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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review: a fun and goofy sci-fi sequel

Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon stand by a broken basement wall in Ghostbusters: Afterlife.
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a goofy sci-fi blockbuster that will both entertain you and leave you wanting more from it.”
  • Several vibrantly rendered supernatural set pieces
  • Numerous funny, clever comedic gags and details throughout
  • Scene-stealing supporting performances
  • Phoebe Spengler's disappointingly one-note story
  • An overly convoluted plot
  • A cast that is too big for its own good

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is pure confection. The sequel to 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife is a colorful, New York City-set romp that doesn’t take itself nearly as seriously as that film and instead leans further into its franchise’s initial goofy origins. It contains more delightful, throwaway comedic gags than its predecessor and seems more interested in producing memorable sci-fi images than it does in grappling with the weight of its greater place within the Ghostbusters mythos. It’s a sequel that, unlike Afterlife, refreshingly doesn’t view its own existence as something that needs to be addressed, justified, or made part of its text.

The result is a blockbuster that is shaggier than you’d expect and that goes out of its way to deliver a plot that is unlike any other in its series’ history. Along the way, its characters get more or less lost in the shuffle. Whatever personal journeys they might have had are abandoned in favor of constant lore dumps, cameos, and set pieces that keep you entertained in the moment and do a good job of making Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire seem lighter on its feet than it actually is. It’s a sugary-sweet continuation of one of Hollywood’s most coveted franchises that, like a wisp of cotton candy, isn’t flavorful enough to leave anything resembling a perceptible aftertaste.

The Ghostbusters firehouse covered in ice in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.
Sony Pictures

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire picks up largely where Afterlife left off with Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) all taking up the Ghostbusters mantle alongside Callie’s affable boyfriend, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). By the time the film catches up with them, they’ve all completely left their Oklahoma lives behind in favor of returning to the Ghostbusters’ original stomping grounds of New York City, specifically the team’s iconic firehouse headquarters, which we’re told has been gifted to them by none other than the now-wealthy Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson).

As strange as it may initially be to see Frozen Empire embrace so many of its franchise’s hallmarks again in the wake of Afterlife‘s concerted efforts to rely less on them, the film’s return to New York proves to be a welcome one. The city, with all of its many urban nooks, alleyways, diners, and parks, gives Frozen Empire the playground it needs for all of its wacky, often zippy, and well-staged action sequences and supernatural detours. These include the Spengler family’s high-speed pursuit of a spectral dragon through the streets of the Big Apple, which opens the film, as well as a showdown on the steps of a public library that makes effectively cartoonish use of the stone lions that guard the building.

The movie’s relocation allows it to bring back one of the Ghostbusters franchise’s original villains, the cantankerous Walter Peck (William Atherton), whose hatred of the film’s titular team hasn’t waned since viewers last saw him. Now the Mayor of New York City, peck uses the destruction caused by the Spenglers’ opening car chase to ban Phoebe, still just 16, from participating in any of her family’s dangerous and extremely public ghostbusting adventures. This creates a rift between Phoebe and her family, and it sets her up for a fittingly angsty, if familiar, bit of teenage soul searching. Unfortunately, the film, which sees Afterlife co-writer Gil Kenan take over the franchise’s directorial duties for Jason Reitman, has neither the focus, nor the narrative conviction to actually force Phoebe to grow.

Phoebe, Podcast, and Ray stand in a library together with Patton Oswalt in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.
Jaap Buitendijk / Sony Pictures

The sequel’s script, which was penned once again by Kenan and Reitman, spends too much time bouncing between its many legacy characters and setting up the role of its central supernatural antagonist, an icy entity known as Garraka, to give Phoebe’s story the attention and nuance that it demands. Even her unexpected relationship with Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a ghost she meets playing chess in the park one night, is inevitably robbed of its depth by the mechanics of the film’s plot, which completely seize control of it in its third act. The sequel, additionally, spends a considerable portion of its runtime explaining the backstory of Garraka in bits and pieces that delay his actual arrival and frequently bring its momentum to a standstill.

Phoebe isn’t the only character whose story is left flapping in the wind by Frozen Empire. Along with the Spenglers, the sequel features franchise veterans like Hudson, Atherton, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, and Annie Potts, as well as several returning Afterlife figures, including Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim). James Acaster, Patton Oswalt, and Kumail Nanjiani also appear in supporting roles of differing size and importance, and Frozen Empire struggles to manage the unwieldy size of its cast. Some, like Murray’s Peter Venkman, are used well in expertly small doses, while others, like Wolfhard’s Trevor and Coon’s Callie, are treated like little more than afterthoughts.

Behind the camera, Kenan brings the same sense of spooky, zany fun to Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire that he did his underrated 2006 animated directorial debut, Monster House. He fills the film with enough clever details, like a haunted CD player that hungrily flaps open and shut at anyone who touches it, to make Frozen Empire‘s world of supernatural creatures both creepy and cute seem lived-in and real. There are moments, such as Phoebe and Melody’s first nighttime chess match, where you’ll be hard-pressed to remember the last time the Ghostbusters franchise’s silly alternate reality felt as inviting and ironically alive.

Slime falls into Finn Wolfhard's hand in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.
Jaap Buitendijk / Sony Pictures

Kenan’s clear passion for the ghostly adventures and world of Frozen Empire imbues the film with a contagious sense of fun. At times, the sequel manages to more thoroughly fulfill the promise of Ghostbusters: Afterlife than that 2021 soft reboot ever did. Had it invested enough time and thought into the stories of its characters, it might have even emerged as the best big-screen Ghostbusters outing since the series’ first. For some viewers, it may still capture that title. By placing the inner lives of its characters so low on its list of priorities, though, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire falls short of its potential. Like so many of the ghosts that cause chaos throughout it, the film is a strange beast — brightly colored and full of energy, but ultimately hollow on the inside.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is now playing in theaters.

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Alex Welch
Alex Welch is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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