GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE is Something Weird and it Don’t Look Good

“It’s an unimaginable evil with the power to kill by fear itself.”

The release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife in 2021 couldn’t help but amplify the discussion over legacy sequels, which many felt sacrificed storytelling for the sake of fan service. Today, many are happy to sneer at sequels which they feel only prey on nostalgia and have very little to do with what made their original counterparts special. For my money, if a sequel has been in the works for decades (as the third Ghostbusters film was) I can only feel joy and fulfillment at seeing it finally make its way onto the big screen. As anyone will tell you, movie history is loaded with such examples. Besides Ghostbusters there were the legendary sequels to The Goonies, Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and Beetlejuice, all of which (with the exception of the latter) have yet to go before the cameras. The real cause for concern is what happens when that long-awaited sequel becomes a critical and commercial hit, as was the case with Afterlife. What happens is Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, a sequel that above anything else, shows the difference between a long-in-the-works revisiting and something no one asked for.

In Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the Grooberson/Spengler gang has relocated from sleepy Oklahoma to NYC in order to carry on the ghostbusting legacy. Gary (Paul Rudd), Callie (Carrie Coon), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) spend their days busting ghosts while trying to work out their dynamics as a new blended family. However, when a strange force is conjured by an ancient mythological artifact, it takes hold of the city and turns everything into ice, causing the group to seek the help of the original Ghostbusters Ray (Dan Aykroyd), Winston (Ernie Hudson), and Peter (Bill Murray). 

A sequel has little reason to call itself a sequel if it doesn’t try to take the things that came before and raise them to a higher level while holding onto the integrity of whatever it’s following. On that level, Frozen Empire is a failure. While Afterlife gave us fresh new characters, each with their own personalities, and placed them in the paranormal world that the first two films had so wonderfully established, this new installment leaves everyone stranded. The movie is crawling with generic character moments that feel forced and not specific enough to the individuals we’ve already come to know and love. All of them are saddled with storylines which should hold more weight, and might have had they not been given only scattered moments throughout before being hastily tied up for no reason other than than the movie was about to end. This also extends to the mythology of the new evil facing the Ghostbusters. The monster (whose name currently escapes me) comes with origins and an overall threat that are both genuinely frightening, yet feel so sloppily compiled, it’s tough to say if anyone in the audience actually got them, even after having watched numerous scenes trying to explain them. One has to wonder if Afterlife director Jason Reitman handing the reigns over to Gil Kenan might have been a decision he regrets as virtually any and all hope of a new team of Ghostbusters keeping the spirit alive looks to be sadly dashed. 

With no substance to be found in any of the new material and the Afterlife characters all but left for dead where character development is concerned, the only thing Frozen Empire has going for it is the throwback factor. If there’s one thing Kenan and company can’t get enough of, it’s taking any piece of 1984 Ghostbusters nostalgia and putting it in front of the camera. The surviving three Ghosbusters are each given moments which are amusing to a point, but mostly just act as distractions when the movie’s shortcomings can’t be disguised. For the most part, no one reprising their role from the original has anything worthwhile to offer, from Annie Potts’ Janine Melnitz, to John Rothman’s librarian, to William Atherton’s Walter Peck, who stupefyingly is now Mayor of NYC. Added to this are appearances from Slimer, the mini-marshmallow men, and the library ghost, all of whom garner reactions that range from small smiles to shoulder shrugs. Even the abundance of musical cues, which once again goes to the classic score from the first movie feels less like nostalgia or tribute and more like flat out desperation. The excitement which once came with watching a Ghostbusters sequel has now been replaced with that feeling of watching an awkward TV reunion movie from back in the day. It’s funny, I never anticipated writing a negative review about a Ghostbusters movie, but then again, I never expected a Ghostbusters movie to be made like this. 

There aren’t really any performances in Frozen Empire to write about, per se. The whole cast is just happy to have been asked back to play in the Ghostbusters sandbox, and it shows. Both newbies and the old pros alike seem to be having a blast suiting up and inhabiting a place in the world of the Ghostbusters, even if it means the stacked cast is often competing for screentime with one another. Besides the aforementioned actors, there’s also Patton Oswalt, Celeste O’Connor, Logan Kim, James Acaster, Emily Alyn Lind, and Kumail Najiani, who is easily giving the movie’s most enjoyable turn and getting more laughs than anything else on the screen. 

It’s been reported that some of the ideas, or at least the central one, for Frozen Empire came about from The Real Ghostbusters, the 80s/90s Saturday morning cartoon based on the original film. I remember watching that cartoon as a youngster (probably while eating my Ghostbusters cereal) and was impressed at the amount of ideas and supernatural places its creators were able to take these characters. I’m sure most who watched it felt the same way since the cartoon series was a success. As an expanded live-action episode, Frozen Empire does work in brief moments and small glimpses. It’s not a bad idea for a Ghostbusters movie, it’s just not the right execution. Maybe having Reitman back at the helm would have brought the movie into a vision that could have elevated it to the level of its predecessors instead of just a structurally uneven special effects jumble. There are still plenty of ideas to mine from the series that make me open to another sequel (a feeling only accentuated by hearing that iconic theme song play over the end credits), but not another one like this.

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