Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire film poster and movie review

Movie Reviews

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Reviewed by:
Luke Bonanno on March 20, 2024

Theatrical Release:
March 22, 2024

In quality, tone, and composition, Frozen Empire is extremely similar to its immediate predecessor, Afterlife. Without the emotion and nostalgia of a direct legacy sequel, though, it doesn't hit as hard.

Running Time115 min

RatingPG-13

Running Time 115 min

RatingPG-13

Gil Kenan

Jason Reitman, Gil Kenan (screenplay); Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd (characters)

Paul Rudd (Gary Grooberson), Carrie Coon (Callie Spengler), Finn Wolfhard (Trevor Spengler), Mckenna Grace (Phoebe Spengler), Kumail Nanjiani (Nadeem Razmaadi), Patton Oswalt (Dr. Hubert Wartzki), Celeste O'Connor (Lucky Domingo), Logan Kim (Podcast), Bill Murray (Dr. Peter Venkman), Dan Aykroyd (Dr. Ray Stantz), Ernie Hudson (Dr. Winston Zeddemore), Annie Potts (Janine Melnitz), William Atherton (Walter Peck), James Acaster (Lars Pinfield), Emily Alyn Lind (Melody), John Rothman (Roger Delacorte)


Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024)

by Luke Bonanno

To a child of the 1980s, Ghostbusters was not a movie. It was a religion. I worshipped regularly at the altar of the spooky comedy via my family’s taped-off-the-air, panned-and-scanned network television version of the original movie. It was, along with Back to the Future, Teen Wolf, and later Ghostbusters II one of a handful of homemade VHS recordings that I simply could not tire of in childhood. To this date, I am confident that I have seen the first two Ghostbusters more times than any other movies in existence.

I don’t remember much about the 1980s, but I vividly recall the “Real Ghostbusters” plate I drew in preschool and the Ghostbusters-themed party I had to celebrate my 6th birthday. Ghostbusters II was both the first and last movie that my full nuclear family of five ever attended together in theaters and I will not tolerate anyone speaking ill of it.

Nothing ever can or will diminish my love of those two 1980s blockbuster Ivan Reitman-directed films. Which puts me in an interesting position when I am tasked with reviewing new entries to the franchise. For a while, a third Ghostbusters movie seemed like a no-brainer. Then, it seemed like a missed opportunity once the Busters entered their 50s and Bill Murray embraced his new calling as an indie icon and muse of offbeat auteurs like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch. There was no Ghostbusters without Peter Venkman and the actor who so memorably played him seemed no longer interested, apart from voicing lines for the 2009’s Ghostbusters: The Video Game for PC, PlayStation 3, and Xbox.

When Sony finally came around to making a third Ghostbusters movie in 2016, with Bridesmaids‘ Paul Feig at the helm, it was admittedly something of a misfire. That it starred a quartet of women as a new generation’s Ghostbusters conflated its comic shortcomings with toxic online misogyny. Then the franchise was given a new revival in 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, this time with Ivan’s son Jason Reitman, the critically acclaimed director of Juno and Up in the Air, taking the reins. It was, decidedly, an improvement and a more than adequate legacy sequel which featured the surviving members of the original cast in their original roles as genuine support rather than mere cameo. The sentiment from critics was actually a tad muted compared to the female-led version, but a tighter budget meant the comparable box office numbers were better. As importantly, the still passionate and vocal original fanbase appreciated the new take, which was established as a proper third installment in the canon.

Ray stantz (dan aykroyd) oversees as a new generation of ghostbusters tests some stuff in a spiritual sense.

And so, here we are, getting Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the fifth movie with “Ghostbusters” in the title and fourth designated within the official film franchise chronology. Ivan Reitman, who produced both legacy sequels, passed away in early 2022 shortly after Afterlife opened. Jason Reitman remains on as a producer and co-writer, although he has turned the director’s chair over to his Afterlife co-writer Gil Kenan (Monster House, City of Ember).

Frozen Empire does not stray far from Afterlife‘s playbook. It brings back nearly all of the 2021 movie’s new cast members and yet also retains most of the surviving OG Busters with Murray, original co-creator Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts all taking medium-sized supporting roles. Also back in the fray this time, the next best option with Rick Moranis remaining opposed to reprising his role of Louis Tully, is William Atherton as EPA nuisance Walter Peck, who improbably now serves as the Mayor of New York City. Sigourney Weaver sits this one out and other co-creator Harold Ramis, who passed away in 2014, is altogether absent, having uncannily been brought back via tasteful visual effects last time.

The descendants of Ramis’ brainy Egon Spengler once again occupy the foreground. They include his kindred, scientific-minded granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), gangly awkward 18-year-old grandson Trevor (Finn Wolfhard of “Stranger Things”), their single mother Callie (Carrie Coon), and her boyfriend, former science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd). The blended family has relocated from rural Oklahoma to New York City, moving into the hallowed firehouse the original team once called home. There, business is booming but danger lurks within a newly-acquired artifact introduced in a prologue set in 1904: a mysterious Bocce ball-sized orb with ancient writings and off-the-charts PKE activity. The acquisition seems capable of unleashing some new mass hysteria on New York forty years after the events of the original movie.

While this is going on, Phoebe befriends Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a wry ghost who crashes her solo Washington Square Park chess game. This subplot feels nearly romantic in nature and may even have been shot as such, but any same-sex, interdimensional teenage romance has been left on the cutting room floor.

Eventually, the threads come together and the plot is nothing all that remarkable, but Kenan and the younger Reitman deserve credit for at least trying to come up with some original ideas rather than just coasting on nostalgia and established lore.

