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‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ serves nostalgia, lukewarm

Ghostbusters old and new return in this overplotted installment of the franchise that began in 1984

The firehouse freezes over in New York City in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is a hot mess that wants to serve two incompatible levels of nostalgia.

First, it aims to please fans of the two original “Ghostbusters” films. Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, and Annie Potts reprise their roles as Ray, Peter, Winston, and Janine. The actors look as touched by Father Time as those of us who saw them onscreen in our youth.

Second, it caters to the “Stranger Things” crowd by continuing the new Ghostbusters lore created by the last film in this series, 2021′s “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” In that film, the job of busting ghosts fell to the Spengler family. Led by Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (”Stranger Things”’s Finn Wolfhard), the teenage grandchildren of original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler (the late Harold Ramis), and the obnoxious and questionably named Podcast (Logan Kim), the series was pitched for a new generation of teenagers.


A scene from "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."Jaap Buitendijk

“Stranger Things” is ′80s nostalgia for people who didn’t live through the ′80s. The original “Ghostbusters” series evokes firsthand memories for people who did. See how this doesn’t work? The combination is like discovering your parents like the cool thing you like — except this discovery ruins it for your parents, not you.

Granted, “Afterlife” featured old and new Ghostbuster teams working together (including some very unwise use of footage of the late Ramis), but the OGs were primarily used to pass the torch. “Frozen Empire” not only has bigger roles for the original cast, it stuffs them into a story where Phoebe makes incredibly stupid and infuriating adolescent mistakes because she feels unappreciated by her family.

So, you have Murray’s cynical Gen X wisecracks bumping up against mopey Gen Z teenage angst. Couple that with an extremely overcomplicated backstory for the film’s big baddie and you’re left with a movie that isn’t very much fun, despite some memorable and unexpected cameos from actors and ghosts, alike.


Garraka in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."Courtesy of Sony Pictures

“Frozen Empire” opens with a prologue set in 1904. Firemen from the firehouse that will become Ghostbusters HQ 80 years later respond to a call only to discover a room full of people frozen solid. The visual effect is, pardon the pun, chilling — and sets the stage for a climactic showdown full of sharp icicles and frostbitten heroes.

Cut to the present day, when Phoebe, Trevor, their mom, Callie (Carrie Coon), and stepdad Gary, (Paul Rudd), race through the streets of New York City in the iconic Ecto-1 Cadillac Sentinel. They’re chasing after the aptly named Sewer Dragon of Hell’s Kitchen, which looks more like a souped-up dolphin than a lizard.

Seeing the Ghostbusters in the Big Apple where they belong put a smile on my face, at least until I realized I was watching a sitcom about wiseass teens and their dopey parents. Not even Rudd’s goofy recitation of the lyrics of Ray Parker Jr.’s Oscar-nominated theme song could save this unwarranted devolution into John Hughes territory — and that guy can make almost anything work.

After surveying the usual damage caused by busting ghosts, the mayor of New York sidelines Phoebe because she’s 15. Apparently, you need to be 18 to handle proton packs and ghost traps, something Bobby Brown conveniently forgot to mention in the rap section of his theme song for “Ghostbusters II.”

Mckenna Grace in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."Jaap Buitendijk

Later, Phoebe is fired from the team by Callie for disobeying her orders. So, she flees into the night and befriends a chess-playing ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). They form an immediate bond, and she even shows Melody the cool new ghost-trapping equipment being designed by Winston’s team, as well as the famous ghost reserve located in the basement of the firehouse. Phoebe should know better!


If you don’t think this ghost is somehow involved with the film’s main villain, you haven’t seen a “Ghostbusters” movie. Dumbing down a character always shows a lack of creativity (in this case by director Gil Kenan, who wrote the screenplay with Jason Reitman). Since there’s so much lore about its ice-based entity, perhaps it’s a blessing they took a shortcut here.

The explanation of that lore is left to Patton Oswalt, whose cameo is one of the film’s few high points. The enthusiasm he feels for being in a “Ghostbusters” movie is obvious, as is the eagerness expressed by a hilarious Kumail Nanjiani in a role I won’t reveal.

Dan Aykroyd and Kumail Nanjiani in "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire."Jaap Buitendijk

But the most palpable sense of joy comes from Dan Aykroyd. His every scene radiates with the feeling that he’s back where he belongs. “Ghostbusters” was his baby (he co-wrote the original script with Ramis).

Winston tells Ray he should spend his golden years relaxing and avoiding the paranormal. Ray’s passionate expression of love for his research feels like Method acting on Aykroyd’s part. He practically glows. It’s enough to make you want to see the actor make “Ghostbusters” movies forever — so long as they’re better than “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”




Directed by Gil Kenan. Written by Kenan and Jason Reitman. Starring Mckenna Grace, Finn Wolfhard, Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson, Logan Kim, Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Emily Alyn Lind. At AMC Boston Common, Landmark Kendall Square, Alamo Drafthouse Seaport, AMC Causeway, suburbs. 115 minutes. PG-13 (the ghosts are too hot to handle, too cold to hold)

Due to a reporting error, an earlier version of this review misidentified the relationship between the characters Phoebe and Trevor and original Ghostbuster Egon Spengler. They are his grandchildren.

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.