Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Review

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
After an ancient icy monster is unearthed, the Spenglers and the original Ghostbusters team up to thwart its dastardly deep-freeze plans.

by Alex Godfrey |
Published on
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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Ghostbusters isn’t in the afterlife just yet, but it might be in purgatory. Has there ever been a franchise with as much of an identity crisis? We’ve had 1984’s comedy-horror and its follow-up; years later a zany gender-flipping reboot that had its charms but floundered; and then, pretending that one never happened, came 2021’s Afterlife, a surprisingly moving sequel to the originals that introduced a likeable new breed of ’busters. Now, Frozen Empire throws everything against the wall to see if any of the slime sticks. Bits of it do; much of it just gloops off. There are some entertaining ghouls, but the real fear this time seems to be off screen. Trying to play it safe, buckling under the weight of its own heritage, Ghostbusters itself is running scared.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Afterlife got the new era off to a sturdy start: Carrie Coon (as the late Egon Spengler’s daughter Callie), Mckenna Grace (as his granddaughter Phoebe), Finn Wolfhard (as her brother Trevor) and Paul Rudd (as bumbling teacher Gary Grooberson) comprised a refreshing new team, and Jason Reitman sprinkled some pleasingly nostalgic Amblin-ish dust over a clearly personal story swirling around the death of Harold Ramis (and, on screen, Egon).

Its successor kicks off well: after a spooky prologue, set in 1904 New York and introducing the deadly ‘Death Chill’ (not too hot to handle, definitely too cold to hold), the present day sees the Spengler-Groobersons jump-suited up and careening around Manhattan under the screaming siren of the Ecto-1, chasing a formidable spectre, the Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon. Here director Gil Kenan — who co-wrote Afterlife and Frozen Empire with Reitman — serves up zippy flair, and it’s cheering to see 15-year-old Phoebe taking charge on the gunner seat, her proton blasts wreaking havoc around the city while her mum catches the translucent terror with a drone trap. This is nifty work — and a good gang! But it soon becomes apparent that underneath the exploits there’s just not much for them to do. Nowhere of real substance for the Ecto-1 to go. This old jalopy is running out of road.

The fan-service throughout elicits sighs rather than smiles.

Afterlife more or less let the new crew hold their own, only really parachuting in the OGs at the end to bring Egon’s story to a close: their appearance was sweet, and felt earned. Here, though, the Spengler family are short-changed in favour of more screentime for the old guys, who this time don’t have an emotional core to hang onto, back in the film for the hell of it. Bustin’ chops makes him feel good, but never has Bill Murray seemed more like he was on autopilot, sleepwalking his way through disappointingly disposable lines that sound like they’re in the vague vicinity of Venkman, maybe, if you squint your ears. And that’s not to mention the countless cameos, including the return of William Atherton’s Walter Peck, in the first film a punchable douchebag, now merely a vacant villain; the return of Slimer, because why not?; and appearances by… well, whatever. The fan-service throughout elicits sighs rather than smiles, and there’s just not enough faith in everything Afterlife introduced afresh. It is stuffed. It is Jurassic Park: Dominion. It is The Rise Of Skywalker. It is a shame.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Reitman and Kenan’s hearts are in the right place, and those hearts do beat here, somewhere. Phoebe’s resentment as Peck’s bureaucracy gets her excluded from the ghostbusting is well conveyed by Mckenna Grace, but the script doesn’t favour her nearly enough. Afterlife presented a fleshed-out family drama that grounded the whole thing, the ghostly goings-on playing second fiddle to a portrayal of sadness and love, and while this one explores the family’s growing pains, it does so with the broadest of strokes, buried under an unwieldy plot, crushed under the film’s obsession with its legacy. The life is squashed out of it.

It's not un-fun: James Acaster’s deadpan scientist Pinfield fits well, toiling away in a lab full of captured spirits, and some of the phantasms, including a pesky poltergeist-esque possessor, are a laugh. The masochistic Mini-Pufts, gleefully churning themselves to death and joyfully burning each other, are a mischievous delight. But such window-dressing isn’t enough. The film, a misshapen hybrid, squanders its opportunities, its creators too cautious to leave the past behind. They’ve crossed the streams and trapped themselves.

There was potential here, but Frozen Empire is an overpopulated mish-mash, with too many heroes to wrangle. What’s left is a bit of a gooey mess. We’ve been slimed.
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