‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Proves the Franchise has Burned Out

Forty years after the world was first introduced to the iconic paranormal investigation and extermination group, the busters are back in ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.’ This time, the evil they face is much darker than the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man — it’s an ancient demonic god named Garraka. 

The film opens with a good-old-fashioned high speed ghost chase through New York City, a scene that almost seems taken out of a Universal Studios 3D ride. The audience is reintroduced to Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon), daughter of the late original ghostbuster Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis). She’s taken over her father’s business saving the city and is joined by her boyfriend, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd), and her two kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (McKenna Grace).  

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Half-Baked Family Dynamics

Phoebe is highly intelligent and technologically savvy, swinging herself out of the ghostbusting van against her mother’s will, muttering “I have ghosts to bust.” Trevor doesn’t contribute much to the chase besides whining, which becomes consistent throughout the film. It was the right decision to let Grace lead the film, but unfortunately Wolfhard isn’t given half a chance to offer an interesting supporting character. 

The lack of sibling chemistry is a main issue with ‘Frozen Empire,’ and it could’ve been easily mended with the addition of a few extra scenes between Phoebe and Trevor. While they bicker a few times, there aren’t any emotional moments that convince the audience these characters love each other. 

Phoebe’s relationship with her mother and Gary becomes strained when they forbid her from coming on more ghostbusting missions due to her young age. Seasoned comedic actor Paul Rudd is reduced to an insecure stepfather-adjacent figure that’s only memorable gag is when he starts reciting the ‘Ghostbusters’ theme song like slam poetry. His crackdown on Phoebe seems like a cop-out to advance the plot because she’s clearly mature and an asset to the team.

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The Conflict

The true troubles in ‘Frozen Empire’ arise when former ghostbuster Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) receives a cursed orb at his bookshop-slash-pawn-shop , and it sends off a wave of frozen supernatural activity across the city. The orb’s owner is a man named Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani) who only cares about getting paid handsomely and has no idea how dangerous it is. Ray transports the orb to the Paranormal Research Center owned by Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson), but they’re unable to pull any ghost out of it. This scene leans into the mild horror aspect of the franchise as the power is cut and the ghost containment units lose their shields. There was promising potential here and the scene started out genuinely scary — the lights flashed red, sirens blared and ghosts stirred in their containment units. It was arguably the best part of the film since the stakes were high, but the pace slows back down right after.

While out on her own one night, Phoebe forms a bond with the ghost of a 16-year-old girl named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who died in a tenement fire. They play chess together, walk around the city after dark and Phoebe even transforms herself momentarily into a ghost for her. All of these signs seemed to be pointing towards a blossoming young romance — but it unfortunately never comes to fruition. It’s frustrating to see potential for LGBTQ+ representation in a major franchise like ‘Ghostbusters,’ only to see it crumble in the end.

If romance wasn’t involved, there wasn’t any logical reason for Phoebe to extract her spirit from her body to interact with Melody. She showed signs earlier in the film of wanting to feel what ghosts felt, but that’s nowhere near enough motivation to break into a laboratory and perform the dangerous procedure of temporarily becoming a ghost. This obviously backfires, and ends up releasing the spirit of Garraka from the ancient orb. Garraka isn’t like the typical ghosts that the busters face — the proton pack blasts do nothing to curb his power. Once released, he begins to freeze the entire city of New York (hence the title, ‘Frozen Empire’). 

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A Fan Service Ending

Since Garraka’s powers were so extreme, the former ghostbusters suit up alongside the Spanglers to help defeat him. Bill Murray’s Dr. Venkman also discovered a hidden weapon to use against the ancient ghost earlier in the film— Nadeem from the pawn shop had pyrokinetic powers. After training on how to manipulate fire and use it against Garraka, Nadeem became an asset to the ghostbusters in this final fight. This pulled the audience even further out of reality than they already were for a “Ghostbusters” film, and just felt like another silly addition meant only to further the plot even if it didn’t make sense.

Since there were so many characters in the film’s concluding battle sequence, none of them had enough screen time to create a lasting impact. Bringing back the originals was certainly fun fan service, but their characters didn’t develop in any way besides blasting the ghost with proton packs that were already established to not work against it.

For diehard fans of the ‘Ghostbusters’ franchise, ‘Frozen Empire’ could surely be a mindless, lighthearted watch. But for those who value a strong plot with compelling characters that follow an arc, maybe opt for something else.

Cast: McKenna Grace, Paul Rudd, Finn Wolfhard, Carrie Coon, Kumail Nanjiani

Cinematography: Eric Steelberg | Editors: Shane Reid, Nate Orloff

Director: Gil Kenan | Writers: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman | Producers: Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, Jason Blumenfeld

By Kaitlyn Murphy

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