of the franchise’s lineage, down to appropriating Elmer Bernstein’s score from the first film.

Once again the core team consists of Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), her kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and her new man Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). They’ve moved to NYC to take up residence in the fire station that became Ghostbusters HQ. They’re happily busting ghosts – and causing quite a bit of havoc – until the officious Walter Peck (William Atherton) – now New York City mayor – gets involved. He tells the group he intends to shut them down. But while he’s not able to do that immediately, he is able to effectively “bench” Phoebe since she’s under 18 and shouldn’t be involved in such dangerous pursuits.

Meanwhile, Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani) has sold a weird family heirloom – an orb covered in Sanskrit characters – to bookstore owner and retired Ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd). Wouldn’t you know it, the orb is an ancient device to imprison a ferocious demon named Garraka. And, wouldn’t you know it, Garraka is intent on raising an army of the undead to wreak some sort of revenge on mankind by freezing everything.

A sub-plot sees Phoebe communing with an apparently friendly ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). And while Melody’s connection to the main story isn’t obvious at first, it becomes apparent in the film’s CGI-heavy climax. The sidekicks from Afterlife – Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) – are back but they’re mostly sidelined in the chaos of the final third.

Gil Kenan (A Boy Called Christmas) takes the directorial reins from Jason Reitman; although Reitman collaborated with Kenan on the screenplay. His direction is effective though not flashy by any means. Eric Steelberg’s (Tully) cinematography is similarly adequate. For a film with a lot of special effects, many of them – especially the ones featuring Garraka – seem quaintly janky. Whether this is some kind of throwback once more to the original, I’m not sure.

The cast grapple gamely with the screenplay but few stand out. Even the talents of Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon are mostly overwhelmed by the material. But young Mckenna Grace rises above to give the best performance of the film. Dan Ackroyd, Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson return once more, and add William Atherton (the EPA agent from the original) for an extra dollop of nostalgia. Kumail Nanjiani (Men in Black: International) is burdened with a thankless role as Nadeem; and I’m not sure either he or the script sticks the landing.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is comfort food cinema – something familiar and undemanding. It’s one of those movies you can just switch off and go with, because it’s not going to spring any surprises. And I get it – sometimes that’s just what you want. However I was looking for more. The film certainly plays heavily into nostalgia and fan service, so existing fans will lap it up. Whether its cookie-cutter approach will inspire new audiences though remains to be seen.

David Edwards

Other reviews you might enjoy: