Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is an entertaining improvement on Afterlife

ernie hudson, bill murray, ghostbusters frozen empire
Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire reviewJaap Buitendijk - Sony Pictures

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire brings the Ghostbusters franchise back to New York City, but the new movie couldn't just be about the past.

2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife leant too heavily on nostalgia, especially with that controversial Harold Ramis cameo, but proved a relative hit with fans as a legacy sequel. With the franchise given this successful soft reboot, it was down to Frozen Empire to prove it could last.

Fortunately for fans, the new movie is a definite improvement on Afterlife. It's less reliant on the past – although can't quite rid itself of it – and is more confident in blending the family-friendly spooks with comedy.

What you're left wishing is that Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire had enough confidence to establish its own identity. It ends up being a fun step in the right direction though.

celeste o'connor, kumail nanjiani, finn wolfhard, james acaster, ghostbusters frozen empire
Jaap Buitendijk - Sony Pictures

One year after the events of the previous movie, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire sees the Spengler family – Callie (Carrie Coon), Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) – established as New York City's new Ghostbusters, together with Callie's partner Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd).

Winston (Ernie Hudson) is still in the ghostbusting game, but more on the research side, having set up the Paranormal Research Centre to find high-tech ways to combat ghosts. But they're all about to face their toughest test when Ray (Dan Akyroyd) brings in an ancient orb that's said to contain an evil spirit.

As the new Ghostbusters battle with a familiar foe (William Atherton's Walter Peck), Winston's team unwittingly set in motion the release of a deadly phantom god who is determined to bring about a new Ice Age.

Soon Ghostbusters old and new have to join forces to protect New York City and save the world, yet again.

ernie hudson, bill murray, ghostbusters frozen empire
Jaap Buitendijk - Sony Pictures

The previous movie was so closely linked to the past that its main villain was a returning one. Here, writers Jason Reitman and Gil Kenan (who also directs) conjure up their own evil spirit, which adds a fresh edge to proceedings.

Phantom god Garraka has the ability to kill by fear itself, as shown in the trailer, using the Death Chill to make fear literally freeze you to death. It's a strong concept, utilised in the cold open (pun intended) to gruesomely fun effect, while the character design is genuinely chilling (we'll stop now).

Frozen Empire also introduces other memorable ghosts into the mix, from the potato-like Pukey who does what it says on the tin, to the mischievous poltergeist Possessor. The sequel adds in the spooky vibes that were missing from Afterlife, making it feel more like a Ghostbusters movie that you can imagine younger viewers using as a gateway horror.

It's not completely out with the old and in with the new though. As seen in the trailer, Slimer makes a welcome return alongside other ghosts we won't spoil here. They're little more than fan service though, in the same way that William Atherton's return as Walter Peck ends up being a retread of Ghostbusters II.

carrie coon, paul rudd, finn wolfhard, mckenna grace, ghostbusters frozen empire
Jaap Buitendijk - Sony Pictures

Frozen Empire is more successful in organically weaving in the original Ghostbusters into the story. Rather than glorified cameos, they have their own arc that's a spin on the classic 'too old for this shit' trope. Dan Aykroyd is the stand-out with both his comic timing and affecting emotional beats.

In order for the series to continue going forward though, it really needs to start putting more attention on its new recruits. Phoebe has the most development here in a sweet subplot bonding with a ghost (Emily Alyn Lind), but Trevor, Callie and Gary have little to do.

James Acaster's Egon Spengler-like Lars Pinfeld is an enjoyable addition to the franchise, and you could see a way to pivot to focus more on him and the Spengler family. Whether the series can ever let go of its past remains to be seen, but it probably can't sustain another legacy sequel without feeling stale.

celeste o'connor, finn wolfhard, james acaster, logan kim, dan aykroyd, ghostbusters frozen empire
Jaap Buitendijk - Sony Pictures

What's more frustrating is that Frozen Empire doesn't do enough with its new villain. It lacks focus story-wise and tries too much, meaning that by the time Garraka finally arrives, it's nearly time to wrap up, which leaves the movie with a rushed finale.

Yet it's still a step in the right direction for the revived Ghostbusters franchise. Old fans can revel in the nostalgia, while there are promising signs that they're doing something original for new fans.

Of course, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is not the original movie and never would be, but it's an entertainingly spooky blockbuster that proves there's life in this franchise yet.

3 stars
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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is out now in cinemas.

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