Ghostbusters old and new return to New York for another not-very-spirited sequel 

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

Dir: Gil Kenan. US. 2024. 115mins

After decamping to Oklahoma for 2021’s Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the franchise returns to New York City for its latest instalment which puts this sequel on firmer, familiar footing – even if the irreverent wit of the 1984 original now seems permanently lost. Frozen Empire brings together the cast of the eighties films and the stars of the 2021 picture, as well as adding new characters, resulting in an overstuffed action-comedy that boasts a few enjoyable performances amidst a continuing struggle to keep this series relevant for younger generations. The clumsy mixture of nostalgia, scares, set pieces, sincerity and wisecracks never gels, tempting a conclusion that it is perhaps time for Sony to give up this particular ghost.

A clumsy mixture of nostalgia, scares, set pieces, sincerity and wisecracks 

Frozen Empire opens in the UK and US on March 22, hoping to further spark a slumbering box office recently enlivened by Dune: Part Two and Kung Fu Panda 4. Ageing fans will be happy to see Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson on board, joined by Paul Rudd and Carrie Coon, who made their franchise debut with Afterlife. (The 2016 female-led Ghostbusters has been expunged from the series lore.) Initial grosses should be strong, but long-term prospects may be hampered by the arrival of Godzilla x Kong: The New Empire the following weekend. 

As the film begins, Callie (Coon) has moved from Oklahoma to New York with her boyfriend Greg (Rudd), alongside her two children Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), to revitalise her late father Egon Spengler’s Ghostbusters business. The sweet, nerdy Phoebe feels left out because, as a minor, she is not allowed to be part of the team, but she finds an unexpected friend in Melody (Emily Alyn Lind) – who happens to be a ghost. Meanwhile, our heroes face a grave new threat in the form of Garraka, an evil ancient god determined to freeze the world. 

Afterlife director Jason Reitman, the son of the late Ivan Reitman (who directed the 1980s Ghostbusters films), hands the reins over to his writing partner Gil Kenan, who lends Frozen Empire a breezy efficiency that is not as weighed down by endless easter-egg references to the earlier pictures. (That said, Frozen Empire is still fairly stacked with callbacks to the franchise’s classic lines.) What helps this sequel is not simply the relocation to New York, but how the storytelling does not have to strain to set up a large crop of new main characters. Granted, few of Afterlife’s protagonists were especially compelling, but Kenan wisely focuses on the strongest of the bunch, Phoebe, who remains a delightful outcast. 

Indeed, her subplot proves to be Frozen Empire’s bright spot. Still channelling the geeky, deadpan spirit of the late Harold Ramis, who played Phoebe’s grandfather Egon, Grace quickly builds a rapport with Lind, their characters forming a bond based on their shared loneliness. (Phoebe does not fit in with her family while Melody, who perished in a fire, is unable to leave the physical world and reunite with her dead parents for mysterious reasons.) There is a real tenderness in their scenes, but also a deep irony: all the insecure men who were furious that the 2016 Ghostbusters starred women may not take too kindly to this film’s emotional centrepiece being a tale of female friendship.

Of the original cast, Murray seems as disengaged as he was in Afterlife, with Hudson not having much to do — a long-standing problem in the franchise. But Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz is still an endearing goofball, his passion for all things supernatural undiminished. Aykroyd, who co-wrote the 1980s films, clearly adores this world he helped create, and his boyish enthusiasm is otherwise missing in Frozen Empire, which ungracefully juggles myriad characters, plotlines and a predictably overblown, effects-heavy third act. 

Much could be forgiven if Frozen Empire was as mischievously funny as the 1984 film. But in the attempt to bring this series back to life, the recent pictures have demonstrated a stifling reverence for the original, mistaking direct references for a true capture of its anarchic spirit. The sporadically funny Frozen Empire, like Afterlife before it, is more concerned with maintaining the intellectual property’s commercial viability than understanding its initial appeal. 

Patton Oswalt, a newcomer to the series, has a brief cameo as a bookish librarian, and his smart-aleck demeanour comes close to emulating the wry sarcasm that Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis effortlessly conveyed 40 years ago. But such fleeting moments are not enough. Frozen Empire may round up the original stars, and return the franchise to the city that served as their vibrant background, but nothing can conjure up those past glories. 

Production company: Ghost Corps 

Worldwide distribution: Sony Pictures

Producers: Ivan Reitman, Jason Reitman, Jason Blumenfeld

Screenplay: Gil Kenan & Jason Reitman, based on the 1984 film Ghostbusters, an Ivan Reitman film, written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis

Cinematography: Eric Steelberg

Production design: Eve Stewart

Editing: Nathan Orloff, Shane Reid 

Music: Dario Marianelli

Main cast: Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Celeste O’Connor, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, William Atherton