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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Review: Stuck Chasing Phantoms

Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) is like the LeBron James of ghost hunting. While other 15-year-olds are busy popping zits and scrolling TikTok, Phoebe is out in the world hunting down supernatural fiends. 

Being a Ghostbuster is in her genes; Phoebe’s deceased grandfather Egon (Harold Ramis), was one of the team’s founding members. And now the teen prodigy has taken up the Ghostbuster mantle. Joining Phoebe on the modern-day team are her brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), mom Callie (Carrie Coon), and her former science-teacher/mom’s boyfriend Gary (Paul Rudd).

The containment unit (aka ghost jail) in Ghostbusters headquarters starts acting up around the time a powerful ancient artifact falls into their laps. Within this artifact hides an imprisoned god, scheming to break free and conquer the world.

Realizing they’re in way over their heads, Phoebe and the gang must join forces with the original Ghosbusters — Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) — if they have any hope of preventing a supernatural apocalypse.

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It’s a rare feat for a film to have so much happening plotwise that amounts to so little. The film’s co-writer and director, Gil Kenan, weaves the narrative into a tangled mess as he attempts to bridge the franchise’s past, present, and future.

To put it simply: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a pale imitation of its predecessors, lacking the heart and imagination that endeared this franchise to generations of fans.

At a glance, Frozen Empire checks plenty of boxes for what you want from a Ghostbusters flick, like the classic Firehouse HQ and scenes featuring Ecto-1 tearing through New York City. There’s even the return of the original cast, Slimer, and legendary ‘80s cinema villain Walter Peck (William Atherton) — the jerk from the EPA.

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But, and this is a huge but, everything that unfolds in this film feels rote and soulless. Many of the jokes miss their mark, the cast has little chemistry, and the movie lacks the sense of fun and adventure that made its predecessors classics. 

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Great films feature scenes that steadily escalate the story’s dramatic stakes and drive the plot forward with increasing momentum. Frozen Empire, on the other hand, plays out like a disjointed collection of random scenes bleeding into each other for no rhyme or reason. So much of this film feels inert and needlessly convoluted.

Frozen Empire fumbles what fans love about Ghostbuster movies in baffling ways. It nails the concept: supernatural exterminators race around New York capturing ghosts. But the kick-ass concept is only what gets people in the door, not what brings them back to these films. People love these movies because of the cast dynamics and the series’ unique horror-comedy tone. These films should be funny, thrilling, and bursting with heart.

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Frozen Empire’s lack of heart is its greatest flaw. It takes the charming core characters from Ghostbusters: Afterlife, separates them, and sends them off on solo adventures. There’s not enough screen time to service the sprawling cast and the story’s subplots. It’s like making a The Goonies sequel where all the Goonies are off doing their own thing and then show zero chemistry when they finally reunite.

For long-time series fans, Frozen Empire provides two more hours of Ghostbusters content. There’s ghosts aplenty and some of them do get busted, so technically, this installment remains on brand. But your enjoyment of this film hinges on whether you’re seeking a good time or a good movie. 

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Kenan overloads the film with so many cameos, homages, and easter eggs that the proton pack-wearing cosplayers at my screening walked out of the theatre with big silly grins. This movie was tailor-made to make life-long Ghostbusters fans feel seen, even if that recognition mostly amounts to watching aging actors sleepwalk through a series of recycled story beats. 

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Frozen Empire uses our Ghostbuster nostalgia like stucco covering up the narrative cracks in its bewildering screenplay.

I’m not opposed to movies that revel in nostalgia. I often enjoy when filmmakers tell meaningful stories that also celebrate the characters and worlds fandom adores. But cameos, easter eggs, and callbacks are best used as a garnish, enhancing an already delicious cinematic entrée. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire treats sentimentality like an entire meal.

 



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