“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” Does Little To Build On The Franchise’s Legacy


It shouldn’t be this difficult to make a good “Ghostbusters” movie.

Despite sporting nothing in the way of character growth, a driving narrative or any semblance of deeper themes, the 1984 original was an absolute slam dunk of a movie. The final villain was an afterthought even during the grand finale, any plot twists were devised and executed in the moment, and the movie ended with every character exactly where they started, having undergone no life-changing lessons or challenges to their ego.

For all intents and purposes, the original film was an extended “Saturday Night Live” sketch helmed by three or four of the biggest names in comedy. Above all, it was a fun romp that didn’t take itself remotely seriously, and it couldn’t have been more of a success.

Fast forward 40 (yes, 40) years, and the Hollywood landscape has changed somewhat. Shameless comedies are out, it seems, and the unstoppable force that is nuclear-grade nostalgia for middle-aged men is at an all-time peak. “Ghostbusters” isn’t a franchise that still needs to be active in 2024, and aside from some flagrant fan service and an unsustainable obsession with classic imagery and callbacks, it seems like the minds behind this latest entry agree. “Frozen Empire” is barely a “Ghostbusters” movie, appropriating the aesthetic and intellectual property for a bog-standard adventure movie that pushes no boundaries beyond the idea that a self-declared comedy doesn’t even have to try to be funny anymore.

While 2021’s “Afterlife” set the tone of this new era as a hyper-serious musing on legacy and family, “Frozen Empire” makes an attempt to return to what made the original tick in the first place. Regrettably, it doesn’t succeed. We’re inexplicably back in New York, but that’s about where the changes end. Despite stemming from a movie where the most serious moment involved a giant marshmallow man, this film seems insistent on elevating a series in which Dan Aykroyd receives sexual favors from a ghost to something that dares ask the meaning of family and the metaphysical questions behind life after death. There’s no Murray-esque irreverence or in-your-face snarky comedy, and the movie suffers for it.

It also falls victim to the unfortunate paradox of being both overlong and overstuffed. The movie takes forever to get going, and when the plot does finally kick into gear, there’s barely any time to develop anything. Where the original film mastered the balance of three to four main leads and a small handful of supporting characters, “Frozen Empire” sees the Ghostbusters employ what feels like half the population of New York. Well over a dozen named characters are vying for our attention, which results in many of them being relegated to the background at best, or straight up vanishing for the sake of pacing in some cases.

James Acaster’s Lars, who is perhaps the only new character to feel like he belongs in a “Ghostbusters” movie, is entirely absent for the finale, and Finn Wolfhard, whose character Trevor was arguably the lead of the previous film, is nowhere to be seen for most of the last hour. Story threads established during the first act are put on hold for much of the runtime, only to be hastily resolved during the final few minutes, and only one or two of the core cast end the movie with any kind of concrete resolution. Given how seriously the film expects to be taken, it’s difficult to see this as anything more than an unfortunate rush job.

The main issue is that it just doesn’t feel like “Ghostbusters.” Sure, you’ve got the car and the proton packs, and I guess Slimer is there too, but a movie is more than its props and merchandise. What made the franchise work back in the day is it felt grounded in the real world. This is our New York; there just happen to be ghosts everywhere. “Frozen Empire” feels detached from that realism, like the characters exist in some kind of fantasy equivalent. This is most evident during the third act, wherein this year’s big bad comes to exact his plan. Despite the previous 90 minutes establishing Garraka as a world-ending threat, the general lack of any pedestrians during his onslaught leaves him feeling somewhat neutered. His powers extend to making New York look a little brisk, and that’s about it.

What’s more, the villain has next to no motivation beyond simply being a malevolent spirit. When he finally awakens (and boy, does he take his time), he gets about 20 minutes of action before the film comes to an end.

What hurts is that, despite its numerous drawbacks, there is an echo of a fun adventure movie in here. It’s more reminiscent of “National Treasure” or 2022’s “Uncharted” than its own source material, but if you can ignore the strained attempts to keep it relevant to the franchise, there’s something quite simply enjoyable about certain parts of it.

Dan Aykroyd is having a whale of a time, having finally been given something substantial to do for the first time since 1989, and I’m sure Bill Murray received a substantial paycheck for his spectacular display of how to phone-in a performance across two scenes. The fan service is egregious at times – a fun action scene around the midpoint is brought to a screeching halt so Aykroyd can interact with the library ghost from the first movie for no discernable reason – but its prevalence makes it easier to ignore as it blends into the background.

As mentioned above, James Acaster’s Lars Pinfield is a solid addition to the mythos as Winston Zeddemore’s assistant, and despite playing the exact same persona he brings to his stand-up, he feels perfect for this franchise. Maybe it’s that spark of irreverent humor, or his utter lack of a character arc, but more than anyone else, he feels like he could have slipped right into those first two movies.

The biggest issue, though, is that it simply isn’t interesting enough to be memorable. Any attempts to pin down the highlights fall short, as the whole thing is just beige and homogenous enough for nothing to really stand out. It has all the visual flair of a credit card commercial and possesses the narrative weight of a CW filler episode. Beyond being a leg-up for Acaster and another confident step toward blossoming careers for McKenna Grace and Finn Wolfhard, there’s nothing here that’ll warrant a second thought after the credits roll.

For a movie all about ghosts, it’s astounding just how little soul it has.


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