Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Review – Ghostbusters 3 In 2024, For Better Or Worse
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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Review – Ghostbusters 3 In 2024, For Better Or Worse

There are two things that are simultaneously true about Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. First: It tells a new and original Ghostbusters story, in the vein of the original two, that functions like a true Ghostbusters 3, unlike 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife. That’s a good thing, in a vacuum. But the second thing is a big caveat: The Ghostbusters formula has been used by so many blockbusters in the past couple decades that Frozen Empire just cannot make a real impression.

In other words, we’ve got a legitimate new Ghostbusters movie on our hands, but what the franchise actually needs is to reinvent itself. Not the way Afterlife did it, by doing an ’80s-style kid adventure, but by actually finding a new direction. Instead, we’ve got essentially a Ghostbusters-themed Marvel movie that’s got several movies’ worth of plot and only occasionally made me laugh. Bummer.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire opens with the Spengler family (Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard) and Gary (Paul Rudd) acting as full-fledged Ghostbusters, in uniform, in the Ecto-1, chasing an ethereal sewer dragon through the streets of New York City. They catch the dragon, cause some not-insignificant collateral damage, and the mayor (the EPA guy from the original movie, Walter Peck, for some reason) decides to try to shut them down and condemn the old fire station over it. Yes, the Spenglers and Gary live in the old Ghostbusters firehouse now, just because.

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Unfortunately, there’s then a new threat in the form of an old orb that ends up in the hands of Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd). This ancient artifact is a prison for a really bad ghost, of course, but our protagonists don’t know that. And it turns out that the dork who gave Ray the orb, Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), may have a connection to the ancient group of Ghostbusters that created the orb.

That’s plenty enough plot for a single movie. But on top of that, Frozen Empire crams in several major B plots you’ll have to deal with, like the containment unit at Ghostbusters HQ reaching its capacity, young Phoebe developing a bit of an infatuation with a teen ghost girl, and the older Ghostbusters wrestling with the fact that they’re actually elderly now.

Those aren’t bad subplot ideas, but in Frozen Empire they exist next to each other instead of working together to form a coherent narrative. Phoebe’s ghost crush is a neat idea, but the main plot cuts it off before it can develop any substance. The ghost containment unit hitting its capacity is also a neat idea, but it’s completely incidental to the main story–it’s just a thing that’s also happening. And aside from Ray, who actually is important to the story all the way through, Winston (Ernie Hudson), Venkman (Bill Murray), and Janine (Annie Potts) are more like human Easter eggs there to remind you that there were previous Ghostbusters movies.

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Despite all that, Frozen Empire does work for a while. It’s an easy movie to watch, thanks in large part to how fun the core group of Phoebe, Gary, Callie and Trevor is. But instead of keeping the focus on that group as they try to deal with this new threat, it also piles on tons of obligatory franchise baggage. Some of it’s fun (Aykroyd, Hudson, and Murray don’t know how to not be entertaining) but all of it is noise, distracting from the main point and preventing us from ever being comfortable.

By the time we approached the film’s MCU-style CGI climax in a frozen-over NYC, I was numb from all that stuff. It wasn’t unpleasant, per se, and it’s not poorly made or anything like that–new director Gil Kenan certainly is no Denis Villeneuve, but he knows how to make a movie that doesn’t grate. But that’s all that this movie can offer, really.

And that’s the story of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire in a nutshell. It may not be actively annoying (unlike Afterlife), but the weight of the Ghostbusters franchise seems to have prevented this one from truly being able to be itself. And that’s just too bad.

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