The appearance of cgi floating green junk food junkie slimer pays off less than this sequel anticipates.

In quality and tone, Frozen Empire is similar to Afterlife. The biggest difference is in the way the movie arrives. When Afterlife came in 2021, it was a direct continuation of a film franchise that had been dormant, officially, for over thirty years. Those like me regarding the first two Ghostbusters movies as the pinnacle of 1980s cinema understandably felt some kind of way at seeing the actors back in the flight suits, wielding those hallowed technical props while the old sound effects and Elmer Bernstein’s iconic ethereal score were trotted out once again. This time out, we’re simply following up one of the better movies of 2021, a post-pandemic diversion that doesn’t even feel like it came out over two years ago. There isn’t the pressure or trepidation of reawakening deep-seated childhood memories. And that makes quite a bit of difference, allowing me to watch this without the extreme emotion and nostalgia I felt last time.

With that in mind, it was probably inevitable that Frozen Empire wouldn’t hit me as hard. This is an entertaining movie, but one that clearly exists as part of 2024 mainstream film culture. Kenan cannot possibly have the personal attachment to the saga his co-writer does and one gathers as much from the way that this plays as a continuation and not revival of a sacred text. We get more of Bernstein’s cues recycled and reworked. The firehouse resurfaces in a grand way and might just be the most endearing character of all here. There’s even an enjoyable visit to the New York City Public Library, complete with John Rothman reprising the minor yet unforgettable role of library administrator Roger Delacorte. But even when Dan Aykroyd is prattling on about the supernatural (which seems to reflect the actor much more than the character of Ray Stantz he originally wrote himself), this doesn’t really feel like the Ghostbusters that I and countless others grew up on.

It feels like a slightly above-average modern day commercial comedy adventure. It’s better than most of the new tripe that Netflix releases to compulsory viewing and high-profile snarky criticism. It’s better than the 2016 reboot, but the gap between the two is definitely narrowing. It’s better than the last sequel Paul Rudd and Bill Murray made together. But it’s not in the same ballpark as the two originals. If those were Harry Potter, this is Fantastic Beasts. If they were The Shining, this is Doctor Sleep. Not without entertainment value and some fun moments, but hard to imagine some modern kid rewatching regularly on some digital file. It’s hard to imagine that kid feeling compelled to even own this movie, probably content to take a chance that it will be on some streaming service the next time the urge to revisit it kicks in. That reflects as much on the quality of the film as it does on the nature of how movies increasingly are consumed today.

The biggest standout of the cast is one of its only new additions: kumail nanjiani fuels "ghostbusters: frozen empire" with laughs as the offbeat nadeem razmaadi, seen here selling his grandmother's old haunted orb to the proprietor of ray's occult books (dan aykroyd).

The standout of Frozen Empire is not the icy new villain who is referred to as “Tall, Dark, and Horny.” It’s not the always welcome Murray, who sadly seems to be going through the motions as his once infinite professional options are probably and understandably now dwindling. No, the standout of this sequel is Kumail Nanjiani, who breathes much life into the role of Nadeem Razmaadi, the underachiever/sneaker reseller who sells Ray the potent orb from his recently-deceased grandmother. As in the 2021 Marvel semi-misfire Eternals, Nanjiani gets all of the biggest laughs here and single-handedly elevates the movie as a result. Nanjiani has a knack for taking lines that would have died in the hands of, say, Johnny Knoxville in Men in Black II, and hitting them out of the park. I can’t think of a line of his that didn’t produce at least a chuckle, reinforcing that even if long-term movie stardom doesn’t pan out for him (and it’s looking like it won’t), he’ll always hit the mark as supporting comic relief. Frankly, if the Eternals disbanding means fewer body transformation selfies and something more like his Oscar-nominated screenplay for breakout movie The Big Sick, then we’re all the better for it.

Frozen Empire frequently reminded me of movies other than Ghostbusters, particularly the lesser sequels of franchises like Men in Black and Night at the Museum. In those movies, the IP has already been successfully established and stars and personnel are just coasting by for the big payday that comes with a studio-approved budget increase. Cynics and Ghostbusters agnostics might see that very same thing here. I see a little more respect for the universe and regard for the execution. But Frozen Empire still feels a bit rushed and unfinished. It’s as if Kenan and company were so worried the greenlight they got would be rescinded, they just worked as quickly as they could and said “Well, I guess that will have to do.” And it’s good enough when it’s expected to sell tickets for a few weeks and it’s opening across from Immaculate and a pointless theatrical release of Pixar’s Luca, where the real competition are the Dune and Kung Fu Panda sequels that have been playing for weeks.

Mixed though they may be, the results of "ghostbusters: frozen empire" are still a step up from "ant-man and the wasp: quantumania", the last sequel to feature bill murray and paul rudd in supporting and lead roles, respectively.

But I suspect it’s not good enough — or, rather, not lucrative enough — for Sony to keep making these. In which case, this makes for an anticlimactic end to one of cinema’s greatest genre mashups and probably also to Ghost Corps, the production company formed in 2015 to manage the brand. Thinking about this brings me less sorrow than you’d expect. I am glad that the younger Reitman and the original cast were able to revive the franchise and, more or less, do justice to what his father and them had originally made. The 2020s Ghostbusters may not have reached the creative heights of Blade Runner 2049 or Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but I’m glad they exist and can probably only raise awareness and appreciation for the still eminently rewatchable ’80s Ghostbusters.

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