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‘Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire’ Review: Spirited Sequel Struggles With an Illogical Script

One of the many memorable scenes in Ivan Reitman’s “Ghostbusters” was when our blue collar heroes convened around their ghost containment unit.

Ray said it was “getting crowded in there,” and Venkman expressed concern about how the grid was “holdin’ up.” Meanwhile, Egon compared an overload of psychokinetic energy in New York to a 35-foot-long Twinkie.

Forty years later, the plot of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” — a sequel made for hardcore fans of the series, with famous and obscure Easter Eggs in almost every scene — is about how none of the Ghostbusters had ever considered the possibility that the containment unit would one day get crowded and overloaded with psychokinetic energy.

It’s rare to find a movie that relies entirely on the audience’s nostalgia for previous films, but also their ignorance about what happened in those movies. The ramshackle screenplay of “Frozen Empire” seems to have been cobbled together from leftover storylines from the “Real Ghostbusters” and the “Extreme Ghostbusters” animated series, and it doesn’t all connect. It has more plot holes than New York City has pot holes.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is a direct sequel to “Ghostbusters: Afterlife.” It finds the Spengler family back in New York City. They’ve literally restarted the franchise by taking up the old family business. Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) lives in the old firehouse headquarters with her boyfriend, Gary (Paul Rudd), and her two kids, Phoebe (Mckenna Grace) and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard).

Once again the plot revolves around Phoebe investigating a supernatural mystery, and once again the filmmakers can’t figure out what to do with Trevor, so he spends most of this movie literally staring at a pile of trash.

The Ghostbusters get in trouble when Mayor Walter Peck (William Atherton) demands that Phoebe stop wearing a proton pack, because child labor and child endangerment are both wrong. He’s right of course, and the film’s insistence that Phoebe should always be front and center in deadly situations with a nuclear accelerator on her back — without even getting paid for it — is a weird thing to ask the audience to root for.

Anyway, Phoebe resents being taken off the team and proceeds to fall in love with a flaming chess ghost named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind, “Doctor Sleep”). It’s a storyline that only makes sense if they’re crushing on each other but it’s presented by filmmakers who don’t seem to be allowed to make their movie overtly queer, so nobody ever says that part out loud. Phoebe also teams up with Ray (Dan Aykroyd) to solve the mystery of a mysterious orb with creepy powers, which has a hypnotic impact on all the other ghosts they’ve captured.

Meanwhile, Callie and Gary try to figure out why their ghost containment unit isn’t working, and it turns out that that Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) has a secret new Ghostbusters research lab run by Lars Pinfield (James Acaster).

They’ve discovered many new ways to capture ghosts, and they will use absolutely none of those ways to either fix Callie and Gary’s containment unit, or amplify it, or relocate their overflowing prison ghost population before it’s too late, presumably because they got distracted by all these other subplots.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” has many strengths, not the least of which is its exceptional cast, who know when to play it serious, when to get goofy, and how to sell a badass action sequence when the moment calls for it. And miraculously the film finds something interesting for everybody except Trevor to do. But it’s so overstuffed with storylines that it quickly loses track of what’s happening in any of them.

The villain needs a human voice to free itself, and the scheme it concocts is bizarre and elaborate and completely ignores that it could just get a minion ghost to possess somebody, or use a recording of an ancient chant we saw Podcast (Logan Kim) record earlier. The movie goes out of its way, twice, to ignore the obvious solutions it presents to its own problems. I’m not sure what the makers of “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” have against the concept of internal logic but they sure do know how to hold a grudge.

Fortunately the film works in spite of itself. The legacy of “Ghostbusters” has as much to do at this point with the classic animated series “The Real Ghostbusters” as it does with the original films, and “Frozen Empire” is the first film in this series to take the show as inspiration.

Memorable monsters, novel mythologies, and storylines that could only take place in the day-to-day world of the Ghostbusters. Heck, there’s even a reference to the Junior Ghostbusters, an idea nobody in the film is a fan of either. So that just makes them even more relatable.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” is a couple of drafts away from being a great “Ghostbusters” movie, but what it lacks in intelligence it makes up for with good vibes and great casting. Unlike “Afterlife,” which confused the legacy of “Ghostbusters” with the legacy of “Goonies,” Gil Kenan’s film captures the spirit of the series and manages to keep it trapped inside of a rickety cinematic containment unit. It’s overloaded and ready to bust, but bustin’ still makes you feel good. Kinda.

“Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire” opens exclusively in theaters on March 22.

Correction: The original version of this post incorrectly referred to the film as “Ghostbusters: Frozen Kingdom” in the headline. The film’s title is “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire.”

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