Breaking Containment — Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire

William J Hammon
8 min readMar 28, 2024


In many ways, you can look at the Ghostbusters franchise as the comedy version of Jurassic Park. We had one groundbreaking, timeless entry that changed the way audiences look at film, followed by decades of attempting to recapture that same magic, sadly with diminishing returns for all but the most hardcore fans who dig themselves in to the overall product. Ghostbusters II was essentially the Lost World of the series (or Lost World was the Ghostbusters II if you want to go by time of release), a lesser sequel that still had a decent amount of the original’s elements so that you could enjoy it. The 2016 Paul Feig reboot was Jurassic Park III, so ungodly bad that we don’t even speak of it except in relation to how misguided the attempt was. In 2021, we had Afterlife, which like Jurassic World revitalized the brand and introduced a new set of characters, offering the promise of innovation while still containing a lot of fan service and references. Now we have Frozen Empire, the Fallen Kingdom of this analogy. While this isn’t nearly as bad as that dino-disaster, this latest entry does show the same signs of misdirection that its thematic sibling did.

Let me be absolutely clear right off the bat. This isn’t an awful movie. In fact, it’s quite fun in places. If all you’re looking for is cinematic comfort food, you’ll get exactly that. Most of the characters are likeable, some of the effects are pretty decent, there’s a good joke or two in the mix, and there’s yet another Easter Egg reference to Cannibal Girls. If you’re just looking to turn your brain off, entertain your kids, and eat popcorn out of a ghost trap-shaped bucket, go with God and be happy. You will have a blast.

But if you’re looking for something more, something that carries on the, well, spirit of the original Ghostbusters film from 40 years ago, you’ll likely be very disappointed. Like Afterlife before it, you can almost see the studio and focus group notes plastered across every scene, but with Jason Reitman only co-writing this time instead of directing (those duties fall to Gil Kenan, who helmed Monster House, which was brilliant, and the Poltergeist reboot, which was very much not), you don’t experience the love and reverence for his father’s work outside of a text dedication as the credits roll. Like so many other well-worn IPs, there are so many winks, nods, and side tangents for unnecessary characters that the film comes off as overstuffed and confused, abandoning the things that made the first film so indelible in favor of a sheer glut of nostalgia, a mass of quantity over a judicious selection of quality.

In a fairly well done opening sequence, we reunite with Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd in a rare off performance, struggling to make bad jokes work through the power of his charm alone) and the Spengler family: mother Callie (Carrie Coon), newly 18-year-old son Trevor (Finn Wolfhard), and now 15-year-old Phoebe (McKenna Grace, giving it her all with fairly weak material). They now live in New York and occupy the old firehouse where the original Ghostbuster team operated. Going out on a call, the four load into the revamped Ecto-1 and race around the city, attempting to capture the “Hell’s Kitchen Sewer Dragon,” which sounds like an odd take on the “Alligators in the Sewer” urban legend. The scene is shot well, and the effects are believable for this world, but you can’t help but shake the feeling that this is all just empty exposition. Unless you’re the smallest child who won’t retain the information anyway, the whole sequence plays like a crash course re-introduction to the characters from the last film that the viewers won’t need, because only those aforementioned kids would be seeing this as their first entry in the series.

Due to the collateral damage of the pursuit and capture (capped off with a new trap drone that would have solved the problem in 30 seconds, rendering the previous several minutes even more pointless), the family is called into City Hall where they get an earful from Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton). He threatens the team with arrest and disbandment, and orders Phoebe to be removed from the field because she’s a minor.

This is what I’m talking about when I say that the references and callbacks are much more quantity than quality. Die-hards will remember this character from the original flick, where he was a haughty EPA bureaucrat who interfered and set the climactic events in motion due to his incompetence. He’s included here to get an “Oh, I remember that guy!” reaction from the audience, but within this world’s rules, it makes no sense. Why would the people of New York elect a guy who stood in the Ghostbusters’ way (and does it again here), especially given the newsreel exposition of how big a craze they were? If we’re establishing that ghosts are real and the Ghostbusters provide an essential service, how would he have attained this office with designs on shutting them down? Further, while he is the antagonist for most of the film, there is logic in keeping Phoebe out of danger as a legal child. Do we explore this at all? Of course not! Instead the script just uses him to set up another tired plot about teen angst and how our young female protagonist has to be born perfect and convince everyone that they were wrong to doubt her rather than having her actually learn anything. Phoebe had a legit hero’s journey last time out. Now she’s a trope. Even the one major mistake she makes is instantly forgiven and forgotten despite all the implications around it because we can’t let her have any real flaws.

