Chilly Exposition

Ghostbusters: Afterlife provided an agreeable “passing of the torch” to the next generation of Ghostbusters. Why then Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire feels the need to do so again, overcrowding an already crowded film, can only be linked back to a studio’s need for nostalgia.

Everything about and in Frozen Empire draws the past into the present, and in some cases like Bill Murray, does so unwillingly. Murray doesn’t want to be here; his limited performance and bland one-liners fail to land. William Atherton returns as Walter Peck (now New York’s mayor who somehow let the Ghostbusters restart their business with him in charge) and is likewise uninterested in this role. He captures nothing that made Peck an infamous screen villain. At this point, not even Aykyroyd seems to carry the spark for the series he once did. And Annie Potts is back too, doing… nothing really.

There’s a scene in the New York Public Library (because New York doesn’t have other landmarks apparently), iconic ghost included. The Firehouse shoots a stream of pink energy from its roof as ghosts escape. The firehouse pole becomes a key plot point. Paul Rudd cracks a joke featuring lyrics from the theme song. Ghostbusters is refusing to detach from the nostalgia for fear of losing the core audience, and it’s dragging other great ideas down with it.

McKenna Grace is a potential superstar, and the focus on her and the family dynamic is core to Frozen Empire. There’s a fantastic storyline where a lonely Grace, too young by law to work as a Ghostbuster, befriends a human-esque ghost trying to escape her own trauma. It’s a wonderful lead-in to the ideas often skirted in this series about the scientific afterlife, which the script moderately touches on if not going all-in.

Frozen Empire aims at the young teen demographic, with the slightest adult undertones, if without the measured maturity (and immaturity) that defined the originals. By the end, after a fearsome entrance by Frozen Empire’s key villain, Kumail Nanjiani dons brass armor, and shoots fire from his hands in a finish that lacks the techno-sci-fi vibes that made Ghostbusters enjoyable, turning the whole thing into another Marvel-esque production.

While its story-led elements impress, the rest drags. It’s a wonder why Patton Oswalt is even here other than deliver a paunchy exposition dump that stops the film cold (the character is never seen again). There’s no reason Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) couldn’t handle this on his own knowing the character. Bit parts come and go for the same reason, including a fun idea to expand the research division, but again, those characters exist to explain things, not become the lore itself.

And the finale – oof. For the first time in this series, the villain comes to the Ghostbusters rather than vice versa. Then, Frozen Empire does nothing with it. There stand Venkman, Zeddemore, Stantz, and Melnitz, side-by-side with the new cast, all in uniform, only for… nothing to happen. They idle helplessly. Janine, with a new proton gun arm device, never even fires a notable shot. She just wears it to sell toys. The finish is an absolutely hollow way to set up a sequel and put the team back in business for the next film while handicapping Frozen Empire.

All of this said, Frozen Empire is funny. In spurts, it’s empty entertainment. When the new cast is given their moments (a few for each), they generally nail their parts. However, it’s clear that it’s time to divest from Murray and Aykroyd. They fill space and serve a nostalgic drip feed, but like the franchise as a whole, the unwillingness to move on hampers what Frozen Empire wants to be and do.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
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A clumsy sequel stuck in a nostalgic haze, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire can’t do much with a few fun ideas.

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