‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: A Step Back That Still Holds Enough Entertainment

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire falls short of its predecessor, but the members of the classic and new cast inject enough energy, charm, and emotion to compensate for the narrative inconsistencies and pacing issues.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

I’ll start with an important disclaimer for all readers since the following hot take will inevitably trigger strong reactions. As someone from a small European country and born in 1994, Ghostbusters (1984) was never a defining classic of my childhood or adolescence, so I don’t feel the nostalgia that many others have for the original film, although I do enjoy it. That said, I (re)watched it, along with Ghostbusters II and Ghostbusters: Afterlife this week in preparation for Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, and – here it comes – I consider the 2021 sequel my favorite movie in the famous franchise. In fact, comparing it directly with the original – here it comes again – beyond the inevitable audiovisual improvements, I find Afterlife to have better humor, characters, and cast.

I understand if you want to close the page after reading this first paragraph, but the truth is we all look at the world differently and lead lives immersed in vastly distinct cultures, so it’s more than expected for there to be completely opposing opinions about classics released 40 years ago. Evidently, there’s always a sort of protective aura around culturally impactful films, as if it’s forbidden for someone to just “like” them instead of “idolizing” them, let alone genuinely not appreciate such movies. It’s important to reiterate that I enjoy Ghostbusters, just not as much as Afterlife.

Regardless of any opinions about the previous films, Frozen Empire continues the main story, setting its action two years after the events of the last installment. This time, the ghostly antagonist hails from ancient times of the gods, forcing director and co-writer Gil Kenan – who swaps roles with Jason Reitman – to bring together the two generations of Ghostbusters to battle a new enemy and save humanity from a new Ice Age.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

One common element in all Ghostbusters movies is the light, comedic, openly silly atmosphere that surrounds them. Naturally, the addition of a younger cast and the greater focus on Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) – who is undoubtedly the character closest to being treated as a protagonist – slightly alter the target audience for the jokes, but the type of humor remains similar. Frozen Empire plays with the chemistry between members of the classic and new cast, with the interactions between the characters being a positive highlight of the film, although it doesn’t have the same impact as its predecessor. Why? That’s a more complicated question than it seems, as Frozen Empire actually ends up addressing an issue that has persisted since the first sequel. Finally, the story moves past Zuul and Gozer to bring in Garraka, a demonic god capable of controlling other ghosts and literally freezing everything it touches. Obviously, the third act follows the formula that has marked the franchise, but this time there’s this refreshing aspect of not knowing exactly how the action will unfold. Unfortunately, narrative and entertainment inconsistencies detract from some immersion and overall enjoyment.

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Unlike Afterlife, where Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson only appear at the end in a sort of prolonged cameo, Frozen Empire utilizes them as secondary characters with as much screen time as others – except for Murray who appears more sporadically – forcing Kenan and Reitman to juggle multiple things to give each something to do. Inevitably, the narrative, thematic, and pure entertainment focus are constantly shifting, leading to an unnecessarily slow first half with not enough relevant information, both in terms of plot and character.

Phoebe’s arc is by far the most interesting. In fact, everything revolving around Mckenna Grace’s phenomenal performance and the whirlwind of emotions her character faces in Frozen Empire is extremely captivating, making her character the most well-rounded in the entire franchise by a wide margin. Phoebe alone raises themes about the importance of a parental figure, the overwhelmingly isolating feeling of not belonging anywhere, the loneliness caused by a lack of deeper friendships, and even an awakening of typical pubescent sexual awareness. The problem is that putting so many different heavy topics on one character’s shoulders not only means that others aren’t as interesting but also doesn’t allow for a deep exploration of any of the subject matters at hand.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

That said, Frozen Empire meets the minimum requirements, even though it’s a step back from Afterlife. Paul Rudd (Ant-Man) and Carrie Coon (The Leftovers) share more screen time together this time around, leading to an amusing dynamic between two talented actors with natural charm. Finn Wolfhard (Stranger Things) never really won me over as an actor and continues to fail to impress me in this saga by playing an aimless character – he spends more time dealing with a random ghost in the attic than engaging with other characters. Kumail Nanjiani (Eternals) doesn’t start off very strong, but as the narrative unfolds, the actor ends up having some of the funniest lines of dialogue in the entire movie, portraying a new character about whom I’d prefer to remain silent to avoid spoilers. And, of course, the members of the original cast retain that nostalgic aura around the iconic characters they first portrayed four decades ago.

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Technically, Frozen Empire doesn’t stand out much. It’s always fun to see the old ghost-busting gadgets come back, and obviously, some new ones lead to quite thrilling sequences, but overall, the audiovisual improvements aren’t that noticeable. Dario Marianelli‘s (Atonement) score also doesn’t exactly elevate many scenes. Honestly, the costume design might be the technical element that stands out the most for obvious reasons.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire falls short of its predecessor, but the members of the classic and new cast inject enough energy, charm, and emotion to compensate for the narrative inconsistencies and pacing issues. Mckenna Grace’s remarkable performance carries the film, but putting all the narrative, thematic, and emotional weight on a single character generates inevitable problems. It’s unlikely to become the favorite installment for fans of the franchise, but it’s still an adventure with enough entertainment to satisfy families around the world.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: A Step Back That Still Holds Enough Entertainment
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Manuel Sao Bento

Portuguese critic based in Sweden with a tremendous passion for cinema, television, and the art of filmmaking. Strives to offer an unbiased perspective and has stopped watching trailers since 2017. Rotten Tomatoes approved. Co-host of a weekly film podcast, R&M: A Conversation on Cinema. Outlets: FandomWire, Talking Films, Firstshowing, InSession Film, That Shelf, Filmhounds Magazine. Proud member of associations such as OFCS (Online Film Critics Society), IFSC (International Film Society Critics), and OFTA (Online Film & Television Association).

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