Ghostbusters: Afterlife was an overly serious effort to place Ghostbusters on the hallowed ground of (aging) fandom after the misfire of 2016’s Ghostbusters – Answer The Call (ironically, that film did spawn some new, younger fans who are prohibitively shut out of enjoying the newer films in the franchise). Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a sequel to Afterlife, and it shares many of its predecessor’s faults, plus it has some fun new ones to discover amidst this two-hour slog of a movie.


The Spengler family, made up of mom Callie (Carrie Coon), son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and daughter Phoebe (McKenna Grace), along with science teacher maybe-stepdad Gary (Paul Rudd) in tow, relocate to New York City and take up residence in the old Ghostbusters, Inc. firehouse. One of the fun ideas Frozen Empire has is how the paranormal makes up a portion of New York’s underground, from Ray Stantz’s occult pawn shop to the New York Public Library housing a collection of its own paranormal items. Patton Oswalt steps in as the librarian in charge of the collection, and this builds on Afterlife’s similarly good idea of depicting the Ghostbusters as relegated to the realm of urban legend. This IS a world where ghosts are real, but they’re not mainstream, which forces the new generation of ’Busters into scrappy underdog status, just like their antecedents.


And just like their antecedents, they run afoul of Walter Peck (William Atherton), who is now the mayor of New York. He continues to be incensed by the ’Busters’ ongoing lack of workplace safety and environmental responsibility, now with a new layer of irritation over massive public property damage added. Callie is persuaded to see that involving young Phoebe in these endeavors is dangerous and benches her daughter. Phoebe, meanwhile, is outraged and spends the whole movie proving herself. She is the only character with a discernible arc.


Gil Kenan takes over directing duties from his writing partner, Jason Reitman, and he does a minimally acceptable job of servicing all these characters and the fans who love them. Hardcore fans of Ghostbusters will undoubtedly be pleased by the continued reverence shown to the franchise and the characters, even if it does ultimately make the film as dead boring as Afterlife. It’s actually easier to see the spooky, funny, horror-comedy at the heart of Frozen Empire than it is with Afterlife—which is just TOO serious—but at every step and stage Kenan shies away from committing to just making a silly spooky Ghostbusters movie, probably because the fans have loudly and endlessly screamed that they do not want Ghostbusters treated with any silliness.

There is an upside, that the elder characters like Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) get some nice character moments and they act the hell out of them. The downside is that despite some excellent production design and a cast chock full of comedy legends, Frozen Empire is ultimately forgettable. Any weird edges are sanded down, which means all that good production value is wasted on a movie that refuses to do anything interesting with any of it. 


It can’t be too silly, it can’t just be for kids—Ghostbusters has nowhere to go in these circumstances, and thus, Frozen Empire feels like treading water from Afterlife, though great comedic performers like Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, Paul Rudd, and Bill Murray ensure at least SOME of the jokes land. At least Frozen Empire isn’t dour like Afterlife, but it still has the same sense of fear about growing beyond simple nostalgia and callbacks. It's just so frustrating to see the shape of something that could fully work as a 21st century spin on Ghostbusters, but watch it whittle down to the dullest version of itself.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is now playing exclusively in theaters.