‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ review: It could be worse, but parents should be warned from Mashable

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Fire up the Ecto-1’s siren, because here we go again. Despite a chilly reception from some critics (me, I’m some critics), Ghostbusters: Afterlife has spawned a sequel: Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Ignoring the Paul Feig venture with Melissa McCarthy, this string of horror-comedies ties to 1984’s Ghostbusters and its 1989 sequel, Ghostbusters II, but has doubled down on lore, following the family of the late Egon Spengler. 

This makes for a new chapter that is overcrowded with characters, CGI ghouls, and science yelling. While at points, there’s jokes that actually land (thanks to the likes of Kumail Nanjiani and Patton Oswalt), overall, this sequel is a confounding mix of fan service and inexplicable choices meant to cater to a broad audience. Actually, parents might welcome a warning. 

What’s Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire about? 

Transplanted to New York City, the descendants of Egon have taken over the iconic Lower Manhattan firehouse and taken up the call to bust ghosts. Egon’s daughter Callie (Carrie Coon in cruise control) has lightened up and is shacking up with her “ghost dog” buddy Gary Grooberson (an unflappably jaunty Paul Rudd), who timidly steps into his role as stepdad to her kids. Trevor (a whiny Finn Wolfhard) is 18 now, a fact he repeats over and over instead of showing any actual character growth. Phoebe (an earnest McKenna Grace) is now 15 and the solid center of this sequel, grappling with a complicated crush, child labor laws, and an icy armageddon. 

The script — from Afterlife director Jason Reitman and Frozen Empire helmer Gil Kenan — lays down an exhaustive amount of lore to set up a simple premise: Big, angry, icy deity wants to take over the world. Ghostbusters new and old must team up to stop it. 

Combining the old and new crew of ghostbusters makes for a messy movie, one that fails because of its urge to appeal to grown ups who grew up with the original two movies and their kids who might be snared by merch ploys and product placement. (Just buy Cheetos in advance. They get more screen time than several supporting characters.) 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire clumsily taps into nostalgia. 

This slapdash sequel brings back Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts — this time in more than cameo mode. (Thankfully, the GCI ghost of the late Harold Ramis is left to rest in peace.) Frozen Empire also loops in familiar settings like the Ghostbuster’s firehouse and the exterior of the Bryant Park library with its signature lion statues, allowing for callback scares from memorable past apparitions — including Slimer. There’s also a montage of classic clips from the past movies, TV commercials for toys and the Ghostbusters cereal, as well as the Ray Parker Jr. music video.

These allusions might make lovers of the original movies perk up in joyful recognition. But none of the old relics are given new polish. Even the original cast’s performances ranges from politely game to clearly over it. (Well, aside from Aykroyd — he is clearly elated to be back in this supernatural saddle, though his enthusiasm is not contagious.) So the throwback content for grown ups is achingly faded. But the kid-focused stuff is at times shockingly miscalculated. 

What should parents know before taking kids to see Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire?

Some parents might worry about scary spirits that creep into this ghost story. But like past installments, these sinister apparitions include the mirthfully menacing (Stay Puft and his mini-minions), the confusingly sultry (Gozer), and the gothic spooky (Vigo the Carpathian). No real nightmare material will be found in this new installment as ghosts range from the inexplicable “sewer dragon” to a horned deity that feels like a tame knockoff from Pan’s Labyrinth.

What’s more disturbing is how the screenwriters treat their teen girl characters. Returning from the last movie, both the poorly nicknamed Podcast (a plucky Logan Kim) and Trevor’s love interest Lucky (a woefully underused Celeste O’Connor from Madame Web) conveniently get internships that bring them far from their Oklahoma hometown into this NYC-set tale. Yet only the latter is saddled with a string of sex jokes that are just confounding.

Wandering into a stranger’s apartment on an investigation assignment, Lucky breezily makes comments about nipple play, loud sex, and a hidden room she assumed to be a “sex dungeon” — pushing the flustered resident (Nanjiani) to get defensive about his late grandmother’s collection of artifacts. It’s an uncomfortable series of jokes for social reasons, but also it is unnerving to place the bawdy humor on the Black teen girl when the movie is full of full-on grown ups.

