2021’s Ghostbusters Afterlife was a formal handoff to the next generation of paranormal adventurers while addressing the heaviness of not having the late Harold Ramis return with the classic cast and a tribute to his  Egon Spengler character. So, it makes sense that the 2024 follow-up Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire moves into a more business-as-usual; let’s get down to busting out the proton pack track. Director Gil Kenan and co-writer Jason Reitman demonstrate they know what audiences love about the franchise and what they’ve come to expect. People want to see references to Slimmer and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man (or now miniature versions) and the various shapes and forms of ghosts. They expect a mix of the old and the new, which is a delicate balance.

It’s not that Frozen Empire falters at fulfilling what it is; it’s a Ghostbusters movie, through and through. When you have so many characters to feature and an immense amount of storylines to feature, it’s only natural for things to get short-changed. For a film with so much that it wants to say about growing up, family, and perhaps moving on from the mayhem of ghost hunting— it only affords those themes to certain characters. There are even spots in Frozen Empire where certain characters go away for extended periods because there isn’t enough narrative to feature them. After the events of Afterlife, the new Spengler family consisting of Callie (Carrie Coon), her boyfriend and christened ‘step-teacher’ Gary (Paul Rudd), Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), and Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) have taken up residence at the famous Ghostbusters firehouse and has taken up the business. The Echo-1 is in working condition but has some old kinks to work out, as shown in the first ghost-trapping sequence of the film.

The family is successful in their run to get an abnormally large dragon monster from the city, but that’s not without a little bit of property damage. This catches the eye of the current mayor/and proverbial thorn in the Ghostbusters side, Walter Peck (William Atherton), who chastises them and declares Phoebe is too young to be a part of the team. At that point, the plot takes the family on separate paths (well, kind of). Gary is trying to balance being a cool adult and a parental figure — a role in which Rudd exhibits a lot of charm. Phoebe’s arc is supposed to show her how to be more of a teenager, but it doesn’t entirely revolve around that notion. While the rest of the Spenglers are taking up new business, Phoebe meets a literal kindred spirit named Melody (Emily Alyn Lind). Through the hidden objectives, they both strike up a friendship around a sense of wanting to belong. Phoebe’s storyline, wrapped in teenage angst, is the one that gets the chance to breathe.

Photo Credit: Sony Pictures

In the family story’s backdrop, an ancient evil afoot is contained within a circular artifact. One of the best sequences of Frozen Empire occurs at the very beginning in a flashback, displaying what this deity of destruction can do to an ultra-rich secret society. But once you see what horrific things this spirit can do and achieve, that prophecy goes away for a bit as well. It makes way for a returning Dan Aykroyd as Dr. Raymond “Ray” Stantz and new scientist Lars (James Acaster) decode what is happening. That’s not to say it’s not delightful to hear Ray speak his scientific jargon as he’s wowed by what this orb can seem to do — it’s always a good thing. Frozen Empire makes good use of some of the classic Ghostbusters faithful. Ernie Hudson has a more prominent role as an overall benefactor of the Ghostbuster operation. It’s also fun to see Annie Potts suit up as  Janine Melnitz and have her moment in the sun. Bill Murray still has it with Dr. Peter Venkman’s wisecracks.  But Frozen Empire hints at a story beat of wondering when it’s time to hang it up versus holding on to something you love and letting it go with older characters — and doesn’t see it through.

That jostling for position foreshadows what happens with returning characters Podcast (Logan Kim) and Lucky (Celeste O’Connor) with newcomers Patton Oswalt and Kumail Nanjiani. Both Oswalt and Nanjiani inject some laughs into the story, while Nanjiani’s Nadeem arc is supposed to fit as a more prominent piece to the puzzle. With this, Lucky and Trevor somewhat get pushed aside other than quick sequences. Frozen Empire‘s pacing knows it has to get to the big, boisterous third act, where all these characters must fight evil together. However, the time it takes to get to it makes the encasement of the demon more foreboding than the actual CGI form. It’s an unfortunate symptom because of the promise of what was shown earlier — much scarier imagery seemed to be left on the table.

The Ghostbusters franchise has found itself in a holding pattern, like many beloved properties experiencing the same growing pains. How do you service the past while not packing so much into the future that each element drowns out the others? This is a tricky balance to strike, and Frozen Empire isn’t able to manage it.