‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ warms fans’ hearts

Since the release of “Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens” in 2015, legacy sequels have been a priority for studios. Franchises ranging from “Terminator” and “Scream” to “Jurassic Park” have been resurrected, to varying degrees of success.

Attracting new fans while still serving the old ones requires a delicate balance; 2016’s all-female “Ghostbusters” reboot is mainly remembered as a case study in how not to do this.

Unlike “Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters” seems to have been placed in the hands of people who genuinely love the franchise and understand what makes it special.

Sony Pictures learned from its mistakes and returned five years later with “Ghostbusters: Afterlife,” a proper sequel to the original two films that focused on the daughter and grandchildren of Egon Spengler, originally played by the late Harold Ramis. The film was a respectable hit with audiences, raking in $204.3 million on a $75 million budget.

Clear eyes, full ghost trap

As a lifelong “Ghostbusters” fan who never thought the series would recover from its 2016 outing, “Afterlife” was an unexpected gift. To get another installment just three years later? I’m as happy as Slimer in a hot dog cart.

And while it doesn’t reach the heights of “Afterlife” or the 1984 original, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” offers plenty to enjoy.

The film follows the Spengler family (Mckenna Grace’s Phoebe, Finn Wolfhard’s Trevor, and Carrie Coon’s Callie) and seismologist Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) as they return to New York City to assume their role as the new Ghostbusters.

After Phoebe causes extensive damage while driving the Ecto-1 in the line of duty, Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton) benches her until she’s a legal adult. Needless to say, Phoebe doesn’t take this well, and her attempts to skirt the ban on bustin’ cause no shortage of tension.

Meanwhile, Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) receives a mysterious artifact with abnormally high PKE levels. It turns out to be a holding cell for Garraka, an ancient being with the power to unleash a “death chill” upon the world, causing a second ice age.

When Garraka escapes his prison, the Ghostbusters both new and old team up to save the world from its pending deep freeze.

Crossed streams

Along the way we get a coming-of-age story (Trevor wants to prove himself), grappling with mortality (Ray and Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore wonder how to spend their golden years) and a budding friendship between Phoebe and a ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind).

Herein lies the biggest problem with “Frozen Empire”: There are just too many plots and too many characters for the film to do justice to. Add to this the multitude of supporting characters also vying for attention, including Podcast (Logan Kim), Lucky (Celeste O’Connor), Dr. Lars Pinfield (James Acaster), Nadeem Razmaadi (Kumail Nanjiani) and Hubert Wartzki (Patton Oswalt).

That’s not to say it’s a bad movie. The film manages to bring the expected mix of laughs, action, and nostalgia. Mckenna Grace’s turn as Phoebe remains a standout, as does Rudd’s portrayal of a man trying to be a strong yet loving father figure. The original “Ghostbusters” were characters who worked both comedically and dramatically; out of the overstuffed cast of “Frozen Empire,” it is only Rudd’s Grooberson who pulls it off.

Speaking of the original cast, I was ready to let them go for good after their satisfying send-off in “Afterlife.” But I have to admit seeing Aykroyd, Hudson, and especially Bill Murray (in top form) pick up the proton packs one more time was a treat I won’t soon forget. Good to see Annie Potts as well — if only they’d given her more to do.

Dogs and cats living together

I wouldn’t take any kids under 13 to see this, as there are some suggestive sexual references and genuinely scary imagery throughout. While “Frozen Empire” can’t resist hinting that Phoebe’s and Melody’s friendship might be a romance, it keeps it very subtle, especially for those not looking for it. Either way, it’s a storyline that doesn’t add much.

This minor gesture at “updating” the franchise for 2024 obsessions is notable in a film that otherwise doesn’t pander to the DEI brigade. Unlike “Star Wars,” “Ghostbusters” seems to have been placed in the hands of people who genuinely love the world and understand what makes it special. No axes to grind here, and nothing to bait you into doing any racism, sexism, or misogyny.

“Frozen Empire” also pays proper homage to its elders. Where “Star Wars” felt the need to disrespect the beloved legacy trio of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Leia Organa, both the filmmakers and the next-generation characters clearly hold the OG cast in high regard.

A little bit of humility goes a long way. For fans willing to overlook its occasional lack of focus, “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” delivers solid entertainment. Who would have predicted it: Four decades later, bustin’ can still make you feel good. Some simple pleasures never go out of style.

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