review

Ghostbusters: Like its ghouls, Frozen Empire is stuck in movie purgatory

Headshot of Wenlei Ma
Wenlei Ma
The Nightly
3 Min Read
Like its ghouls, Frozen Empire is stuck in movie purgatory.
Like its ghouls, Frozen Empire is stuck in movie purgatory. Credit: Supplied/Sony Pictures

It’s been 40 years since the original Ghostbusters stormed Manhattan in 1984.

As the fourth canonical film in the franchise, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire continually struggles between hat-tipping to the old guard and trying to breathe new life into it.

Assuming that’s even its intention. If you think of it as naked fan service, the movie mostly works. It’s better than Ghostbusters: Afterlife, albeit that’s a low bar. It relocates the action back to New York City and references its legacy - the gooey, snack-obsessed Muncher and the ghost woman who haunts the library stacks both make comebacks.

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There’s the OG gang of Dan Ackroyd, Ernie Hudson and Bill Murray, and now with added Annie Potts and William Atherton, plus the firehouse. If what you want is more of the same, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire delivers it in spades. The movie is laced with easter eggs and winks.

But if you’re interested in what a four-decade old franchise has to offer audiences in 2024 and allow the new generation of characters introduced in 2021 (Paul Rudd’s Gary, Carrie Coon’s Callie, Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor, McKenna Grace’s Phoebe and Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky) to take ownership, this isn’t that movie.

GHOSTBUSTERS: FROZEN EMPIRE
The original gang is reunited, including Annie Potts. Credit: Supplied/Sony Pictures

That’s the rub with Ghostbusters. Like the spectral beings which haunt its heroes, the franchise can’t ever let go of its past. And we’ve seen what happens when someone tries to move it on – Paul Feig’s all-female reboot was attacked by unhinged manbabies who never learnt to share.

So, it sits somewhere in the middle, committing to neither. The result is a mish-mash, but one that’s amiable enough if you keep your expectations low. There are some decent, actual laugh-out-loud jokes and a simple storyline.

Plus, plenty of charming performances but especially Ackroyd who is gifted chunky screen. Word of warning for Murray fans, he pops up only at the climax and is pretty much surplus to requirements.

If you missed Ghostbusters: Afterlife, that movie centred on the estranged family of Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), who discovers their family’s weird legacy when they move into his house in Oklahoma. Supernatural battles ensue and the Spenglers and the original Ghostbusters prevail.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire
The old and the new, stuck together in the in-between. Credit: Jaap Buitendijk

Frozen Empire picks up with the Spenglers now moved to NYC in the old firehouse. As a family (plus Rudd’s almost-stepdad Gary), they’re busting ghosts but when an ancient force is unleashed, everyone must come together to save the world.

The story mostly belongs to Phoebe, the youngest of the Spenglers, whose genius brain and outsized courage are limited by the fact she’s 15 years old. She’s the emotional core of the movie and Grace does a pretty good job anchoring the responsibility, especially when she meets a ghost teen (Emily Alyn Lind) with whom she forms a strong bond.

But until Ghostbusters decides if it wants to throw its lot in with one era or the other, it’s always going to be between two worlds. And that purgatory makes for a middling experience that doesn’t quite satisfy.

Rating: 2.5/5

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is in cinemas now

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