Elsewhere, Phoebe stumbles into a star-crossed lovers subplot, in which she falls for a ghost girl named Melody (Doctor Sleep‘s Emily Alyn Lind). Swiftly, Phoebe is established as a queer character in a sapphic flirtation. Following a cliched path of coming-of-age queer stories, Phoebe feels so isolated by her friends and family — though because of ghostbusting, not her sexuality — that she’s desperate to get closer to her crush. This leads to a troubling grand gesture that plays alarmingly close to a suicide attempt. Nitpickers will note Phoebe offers a disclaimer ahead of the act that it “isn’t lethal,” suggesting not permanent — so the effect is more Ghost Dad coma zone. But in depiction, it’s nonetheless grim and could be triggering.

Considering the harrowing statistics about suicide among LGBTQ youth in the U.S., that this scene made it to the screen feels incomprehensible. Plotwise, it would have been easy to concoct different movie science to reach the same plot point. So how is it that the filmmakers sought to make a family friendly movie but touch on something so sensitive with so little caution?

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire lacks chemistry and community. 

Beyond these tremendous red flags, this sequel is just too overstuffed to be consistently entertaining. The reason the original two Ghostbusters movies were such a hoot, was largely the chemistry between its four leads. Egon, Venkman, Ray, and Winston were fun to follow around. Here, it seems Kenan and Reitman don’t trust that their audience is invested enough in the Spengler family to succeed without the quirky besties and nearly every lead from the first two films. This army of characters is too much for the film to substantially support, and so many of the roles feel little more than guest appearances. They offer no arc but chances to cheerfully dump exposition or movie science babble and on rare occasion a punchline.

This lack of cohesion has the most profound effect on the central plot line, which is all about how Phoebe feels about her place into the family and the Ghostbusters. Smartly executed, this disconnect might’ve allowed the audience to feel as unmoored as she does. Instead, Kenan runs the risk of the audience feeling disconnected from this ensemble as a whole, as the films jumps haphazardly from one scene to another with little sense of tone, setting, or plot cohesion. Sometimes even the characters’ roles seem to function less by who they are or what they know and more by who might’ve been available to shoot that day. How else to explain why characters who haven’t shared a scene operate with the exact same information?

Another loss to this lack of connectivity is how New York City is portrayed. In the first two films, the city itself proved a vital component of the film. Snarling New Yorkers and their harried mayor were hard to win over, creating conflict for the upstart paranormal scientists. The gruff persona of 1980s New York gave these movies color, and in Ghostbusters II the community of the city comes together (in song no less!) to chip in and save the day. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire was largely shot in Georgia and looks like it. Exteriors in New York City can’t make up for Kenan’s apparent disinterest in depicting the culture and chaos of the iconic metropolis, where locals might shrug off the Titanic coming into dock at last. Instead, when icy havoc is unleashed, he offers a jarring sequence on a sunny Coney Island that looks like anything but, then a handful of aerial views of a wintry New York. The everyman on the street barely makes the montage.

Say what you all about Ghostbusters II, personally, it’s my favorite of the bunch. But it’s impossible not to get caught up in the excitement and good will of that festive finale. On the other hand, Frozen Empire‘s climax is full of grimacing and CGI nonsense, undercutting the emotional undercurrent, leaving the audience feeling frosty over enthused. 

In the end, Ghostbusters, Frozen Empire is not a good movie or a good kids movie. (Notably this critic would argue that plenty of movies — recently Turning Red, Luca, and Nimona — has proven you can do both.) However, it is still better than Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a movie that I described as “a ghoulish re-animated corpse, stuffed with half-baked new characters and lazy fan service.”

The best I can say about Ghostbusters, Frozen Empire is, it’s not the worst. That would be Ghostbusters: Afterlife. 

Ghostbusters, Frozen Empire opens in theaters March 22.

If you’re feeling suicidal or experiencing a mental health crisis, please talk to somebody. You can reach the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline at 988; the Trans Lifeline at 877-565-8860; or the Trevor Project at 866-488-7386. Text “START” to Crisis Text Line at 741-741. Contact the NAMI HelpLine at 1-800-950-NAMI, Monday through Friday from 10:00 a.m. – 10:00 p.m. ET, or email info@nami.org. If you don’t like the phone, consider using the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline Chat at crisischat.org. Here is a list of international resources.

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