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‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ A Nostalgic Trip to NYC with a Superhero Twist

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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire brings the misfit family from Afterlife and returns the saga to The Big Apple. Moreover, it sees the original Ghostbusters team back in action, albeit briefly. With a cast of legacy characters and familiar settings, one might wonder if the franchise brought back the old familiar spark. Well, they almost hit the bullseye. And while this sequel is not the Ghostbusters sequel we deserve, this is as close we will ever get to recapture the old NYC spirit of the original.

Most of this is thanks to a screenplay that loves its characters. Much affection is paid to the Spengler family, and this is especially true of Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace). Unfortunately, many other details feel less like a Ghostbusters film and more like a Marvel take on the franchise.

[Warning: mild spoilers and impressions for this film are below!]

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire: The story

The film starts in New York City as the Spengler family flies through the city streets in the Ecto-1, chasing a dragon-like ghost. The chase causes damage in the city as Phoebe fires the Proton Pack at the entity, often missing. Here, we see William Atherton’s return as Mayor Walter Peck, everyone’s favorite movie jerk from the ’80s and ’90s. The Mayor is on the same schtick as he was in the original films. He wants to dismantle the Ghostbusters, and he will do so even if it means causing more harm to NYC.

Side rant: This is one of the frustrating choices in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. It’s been almost 40 years since the first story, and the Mayor’s character has shown little growth. It seems like a missed opportunity to see what the character would be like in a supportive role while maintaining his ugly bedside manner. This would have felt more authentic than utilizing old character qualities for nostalgia.

Garraka Steppenwolf like villain
Image of Garraka from Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (Sony)

Back to the story, because of Phoebe’s age, the Mayor’s office forces her to stop ghost busting, citing she is a minor. From here, we get a glimpse of the looming family struggle. The mother, Callie (Carrie Coon), is doing what she can to protect the kids while honoring the family business.

The former science teacher, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), has become one with the family but tries to navigate his role as a possible parent. As Grooberson jokes, “I’m their Step Teacher.” As for Trevor Spengler (Finn Wolfhard)… Honestly, his character feels surprisingly trimmed down. He’s not given much to do besides hunt down a threat looming in the attic of the Ghostbusters warehouse. 

And then there are the Ghostbusters of yesterday. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) runs a YouTube channel with Podcast (Logan Kim). Winston (Ernie Hudson) is busy expanding the Ghostbusters enterprise, including establishing a new research headquarters. It almost feels like a Ghostbusters version of S.H.I.E.L.D. but on a smaller scale. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) seems to be living his golden years as a paranormal psychologist. 

With all these characters to juggle, the film also has a nasty threat at its center. An ancient spirit named Garraka. Imagine if Steppenwolf from Justice League became stuck in a freezer. That is Garraka.

The ghostly humor delivers in Sony’s sequel

The new film is written and directed by Gil Kenan, who previously worked on the script for Ghostbusters: AfterlifeAs a filmmaker, Kenan seems to be hit or miss. One of his credits includes Monster House, a fun little animated film. The story was executed with decent spooky humor and some little scares for younger audiences. At the same time, Kenan directed the forgettable Poltergeist remake. 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire has more in common with Monster House than his other works. For example, this feels like the Saturday morning cartoon based on the movies. The tone makes more sense if one envisions all the characters animated.

The film’s strong written humor adds to its lighthearted, cartoonish tone. There are genuinely funny moments, thanks to the comedic timing of performers like Paul Rudd. Moreover, the spiritual gags in this sequel are more imaginative than in previous films.

For instance, the movie introduces a spirit named “Possessor,” who bounces around like an unstoppable pinball and possesses any object it touches. The logic behind Possessor’s character is nonsensical, but that makes the character more entertaining. They even have a hilarious ghost reference involving the band Spin Doctors for the Gen X and Millennial audience.

Mckenna Grace is now the soul of Ghostbusters

Afterlife and Frozen Empire have one major detail in common: Mckenna Grace is the anchor of both movies. Much like the reboot, Frozen Empire leans heavily on Egon’s granddaughter, further developing Phoebe as a kid trying to find herself. And for such a young talent, she can almost make the viewer forget Murray is no longer the lead.

However, around the middle of the movie, Phoebe makes a questionable decision that is not easy to understand. This decision relates to a subplot involving a spirit named Melody (Emily Alan Lind), a ghost who has not yet found peace to move on. Although the movie tries to portray Phoebe and Melody as close friends and maybe something more, the writing and Lind’s performance fail to convince the audience. Therefore, when Phoebe makes drastic choices for Melody, her motivations seem unclear and do not make much sense.

Ghostbusters Frozen Empire Mckenna Grace
Mckenna Grace as Phoebe Spengler. (Sony)

Final thoughts on Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

The 1984 Ghostbusters, at its simplest, was a high-concept dry comedy. It was nothing more than that. One might even say it was a comedy first and a science fiction horror film second. It was never meant to be a spectacle with a superhero budget. This might be the first movie that strongly communicates a severe misunderstanding of this notion. And it’s disappointing because the first two-thirds of Frozen Empire brought back that sense of goofball charm to the Ghostbusters franchise.

For most of the film, Frozen Empire plays with the silliness of hunting ghosts and brings back that familiar flavor of the crew hunting in New York. Then, the third act kicks in, and it becomes a superhero movie. Yes, one can argue they are superheroes in their own way. That said, the Ghostbusters don’t require the superhero format. The finale executes a lot of CGI and, as stated, throws in a villain similar to Steppenwolf. To make things more “Super,” one of the side characters has a superpower. It might work for some, but for this reviewer, it was too much.

Ghostbusters Frozen Empire captures the old humor from the original films while throwing the story back into a familiar playground. However, towards the end, it becomes more like a typical Marvel movie with the inclusion of a laser beam in the sky.

Despite this, the movie is still enjoyable for general audiences who tend to be more forgiving of such creative decisions. Furthermore, the New York aspects of the film are likely to please any fan of the Ghostbusters franchise, despite the apparent influence of superhero films.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire lands in theaters today . Do you plan on seeing it? Let us know what you think on social media @mycosmiccircus or in The Cosmic Circus Discord. 

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John Dotson

Born and raised in Texas, John Dotson has been a film pundit for over 10 years, writing reviews and entertainment coverage at various online outlets. His favorite thing in the world is discussing movies with others who also love the art form.

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