Anyway, when the Spenglers plus Gary (there’s a whole other cliché plot about Gary learning how to parent and being accepted as a step-dad) get back to the firehouse, they put the Dragon into the Containment Unit for all captured ghosts, causing the whole building to rumble, as it’s dangerously close to capacity. Like a metaphor for this entire process, the equipment is pushing its limits due to shortsighted planning. Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson; one of this film’s higher points over its immediate predecessor is doing more with the original cast than just having them be extended cameos) has been secretly building a second research lab to conveniently address this very problem invented for this very story, though, so everything should be fine (cue the narrator: Everything was not fine). Between this and Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) continuing his paranormal research and antique collecting, the film also decides to shoehorn in the two young love interests from the last go-round, Podcast (Logan Kim, far less annoying this time) and Lucky Domingo (Celeste O’Connor). Did we need them back? No. Was there any reason to create an excuse for them to not be in Oklahoma? No. Do they add anything to the fucking proceedings? Hell and no. But hey, they’re “part of the team” now, so we can’t sacrifice them for the sake of logic, can we?

Ray and Winston study the massive ghost energy in a brass orb sold to the former by a man named Nadeem (Kumail Nanjiani), who claims it belonged to his late grandmother. As we learn from a researcher at the New York Public Library (Patton Oswalt), it is believed to house the spirit of an ancient god called Garraka, who could telepathically control ghosts to do his bidding, and who was stopped from destroying the world with a ghost army by a group of “Firemasters” (because he can manipulate ice, hence the film’s title and chief threat). On the surface it seems like an intriguing idea, but really it just sets up a final act that serves as a ripoff of Avatar: The Last Airbender. Not even Annie Potts or Bill Murray’s sardonic wit can save this plot thread.

I think this goes back to the core issue here, which is that there are a lot of good ideas in this movie, ones worthy of the franchise’s origins and legacy, but they just aren’t executed properly, set aside in favor of quick callbacks and merchandising. A ghost that can control all other spirits and break the Ghostbusters’ hold, thus freeing them to form an army of the undead? That has potential, especially if it’s treated with the same level of dark humor as the first one. There’s a fun poltergeist called “Possessor,” that literally jumps from one inanimate object to another inside its own personal observation unit, and once it escapes, proves very difficult — and funny — to track. As Phoebe mopes about her adolescent limitations, she meets and befriends a 16-year-old ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), introducing her through the same chess gimmick that ghost Egon used to make himself known to Phoebe last time out. This is a fantastic concept, as a) there aren’t many humanoid ghosts in this universe (Ray even has a good scene where he contemplates how he’d manifest if he came back as a ghost), b) the two characters have surprising chemistry, and c) it offers the chance to explore what it really means to “bust,” and whether the team is ultimately doing the right thing.

All of these are great starting points for new and hilarious avenues within this franchise, but they’re all wasted opportunities. Garraka basically doesn’t even factor into the plot until the final 45 minutes, rendering the title all but a lie. Possessor’s comic boundaries are never tested, with his escape from the lab playing like a direct repeat of the first Jurassic Park movie. Rather than examine what a friendship with a ghost might mean, the film instead plays a few beats from Casper before going to the same overdone and obvious betrayal that we’ve seen a million times, including just this month with Kung Fu Panda 4.

It’s because when it comes right down to it, the priority was on marketability, not story. Being a teenager is unfair. Ooh look, there’s Slimer for no reason! Wouldn’t it be fun to have someone bend fire from a lighter? Hey, why don’t we go back to the library and make the lions move this time? There were long stretches where it honestly felt like the intent was to make a feature length, live-action version of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon rather than a genuine entry in the canon. As I looked around the theatre, the little kids were having the time of their lives. Meanwhile, every person over 25 was groaning as Rudd tried to give a pep talk by reciting the theme song lyrics.

I know I’m probably coming off harsh on this, but it’s because I’ve seen with my own eyes what this franchise — and these creators — can do when they put the effort in. Like I said earlier, this is still fun and entertaining in parts, and those who only want something mindless will get just as much enjoyment out of watching this as I’m sure Oswalt and Nanjiani did in being on set for it. It’s perfectly adequate, but that’s also its downfall. This film was capable of being something grand, and instead it settled for being almost aggressively average, so long as it sells toys.

Let’s just hope the next one isn’t as bad as Jurassic World Dominion.

Grade: C

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Originally published at on March 28, 2024.



William J Hammon

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