Ghostbusters: “Frozen Empire” a Safe Sequel


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If you’re intrigued by this newest Ghostbusters movie haunting the cineplex, you should note that Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (PG-13) is a sequel to the 2021 Ghostbusters: Afterlife. 

Afterlife was essentially a reboot of the original 1984 film, giving a new generation of viewers a new slate of characters in a new setting. The movie also doubled as an official sequel of sorts, providing walk-on cameos for the three surviving members of the iconic Ghostbusters team: Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson (fourth member Harold Ramis passed away too soon in 2014.) Other familiar faces from Ivan Reitman’s classic comedy make appearances too, but the similarities between these three films in the franchise are more spectral than concrete when it comes to laughs and memorable bits.

The new cast of Ghostbusters is fronted by the reliable Paul Rudd, who plays former science teacher Gary Grooberson. Grooberson finds himself romantically entangled with Callie Spengler, the daughter of Ramis’ Egon. Played by Carrie Coon (always at the top of her game,) Spengler is mother to two precocious teenagers, Trevor and Phoebe (Finn Wolfhard and McKenna Grace, respectively.) 

The teens share their grandfather Egon’s preternatural ability to detect ghostly spirits even in wide-open Oklahoma, where the Spenglers have moved out of necessity to the old family farm – which, wouldn’t you know it, is haunted too. 

The family enlists good-guy Grooberson and a hyperactive sidekick nicknamed “Podcast” (Logan Kim) to resurrect the family business. That involves tracking down and trapping a variety of frontier spooks and demons (and scaring up enough box-office revenue to justify this newest sequel.)

Directed by Gil Kenan, who co-wrote a script with Ivan Reitman’s son, Jason Reitman, the movie takes the troupe of Okies back to New York City and to the old firehouse where the original Ghostbusters once set up shop. 

They’re bankrolled in this endeavor by Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore and Dan Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz, who have continued monitoring the spirit world to keep the Big Apple from going completely rotten. They’ve even reconditioned the old Buster-mobile in hopes of restoring the former glory of the company that once had the entire city singing “Who you gonna call?” 

Meanwhile, a nasty demonic entity called “The Garraka” is getting ready to make his return and put the world in a deep freeze. 

That’s thanks to dimwitted hustler Nadeem Razmaadi (comic actor Kumail Nanjiani, who’s always good for a few laughs), who sells off his grandmother’s collection of antique paranormal artifacts in an effort to raise some quick cash. That collection included a sinister brass ball that looks like a puzzle no one should toy with.

Still doing his best to thwart the Ghostbusters at every turn is Walter Peck (William Atherton,) the pencil-necked bureaucrat who was humiliated by the gang back in the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man days. He’s gotten himself elected Mayor, seemingly to make sure no one will ever walk the city streets with a proton blaster again. He takes particular pleasure in inflicting all sorts of official injunctions on the Spengler family after they make a mess of the “Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon” in a rousing bit of slapstick action and special effects early in the film.

The central character who emerges from all this chaotic backstory is Phoebe Spengler, who resembles her grandfather Egon right down to the hair and glasses. After she’s grounded from the team for being a little too reckless with a nuclear-powered device, she “befriends” a wayward spirit named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind,) who she doesn’t have the heart to proton-blast into captivity. This leads to many silly complications as the city is once again overrun with mischievous poltergeists and on the verge of biblical apocalypse. At that point, you know who’s gonna show up to answer the call.

Photo courtesy of Sony Pictures.

I’ll admit it’s a kick seeing Murray, Aykroyd and Hudson back in action, though they certainly do act (and look) their ages now. The film makes us wait for their return and teases us with flashbacks from the original, but it doesn’t try very hard to cut any new ground either. Slimer is still sliming hapless humans, Dr. Venkman is still conducting crackpot telepathy tests as a way to flirt with pretty girls and the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man has morphed into hundreds of mini marshmallow men, who roam the firehouse like gremlins, getting into everything. This is by-the-numbers filmmaking at its safest, as if Kenan and company are operating under strict studio orders: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

We can almost predict who’s going to say what, when, as proton streams get crossed, ghosts get busted, and jaded New Yorkers survive another paranormal attack – just before Ray Parker starts singing his Oscar-nominated song over the closing credits. 

Frozen Empire is OK-comedy while it lasts, but I walked out of the theater remembering just how much fun the original was, rather than focusing on this latest excursion into the otherworldly.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is currently showing only in theaters, but if you’re willing to wait, you can expect to find it streaming on HBO Max sometime late spring or early summer.
In another lifetime, Mike Orlock wrote film reviews for the Reporter/Progress newspapers in the western suburbs of Chicago. He has also taught high school English, coached basketball and authored three books of poetry. He finished his two-year term as Door County’s poet laureate in early 2023.