‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: Overstuffed, Unfunny, Not Scary

Everyone is here—Bill Murray, Dan Ackroyd, Paul Rudd, the list goes on—so it's less who you gonna call than why?

Annie Potts, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, and Ernie Hudson in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Jaap Buitendijk

Why let a franchise drift peacefully into the afterlife when you can continue to forcefully resurrect it until it’s only a whisper of its once vivacious self? That seems to be Sony’s plan for Ghostbusters, a beloved, classic 1984 film that has since spawned four sequels, one of which the producers would rather you erase from memory (sorry, Paul Feig). The proper reboot happened in 2021 thanks to director Jason Reitman, taking the reins from his late father Ivan Reitman, in the spectral form of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a solid effort that introduced Egon Spengler’s daughter and grandkids, who had to save the day in Oklahoma. 

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Directed by: Gil Kenan
Written by: Gil Kenan, Jason Reitman
Starring: Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O'Connor, Logan Kim, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts
Running time: 115 mins.

Now, in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, the family—Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace)—have relocated to New York City alongside Callie’s boyfriend Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) to take over the iconic firehouse as the new Ghostbusters. We re-meet them chasing the Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon (basically a translucent blue snake) through the streets in the Ectomobile, with Phoebe at the helm of the disastrous capture, which leaves a lot of damage in its wake. The mayor (a returning William Atherton) is not pleased and banishes the underage Phoebe from ghost-busting—despite a clear impending threat. 

Phoebe spends her time moping and playing chess alone in the park at night (what version of NYC is this?). There she meets a melancholy ghost girl named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), who can’t cross over but seems to want a friend. The pair have what is either a burgeoning friendship or a thinly veiled crush that the studio executives wanted to keep as vague as possible to avoid any right-wing backlash. Meanwhile, Trevor, who keeps reminding everyone that he’s an adult now, is struggling to remove the junk food-eating Slimer from the firehouse attic. A few other characters from Afterlife are now also in New York, including Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky, who seems way too young to be interning at a top-secret ghost research lab, and Phoebe’s pal Podcast (Logan Kim), whose parents think he’s at space camp. Generally, there are too many characters to follow—and that’s before you even get to the legacy cast.

Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace, Paul Rudd, and Finn Wolfhard in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Jaap Buitendijk

Dan Aykroyd gamely returns as Dr. Raymond “Ray” Stantz, now running a business where he collects and tests artifacts for ghost inhabitation. One day Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani) shows up with a box of his grandmother’s junk to sell, including a mysterious orb covered in an ancient language. Ernie Hudson’s Dr. Winston Zeddemore, who now owns the fire station, has opened the aforementioned ghost research lab, where the team can extract a spirit from an object (you can see where this is going). A lot more exposition happens before the orb finally opens and an ancient spirit unleashes a deadly ice storm across Manhattan. It’s up to the Ghostbusters to stop him, which brings Bill Murray and Annie Potts back into the mix. 

Frozen Empire sees Gil Kenan taking over from Reitman, who co-wrote the script, and the director has the resume required—he helmed 2015’s Poltergeist and animated horror comedy Monster House. But some of the lifeforce present in Afterlife has seeped out of Frozen Empire. There are no scares, only a handful of laughs, including from the usually hilarious Rudd, and a cast that feels overstuffed. It’s fun to see Aykroyd back in action—he has some fun scenes with Grace, the movie’s clear standout—but Murray seems to just be there as fan service. Same for Wolfhard, who is far less charming here than he is on Stranger Things. It’s also a lot of lore to keep up with, especially if you missed Afterlife. It’s mostly nostalgia that keeps the movie going, although Grace is very compelling and should have been allowed to properly lead the film. The filmmakers have apparently discussed more sequels—although the post-credits scene doesn’t hint towards anything—but maybe they shouldn’t need a dozen cast members to keep reanimating this corpse. Just move on and give us the Phoebe and Melody rom-com we deserve.

Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: Overstuffed, Unfunny, Not Scary