GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE – The Powers are Still Standing

Sony Pictures

“Frozen Empire” may be the handle of the newest Ghostbusters adventure – the fifth film in the beloved franchise and the third canonical sequel to the 1984 original – but it’s not too cold to hold. Nor is it too hot to handle, merging the new elements of Ghostbusters: Afterlife with the New York City setting and tone of the classic Ghostbusters adventures in a combination that might best be described as “in control”, wielding so much chilly blue ice in a similar visual and thematic motif to Ghostbusters II‘s pink slime.

The film picks up a couple years after 2021’s Ghostbusters Afterlife, which rebooted the story from an outside perspective. It was a bit shaggy in execution, dealing with the narrative and real-life passing of actor and writer Harold Ramis and his character Egon Spengler. The film centered on a new group of characters in rural Oklahoma, Egon’s daughter and grandchildren and their friends – who become aware of his past life as a Ghostbuster, ending in a cameo of the original team (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson) showing up for the finale and suggesting that they would relaunch the Ghostbusters back in their original stomping grounds. Tonally, it was a big shift, adopting a more sober posture as an exploration of legacy and a requiem for Ramis, and as many fans pointed out, seemed to forget that, hey, these are supposed to be comedies!

While I appreciated Afterlife for what it was, it definitely felt out of step. Frozen Empire is much more like a return to classic form, telling a new story with both generations of Ghostbusters that’s in tune with the past and also looking to the future. Stylistically it’s back to the rhythm of the first couple movies, and more importantly, it’s once again found some laughs.

Sony Pictures

The Spengler family – matriarch Callie (Carrie Coon), young adult son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and precocious genius teen daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), along with boyfriend/sorta-stepdad Gary (Paul Rudd), are the acting “Firehouse” Ghostbusters while the original gang are playing at being semi-retired.

A great aspect of this film is that it really does feature both the new and old Ghostbusters prominently, with Winston and Ray still playing a big role in the day to day. Peter’s a little less out in front, but considering that he’s famously difficult to schedule and had declined for many years to appear in any further sequels, I’m thrilled he’s participating – better yet, he seems glad to be here, delivering lines like “Melnitz in uniform!” with genuine enthusiasm.

Which leads to a unique development in this entry – the Ghostbusters are now organizationally a bigger enterprise with Winston at the helm, expanding their facilities and having an actual R&D unit. Lenny, we’ve taken our own headcount, there seems to be at least eleven different characters running around with Ghostbusters uniforms (and tragically, none of them are a still-absent Louis Tully).

Sony Pictures

This might seem to threaten to be too much, and some characters do get a bit sidelined, but since nearly all of these characters are culled from previous movies, there’s actually only one prominent new Ghostbuster in the mix – James Acaster as Lars Pinfield, a researcher who seems, like Phoebe, to be modeled after Egon.

Speaking of Phoebe, who is easily my favorite among the second generation characters, she is once again, if not the film’s lead, then at least its spiritual center and most interesting arc. Deemed too young to legally work in the employ of the team on their missions, she’s feeling isolated and ends up befriending and crushing on a ghost. Unlike the usual weirdo spooks, this one maintains intelligence, identity, and human form (a Class IV, in the franchise lingo) as a sarcastic and relatable teen girl.

For me, the secret sauce of the classic Ghostbusters movies has always been the dorky sidekicks like Louis Tully and Janosz Poha who get swept up into the Ghostbusters’ battles, and while neither of them return, we have a new dorky sidekick in the form of Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani), a hustling reseller who accidentally sets the film’s conflict in motion by selling Ray a metallic sphere radiating with psychokinetic energy that imprisons an ancient evil demigod: succinctly, a ghost with wintry powers that can conjure ice and command a manipulative influence over other ghosts – like the ones conveniently collected in the basement of a certain firehouse. Basically, a slightly more evil version of Disney’s Elsa.

Sony Pictures

Oddly, here the movie repeats one of the missteps of Ghostbusters II – there’s a central villain, but it feels like there are comparatively few other ghosts in the mix, especially if you start to factor in the ghost-to-buster ratio.

Still, the result is a breezy and funny return to form that’s not going to be as quotable as the classics (again, it’s begging for the irreplaceable Louis Tully), but is a very enjoyable return to this world and characters. It loves the lore of Ghostbusters deeply while also continuing, like Rocky Balboa in the first couple of Creed films, to set up a warm handoff to a new generation of characters. Fans will have a lot of cool Easter Eggs to cheer for; most obviously the return of favorite characters like Slimer and antagonist Walter Peck, but also a trip to the New York Public Library with some familiar cameos, and a sidecar motorcycle with more than a passing resemblance to the animated Real Ghostbusters vehicle Ecto 3.

Gauging my packed screener crowd, they were definitely into it, and my 7 year old son, for whom Ghostbusters ranks just below #1 spot held by Spider-man in his personal canon, immediately declared it his new favorite movie in the series. I probably wouldn’t trust that review, but you can trust this one: I loved a lot about Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, and the only thing I hated is the continued absence of Rick Moranis.

A/V Out

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