Nostalgia is Dying. Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire Proves It.

At what point does a series become about nothing more than itself?

The Ghostbusters firehouse covered in ice in 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire'
Sony Pictures

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire isn't a bad movie. It's actually a lot of fun. In terms of memorable character designs and supernatural gags, it outdoes every other Ghostbusters movie outside of the 1984 original. The Gil Kenan-directed sequel makes good use of its New York City setting by traveling to enough quirky stores, apartments, and research facilities to more than justify the series' return to the Big Apple. The problem is that Frozen Empire isn't really about, well, anything.

The film, penned by Ghostbusters: Afterlife co-writers Kenan and Jason Reitman, tries to have its cake and eat it too by posing as both the second part of an ongoing family drama about the modern-day Spenglers and a ghostbustin' comedy. It mostly succeeds as the latter, not so much the former, and by failing to explore its human characters as deeply as it wants, Frozen Empire inadvertently reveals the emptiness at the center of it.

Spoilers for Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire follow!

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is a carefree blockbuster that has disappointingly little to say about its story and its characters.

Sony Pictures

At the start of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Phoebe Spengler (Mckenna Grace) is told that she's not legally allowed to participate in the Ghostbusters’ missions because of her age by the living wet blanket that is Walter Peck (William Atherton). When her mom, Callie (Carrie Coon), and her kind-of stepdad, Gary (Paul Rudd), don't let her ignore Peck's order, she feels so isolated and misunderstood (what teenager doesn't?) that she quickly latches onto her relationship with Melody (Emily Alyn Lind), a ghost she meets playing chess.

She goes so far as to break into Winston Zeddemore's (Ernie Hudson) private research facility and literally extract her soul from her body so she can be on the same plane as Melody for two minutes. This decision backfires when it's revealed that Melody was manipulating Phoebe the entire time so that Garraka, Frozen Empire's dangerous villain, could find a way to possess her body. Her mistake almost sends the entire world into a humanity-destroying ice age, but her actions are shrugged away by Callie and Gary. The opportunity for growth and reflection presented by her mistake is ignored by Phoebe and Frozen Empire itself.

The film doesn't know what to do with most of its human characters. Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) is reduced to complaints about his mother's lack of trust in him and a subplot involving Slimer that feels like little more than a protracted Easter egg. None of that would be a problem and neither would Frozen Empire's complete lack of a thematic identity if it was just a straightforward comedy like 1984's Ghostbusters. The themes of that film are thin, to say the least, but that doesn't matter much because Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), and Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) are caricatures whose problems are, for the most part, external supernatural ones.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire falters beneath the weight of its, frankly, huge cast of new and returning characters.

Sony Pictures

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire wants to do more with its characters than that. It wants to explore Phoebe's teenage crisis but it doesn't have the tools or focus necessary to fully resolve it. The same is true of its supernatural plot, which revolves around Garraka's dangerous return to the mortal world but says relatively nothing about Frozen Empire's heroes and their struggles. That feels largely due to Frozen Empire's conflicting desire to push its characters and its inability to follow through and do so. It also feels like an unavoidable problem for any franchise that goes on past its natural endpoint, though.

As viewers have already seen in recent years with the Star Wars series and the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a franchise can only go on so long before it stops being about the story it was originally created to tell and just becomes a vessel for new, surface-level plots and callbacks to what's come before. Forty years after the series began, when does a Ghostbusters movie stop being about the Ghostbusters and more about the spectral frights they face? Frozen Empire isn't totally devoid of humanity, but it doesn't know what to do with the little it has.

In the end, it spends more time on Garraka and the threat he poses than it does on any of its human characters' personal lives, and it's made all the emptier for it. Unfortunately, that's a flaw that doesn't feel unique to Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, but one that is becoming increasingly common in the world of franchise storytelling.

Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire is now playing in theaters.

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