‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon in a Sometimes Strained, Mostly Breezy Installment of the Paranormal Comedy

The Ghostbusters universe seems to be getting awfully crowded. The latest film in the franchise, celebrating its 40th anniversary (gulp), features a plethora of ghostbusters old and new, including the surviving members of the original cast, the characters introduced in 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, and a variety of eccentric new figures who are bound to figure in future installments. The only ones left out, it would seem, are the female ghostbusters from 2016’s unfairly maligned reboot, who should at least have merited a respectful cameo.

Nonetheless, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire tries hard, very hard, to satisfy the series’ fans with plenty of nostalgic throwbacks and mainly succeeds. It’s not nearly as good as the classic 1984 original, but then again, neither was 1989’s Ghostbusters II, and that one was directed by Ivan Reitman and written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis, all of whom were responsible for the original. So the fact that this installment manages to be as much fun as it is represents a minor triumph.

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The screenplay by Jason Reitman and director Gil Kenan doesn’t have to do as much heavy lifting as the last film, given that the characters are well established and, as demonstrated by a raucous opening sequence, happily settled into their new roles as ghostbusters. They’ve also settled into their new home, the beloved Tribeca firehouse that was the headquarters of the original gang, giving the film the benefit of taking place in New York City rather than Oklahoma. Nothing wrong with Oklahoma, mind you, but let’s face it, New York City has a hell of a lot more ghosts. Some of which, such as the beloved Slimer, are still living in the firehouse. Not to mention those adorable Mini-Pufts, who are continuing to wreak havoc.

But just as Gary (Paul Rudd), Callie (Callie Coon), and kids Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) are getting into their groove, they’re stymied by the original film’s nemesis, Walter Peck, who’s now the NYC mayor. He’s once again played by the great William Atherton, whose film acting career stretches back a mere 52 years, and it’s a pleasure to see him onscreen. Almost as much fun is the cameo by veteran character actor John Rothman, reprising his role as the beleaguered library administrator from the first film.

When a malicious god named Garraka is released from an orb and wreaks havoc on the city by summoning a legion of escaped ghosts and using his powers to unleash a new Ice Age, ghostbusters new and old spring into action. Well, “spring” might not be the best word to describe Aykroyd’s Ray, now the host of a YouTube show, and Bill Murray’s Peter, who’s doing … something. Both are definitely showing their age, with only Ernie Hudson’s Winston, now the wealthy founder of a paranormal research lab, looking barely different from how he did forty years ago. Also joining in the action is Annie Potts’ ever-delightful Janine, who finally gets the chance to suit up. (Murray actually isn’t in the film all that much, giving the impression that he showed up only when he felt like it. Nonetheless, he predictably adds a welcome comic charge whenever he appears.)

Repeating their appearances from Afterlife are Celeste O’Connor’s Lucky and Logan Kim’s Podcast, although they’re not really given much to do. The more amusing newcomers include Kumail Nanjiani as Nadeem, who sets the events in motion by unwittingly selling the orb containing the vengeful god; Patton Oswalt as a library researcher who gleefully provides helpful information; and James Acaster as Lars, a droll scientist in Winston’s lab.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire doesn’t mess with the well-honed formula, carefully balancing its laughs and scares in the breezy manner that makes for pleasurable, if lightweight, viewing. But the film does deliver some nice emotional moments with a subplot involving Phoebe’s burgeoning friendship with Melody (Emily Alyn Lind, of the Max series Gossip Girl), the ghost of a teenage girl killed in a tenement fire. Their first encounter, when they play nighttime chess in a deserted Washington Square Park (probably the most unbelievable plot element in a film featuring hundreds of ghosts rampaging through the city), proves sweetly touching. And it further demonstrates that Grace, whose character is adorably outfitted with the same glasses as her grandfather Egon (Ramis), could be the franchise’s MVP as it continues.

There are times when you feel the film is trying too hard, especially in its efforts to balance the screen time among all the characters. But it mostly handles the balancing act well and definitely gives the impression that castmembers old and new are prepared to continue carrying the torch — or, in this case, the proton packs.

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