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Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire review – funny, silly, and a little scary, the franchise finally returns to fun

In 2021, the frightfully cynical Ghostbusters: Afterlife reduced one the greatest comedies ever made to a solemn parade of nostalgic artefacts, with moody shots of the famous proton packs and decked-out hearse. It also committed a particularly egregious act of digital necromancy, forcing the CGI-assisted return of the late Harold Ramis as Egon Spengler. Thankfully, there’s a limited resource of reverential nostalgia to be squeezed out of the franchise. Afterlife’s sequel, Frozen Empire, has – potentially against its will – been forced to actually put the Ghostbusters to work.

Granted, there are multiple, quite annoying cameos and nods to the original 1984 film in Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire. Slimer, the trash-addicted ghoul, returns. There are more Baby Stay Puft Marshmallow Men who, much to the franchise’s dismay, did not successfully kill Baby Yoda in his sleep by toppling his domination of the cute film-mascot market. The film, without reason, opens with a Robert Frost quote, which triggers immediate concerns that this will be yet another tribute to the mourned childhoods of the men who went Defcon 1 when they let women be funny in the 2016 Ghostbusters.

But, be assured, Frozen Empire is a notable improvement on Afterlife – funny, silly, and a little scary, with its pockets full of hand-built doodahs and the occasional excursion into the realm of pseudo-mythology and parapsychology. You know, like the original Ghostbusters. At some point in the process, director Gil Kenan and co-writer Jason Reitman (son of the late Ivan Reitman, who directed the original), seem to have remembered that Ghostbusters was Dan Aykroyd’s baby, born out of a lifelong interest in the paranormal.

And so, Frozen Empire picks up the best character from the previous film, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), a sort of mini-me of her granddad and OG Ghostbuster Spengler, and teams her up with Aykroyd’s Ray Stantz. He’s in semi-retirement, spending his days now hoarding other people’s psychically charged trinkets.

Phoebe and her family – mother Callie (Carrie Coon), stepdad Gary (Paul Rudd), and brother Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) – have relocated to New York City, allowing Ghostbusters to once again be a quintessentially New York story about poor bureaucracy and pest control. They’ve taken over the old firehouse headquarters in order to run the Ghostbusters operation anew, with the help, of course, of original characters Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) and Janine Melnitz (Annie Potts).

When an ancient relic housing a pre-Sumerian death god surfaces, Bill Murray is dragged back into the fold to clock his required screen time as Peter Venkman (and not a second more). Hudson and Potts certainly aren’t short-changed, but it’s really Aykroyd’s moment here. When Ray tells Winston, “This is how I want to spend my golden years, this is what I love,” it’s as if both actor and character are speaking as one. It’s a performance so rooted in the joy of being back in the world he created and loves, that it knocks the entire affair back into orbit a little.

Frozen Empire has some nice visual flourishes. At one point, a decapitated hand cranks a gramophone. The film’s supporting cast includes comedians Kumail Nanjiani, Patton Oswalt, and James Acaster (the latter unfortunately wasted in a character who exists purely to explain how things work, when he’s exactly the kind of brilliantly erratic talent who should be leading the whole thing). It’s a little bloated, too, with a somewhat queerbaiting, spectral love interest who throws up unnecessary ethical questions about the Ghostbusters’ practices. But, here, at least, we’re firmly on the way to a Ghostbusters film that actually feels like a Ghostbusters film.

Dir: Gil Kenan. Starring: Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Finn Wolfhard, Mckenna Grace, Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts. 12A, 115 minutes.

‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ is in cinemas from 22 March