Who is ‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ For, Exactly?

To be fair, Frozen Empire is funnier than Afterlife, and—perhaps more importantly, given that it’s not a comedy—free of the most appalling sentimentality that earlier film summoned in the wake of Ramis’s death. Following the reawakening of the Spengler family legacy or whatever, Egon’s daughter Callie (Carrie Coon), granddaughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and grandson Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) have relocated to New York City with Callie’s boyfriend Gary (Paul Rudd), and moved back into the old Ghostbusters firehouse, now owned by OG (that’s Original Ghostbuster) Winston (Ernie Hudson). Busting ghosts in New York is a higher-profile gig than it was in Oklahoma, which means the involvement of 15-year-old Phoebe comes under more scrutiny, causing her mom to bench her from the family team for her own safety. Feeling alienated from her “calling,” Phoebe sulks and unexpectedly befriends a fellow teenager (who also happens to be a century-old ghost).

Meanwhile, some dude (Kumail Nanjiani) sells Ray (Aykroyd) an enchanted object that just barely contains a powerful supernatural enemy of humanity, itching to break free and send New York into an extended deep freeze. Various investigations of this and related phenomena further involve Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) and Podcast (Logan Kim), kids from the previous movie; Pinfield (James Acaster), an employee of Winston; Janine (Annie Potts), former receptionist and still somehow involved with Egon’s estate; an eccentric librarian/scholar (Patton Oswalt); and, briefly, Peter Venkman (Bill Murray, putting in his minimum requirement). If this seems like a lot of ghostbusters and ghostbuster-adjacent staffers, it is, and more actor traffic than director Kenan (swapping places with Reitman, who directed the last one) seems able to handle. To sequelize multiple movies at once, Frozen Empire has to keep dividing its key players into groups of three or four, for scenes that still tend to involve at least one talented actor just sort of standing around, because writing functional scenes to serve three or four characters plus a bunch of exposition is difficult. Sometimes, Oswalt or Rudd will say something funny. Aykroyd says things that are funny, but not ha-ha funny. Wolfhard says things that are presented as funny, but are not jokes, like “What the actual hell?”

But that’s getting hung up on the series’ past again. As a comedy, this is just a third-tier Marvel movie, full of genial laugh-line placeholders. As a kids adventure movie, it’s almost at the level of a second-tier Marvel movie, albeit the kind that makes no real sense. This matters less in a comedy, where breathless, borderline-nonsensical explanations of lore can be part of the fun. In this lore-heavy adventure-fantasy version, things keep happening without any real reason. Callie and Gary treat ghostbusting as a public service, despite some backing from Winston’s private company, no support from the city, and the fact that the original group was explicitly a business (and a blue-collar-coded one, akin to plumbers or electricians, something the movie seems weirdly reluctant to admit, lest it be tainted with the Reagan-era politics of the first film). There’s a running gag about the kids doing unpaid labor. But why is it unpaid? Are the Ghostbusters superheroes now? For that matter, why doesn’t Trevor know that his friend Lucky is also living in the city (without parents?) and interning for Winston (because she… saw some ghosts in the previous movie)? Why does Nanjiani’s character Nadeem sell Ray the ghost-imprisoning artifact for a hundred bucks, but leave a cache of much more valuable-looking artifacts intact in his inherited apartment, to be discovered by the other characters later? Why is there a stakes-raising moment where the Ghostbusters’ proton packs are confiscated, only to have them presented with an even bigger group of spare proton packs a few scenes later? On a more granular level, how is the group’s accidental destruction of a statue considered grounds for the city to “finally” condemn the Ghostbusters’ firehouse, miles from where the accident happens?

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