What’s a Ghostbusters movie supposed to look like? Some people are purists, and the only scenario they can imagine is the further adventures of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson. Spend a little time online checking on Ghostbusters fandom, which I don’t recommend, and you’ll hear variations of “I just want to see the originals back doing what they do best – busting ghosts!” There’s a problem with that, considering that Ramis is no longer confined to this plane of existence, while Murray, Aykroyd, and Hudson are too old to credibly be running around with proton packs for more than five minutes.*

Others are cool with a fresh take on the franchise. You might remember back in 2016, Paul Feig attempted a reboot. It starred Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Leslie Jones, and the fascinatingly strange Kate McKinnon. The film had a production budget of around $144 million, and it made worldwide about $229 million, which is not great. There are a number of theories as to why it underperformed, and to my mind, the two main reasons are knee-jerk sexism and some seriously baked-in nostalgia for the original two films.**

Then there’s the 2021 Ghostbusters: Afterlife. Jason Reitman made an uneasy sequel that was both a sentimental tone poem to his departed father, Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman, and a family adventure hangout in the vein of Amblin movies like The Goonies. I hope that’s the flavor of Ghostbusters movie you like, because we’re now presented with Ghostbusters: Frozen Kingdom. Does it feel simultaneously undercooked and overstuffed? Yes! Did I have a nice time with it? Also yes!

The Spengler family have left behind the rustic environs of Oklahoma and returned to the family business in New York City. Once again, we have a barely functional Ectomobile zipping through the streets, once again, we have fiendish thingies tormenting the locals, and once again, we have people firing charged particle beams all willy-nilly and causing massive amounts of property damage. 

This team of Ghostbusters is a little different. They’re Callie (Carrie Coon), the daughter of the late Egon Spengler, and her kids, the basically an adult but still a teen son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and the still firmly a teen daughter Phoebe (Mckenna Grace). Callie’s relationship with Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) is still going strong, but the whole stepdad thing remains a little shaky. 

Speaking of things being shaky, after capturing an ectoplasmic critter, the team is called on the carpet by Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton). Due to their charming recklessness, Peck forces the team to put Phoebe on the sidelines.*** Phoebe is not thrilled by this, and she expresses her frustration to her new friend Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a girl who’s technically the same age, except for the part where she’s a ghost.

Remember Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson)? He’s here, and he uses his vast fortune to bankroll the team. Remember Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd)? He’s here too, and still runs Ray’s Occult Books. In fact, into his shop walks Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), looking to sell old artifacts from his grandmother’s estate. Turns out one of the artifacts is rated EE for Extremely Evil, and the team will have to deal with an ancient entity looking to encase New York within several feet of ice. 

Let’s get this out of the way now – I had fun with Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. There was a fair degree of smiling, a few chuckles, and one obnoxiously loud guffaw. Director Gil Kenan has made perhaps the best directed film in the franchise. The effects look decent, the pacing isn’t too shabby, and there’s a fairly nice balance between “scary” moments and humor. Kenan kept the film under two hours, which meant that a) I never felt like I was in danger of rupturing my bladder and b) I never felt antsy, annoyed, or bored. Overall, it’s a well-directed and handsome film that doesn’t look like it’s held together with masking tape.

So what’s the problem? That would be the script by Kenan and Jason Reitman. To say it’s overstuffed is to say that the xenomorph in the first Alien causes a degree of indigestion. The following plot elements are introduced:

  • Tensions within the Spengler family
  • Phoebe feeling super angsty
  • Trevor dueling with Slimer
  • An ancient evil living within a brass prison
  • A slacker who’s actually the last survivor of a lineage of extradimensional guardians
  • A containment unit that’s almost completely full of ghosts****
  • Phoebe’s friend Podcast (Logan Kim) working as an intern for Ray Stantz
  • Ray’s desire to fill his golden years with adventure
  • Trevor’s crush Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) working as an intern for Winston
  • Winston’s desire to study supernatural phenomena and expand the Ghostbusters nationwide. 

All of that is a friggin’ lot! Instead of an A story and a B story to support it, there are an unwieldy number of characters, motivations, and plot threads at play. So much that during the film’s climax at the iconic firehouse, there’s literally a small crowd of protagonists. Rather than propulsive forward momentum, it feels like the script lurches wildly in random directions. It also means that the characterization is frustratingly inconsistent. For example, Phoebe’s subplot sands off the eccentric edges of her character from Afterlife and turns her into a smart character forced to make dumb decisions. There are a number of moments where good actors are at the mercy of the plot instead of causing it.

And yet, those same actors have moments that still work. For the newer cast, Carrie Coon and Paul Rudd have a low-key and lived-in chemistry that’s fun. I enjoyed Kumail Nanjiani’s fast-talking Nadeem so much that he should have been a Ghostbuster. The same goes for the extended cameo with Patton Oswalt as a linguist, and the moment where I unexpectedly howled with laughter. The OGs are somewhat of a mixed bag. Bill Murray is in full, “Where is craft services, where is my check?” mode in his brief scenes. Dan Aykroyd, though, gives a warm performance, particularly a sequence where Ray is asked if he ever wanted to be a ghost. Say what you will about Aykroyd’s career decisions, the guy is a solid actor when he wants to be.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Kingdom feels like a Ghostbusters movie, in its way. Most of you reading this aren’t going to dissect the minutiae of the filmmaking, lore, or legacy. You’re just looking for a pleasant way to spend a few hours that won’t actively insult your intelligence. As blockbusters go, you could do a lot worse.


*Yes, I acknowledge I didn’t have the same problem with Harrison Ford in last year’s Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny. 

**I still maintain that the 2016 film is the best written of the five films. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect, it just means it’s the least sloppy.

***Peck thinks it’s a bad idea for people to run around New York with unregulated nuclear equipment, store ghosts in a containment field that can literally cause a dimensional crossrip, and allow a minor to hang out of the side of a vehicle. Is he the secret hero of the Ghostbusters franchise?

****If that never occurred to Stantz and Spengler, doesn’t that make them…uh…kind of stupid?

Tim has been alarmingly enthusiastic about movies ever since childhood. He grew up in Boulder and, foolishly, left Colorado to study Communications in Washington State. Making matters worse, he moved to Connecticut after meeting his too-good-for-him wife. Drawn by the Rockies and a mild climate, he triumphantly returned and settled down back in Boulder County. He's written numerous screenplays, loves hiking, and embarrassed himself in front of Samuel L. Jackson. True story.