Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire (2024) Review – A Convoluted but Reasonably Fun and Entertaining Sequel

With a bigger budget at their disposal — a significant jump from Ghostbusters Afterlife‘s US$75 million to US$100 million, Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire raises the stakes by moving from the (fictional) sleepy town of Summerville, Oklahoma to New York City. The latter is what the fans have been waiting for: bustin’ some ghosts in the Big Apple that defined the Ghostbusters team in the first place back in 1984 and again in 1989.

This time, Gil Kenan, who co-wrote the previous sequel, replaced Jason Reitman as the director. Kenan is no stranger to handling horror genres as seen in Monster House (2006) and the 2015 remake of Poltergeist, making him a safe bet for taking over the Ghostbusters franchise.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire gets off to a promising start with an eerie 1904-set New York prologue introducing the ghostly antagonist known as the Death Chill before the movie jumps to present-day New York City. The new Ghostbusters team — Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and her older brother, Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) alongside their mum, Callie (Carrie Coon) and her boyfriend, Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) — is now in the official business of catching ghosts. With the OG ghostbuster-turned-philanthropist Winston Zeddemore’s help (Ernie Hudson), the team has since relocated into the firehouse, serving as the headquarters and their new home.

I enjoy the aforementioned pre-title prologue and the opening Ecto-1 chase sequence through the busy streets of New York City with Phoebe on a gunner seat blasting the “sewer dragon” ghost using a proton blaster. Then, there’s the cool introduction of the Ghost Trap drone — a fitting upgrade to Ghostbusters: Afterlife‘s RC RTV Ghost Trap.

But once the story starts to spread wider, Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman’s screenplay tries hard to juggle everything at once. We have Phoebe’s unlikely friendship with a teenage ghost, Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) and her teenage angst issues. The Melody part is pretty much glossed over with a perfunctory backstory and motivation, making me wonder why bother introducing her if the story does little justice to develop her character arc.

The sequel introduces another new character named Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani), who shows up in Ray Stantz’s (Dan Aykroyd) occult bookstore wanted to sell some of his late grandmother’s belongings including an ancient orb. Like the Melody storyline, the story doesn’t do much to justify his existence other than shoehorning his role for a MacGuffin purpose. We also have Patton Oswalt’s Dr Hubert Wartzki, spewing exposition-heavy dialogue regarding the origin and function of the orb while stand-up comedian James Acaster, who plays parabiologist Dr Lars Pinfield working for Winston Zeddemore’s Paranormal Research Centre, fails to make much of a lasting impression here.

Bill Murray and Ernie Hudson in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire" (2024)

The movie even sees the return of the long-missed Walter Peck (William Atherton), previously an Environmental Protection Agency inspector responsible for demanding the shutdown of the Containment Unit in the first movie and is now the mayor of New York City. Bill Murray shows up in a small role reprising his Peter Venkman character but unlike Ghostbusters: Afterlife, it seems to me that Kenan doesn’t know what to do with him. It’s like Murray is just there for the sake of a mere fan service.

While Mckenna Grace does a good job playing the nerdy and rebellious Phoebe, Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor is surprisingly undermined this time around. Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon do have their moments together but Celeste O’Connor and Logan Kim are strangely relegated to thankless roles as Lucky Domingo and Podcast. There are just too many characters that need to be focused, causing some recurring ones and newcomers suffer from either being sidelined or underdeveloped.

The Death Chill is a potentially fearsome antagonist but for all its wrath and chaos capable of freezing everything into ice, Kenan somehow wasted his opportunity to make good use of him. This is especially true during the climactic third act with the eventual face-off against the new and old Ghostbusters team best described as underwhelming, even though it was an intriguing visual sight of watching the New York City all freezes over.

Personally, I still prefer Reitman’s direction in Ghostbusters: Afterlife and I always wondered if he chose to remain in the director’s seat for the second time around even after his late father, Ivan’s passing. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire isn’t as great as the trailer suggests but it does have a few redeeming qualities of its own. Some of the gags are spot-on hilarious, notably the Spin Doctors reference and Paul Rudd reciting some of Ray Parker Jr.’s “Ghostbusters” lyrics. The special effects are top-notch and Kenan does a good job with a few callbacks here including the one that takes place in the library.