REVIEW – Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

Overstuffed with characters and sometimes losing its focus, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is still a fun and enjoyable adventure as well as an inevitable evolution of the franchise.

Having moved back to New York, the Spenglers and Gary (Paul Rudd) are now living in the old Ghostbusters firehouse, continuing the work of chasing and trapping ghosts to the bane of the Mayor, Walter Peck (William Atherton reprising his role the original film). But when Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) purchases an old relic an ancient evil escapes that could threaten not only the city but the world.

I got to this one later than I had planned because I was otherwise preoccupied but I finally made the time and mustered the energy to pop to the cinema and I had a great time. It’s certainly not without its flaws (which I’ll definitely address) but overall this felt like a fun adventure that shifted the iconic 80’s story from a comedy about schlubby exterminators to the potential next level… even if it only shifts that needle a little bit. I will admit that because of my delay, I went into this somewhat confused by the critical reception, which I tend to be able to avoid by seeing films as early as possible as not to colour my perspective (even those whose opinions I usually respect). Yet I would be lying if I didn’t admit to my expectations being managed differently. So this “review” may take the form of a defense/point-counterpoint to the naysayers.

Having said all that, my main mindset for the movie was overall optimistic. I massively enjoyed the refreshing shift in setting and focus that was Afterlife and wanted to see more of these characters and where they took the “busting of ghosts”. On the other hand, I was a little hesitant when the trailers showed what I thought was too much emphasis on the old cast, which I feared would overwhelm or even detract from the new characters and story. The film doesn’t quite get that balance perfect, unfortunately, but it was better than I had anticipated. Certain roles did feel a tad lacking than their potential would have implied but then a few felt somewhat necessary to the moment. Usually, I leave my negative criticisms toward the end of these “word spews”, however, it is the biggest issue Frozen Empire has and the script deals with it as best as possible.

The cast all gave great performances with a few highlights. Rudd’s Gary Grooberson was once again the enthusiastic fanboy (and less of the audience surrogate) but this time he’s more focussed on being the grown up and struggling with where he fits as a potential step-parent to the Spengler kids. Dan Aykroyd has more to do as a retired Ray Stantz and getting a taste for the hunt once again works well (I also enjoyed how he’s become a “Youtuber” thanks to the help of Logan Kim returning as Podcast). But again the standout and majority of the weight of the story is on Phoebe (McKenna Grace) as she contends with feeling undervalued and dismissed as a “kid” while growing into a young woman (without spoiling, I reckon the heavy implications about the latter may have made some fanboys angry but they can’t admit it). Sure, that might sound awkward and out of place for a comedy like Ghostbusters but Afterlife had already established a shift into more the heartfelt and sentimental.

With the possible (and obvious) exception of Bill Murray (who was stull funny), no one was phoning in their performances regardless of how little they had to do and sadly quite a few characters felt like they had too little to do. While all those who are introduced in this film all feel like they make sense in the context of the story, those roles could have been streamlined into the already established characters. It’s always great to see Patton Oswalt but his character could have easily been merged with Ray, who is usually knowledgeable about old folklore anyway (or at least enough to research it). Kumail Nanjiani could’ve easily been the main researcher at Winston Zeddemore’s secret Ghostbusters lab instead of James Acaster cosplaying the cartoon version of Egon (both of them were fine and both also had great and funny moments).

These new characters aren’t just celebrity cameos (actually, when you think back to the original movie and how big the original actors were back in 1984 this sort of tracks), they do make sense here and help open up the world of Ghostbusters. However, the tradeoff is they eat into the screen time of the previously established lot. Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) spends most of the story trying to capture Slimer, who’s living in the attic of the firehouse. This C-plot sort of reflects his “side mission” in the previous movie, but it could easily have been shared with Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), who seemed to be shortchanged (again) as an intern at the secret lab. A lab that could easily have been put to use helping Trevor and there still could be the payoff we saw.

The only other thing that the opened-up roster affects is the editing. At a smidge under 2 hours, Frozen Empire felt like a near perfect length for this story and yet I suspect there were some minor bits cut for time. The Spenglers only finding out about the secret lab a couple of years into living at the firehouse feels “need to know” (especially if Peck had been wanting a reason to shut them down for decades) but it wasn’t really explained or addressed in the film… and yet I just easily made a “head canon” for that just now.

Certain other things could have had a bit more fleshing out such as Ray feeling nostalgic for the good ol’ days and Winston (Ernie Hudson) feeling “too old for this shit”. We saw just just enough of that still in this movie to make sense and feel it but only just enough. A lot of this film felt like “just enough” was kept in the under-2-hour run time and honestly it still worked. Even if some aspects or characters felt “watered down”, it did not make me dislike the movie nor was I overly frustrated by the supposed “lack” of anything.

Okay, so it sounds like I’m trying extra hard to defend something that would otherwise be considered “bad” in any other movie. I completely get that. This is as best as I can explain (without spoiling) why these supposed criticisms don’t bother me that much. The other main gripe is that this new film just doesn’t get what the original was trying to do. My response is that some folks don’t understand where the franchise is “trying to go.”

Afterlife established a shift into the more sentimental story telling with a focus on Phoebe and her discovery of her heritage. It makes sense that Frozen Empire continue that similar tone and it does it without making the movie overly dour. It still maintains a sense of humour without trying too hard to force in non-sequitur jokes (which was my biggest issue with the 2016 movie), all while also layering in a much darker atmosphere thanks to the “big bad” of this movie (which I thought looked fantastic and appropriately scary).

Some nerds have tried to “well, actually…” this film by pointing out that the original’s success was because it was a band of ordinary “schmoes” working as exterminators to rid the town of ghosts. A very working class solution to a supernatural problem and said working class heroes face off against a major threat to the world. That was definitely a big part of the appeal and the source of the humor of the 1984 original.

While Frozen Empire does introduce a somewhat “superhuman” element, the plot still primarily revolves around ordinary people taking on a world-ending threat. This film works hard to make the audience understand and relate to an ordinary family, with teenage growing pains and step-parent boundaries, being thrust into an extraordinary situation. That’s part of the appeal and humour of this new set of film and I really dug it.

The other thing that I enjoyed in this movie is that “next step” I alluded to earlier. Remember, the okay-but-not-great 1989 movie tried to repeat its predecessors formula, even soft-rebooting the premise, instead of evolving (slime blower notwithstanding). Afterlife was a resurrection of sorts, an understandable appeal to nostalgia considering how much time had passed, as well as a passing of the torch. Frozen Empire takes a teensy baby step into moving the franchise forward: new lab, new characters, new equipment.

It’s Extreme Ghostbusters. Maybe not an exact remake of the 1997 cartoon but perhaps a transition between that an the 1986 The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series. It hints at a potential direction for the sequel and I’m intrigued with that the same way I was at the end of Afterlife. It has to evolve from its humble origins and embrace the juggernaut that it became (even if that was only for a short time).

And that’s really more or less why, despite its flaws, I really enjoyed Frozen Empire. It was an overall fun adventure, with lots of humour, an emotional core, a surprisingly dark villain, and a promise of good things to come. Sure it was overstuffed with characters and ideas, almost as if it was doing too much in case they didn’t get another sequel, but there was still enough there to enjoy and even inspire me to want to build a replica of a proton pack (again… I need to make time for that).

And if nothing else, “Grooberson” gives me hope my surname can fit onto a nametag.

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