Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), Podcast (Logan Kim), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and...

Phoebe (Mckenna Grace), Podcast (Logan Kim), Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Dr. Hubert Wartzki (Patton Oswalt) in Columbia Pictures’ "Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire". In theaters on Friday. Credit: Sony Pictures/Jaap Buitendijk

PLOT A family of paranormal investigators must battle a newly awakened evil.

CAST Paul Rudd, Carrie Coon, Mckenna Grace, Dan Aykroyd

RATED PG-13 (mild scares)

LENGTH 1:55

WHERE Area theaters

BOTTOM LINE A solid second entry in what’s turning out to be an appealing next-gen franchise.

Hey, not bad!

That may not sound like high praise, but it’s wise to manage expectations with any “Ghostbusters” sequel. Though the 1984 original remains iconic, the second entry in 1989 was a letdown and the all-female reboot in 2016 felt pointless. The arrival of “Ghostbusters: Afterlife” in 2021, which introduced a new young cast, had just enough charm and heart to get our hopes up. Now comes “Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire,” the further adventures of our next-gen heroes.

Thanks to this solid second installment, the new “Ghostbusters” franchise just might have staying power. It’s a formulaic but engaging movie that leans hard into its characters even while pleasing fans with in-jokes and cameos (yes, Bill Murray is here, briefly, and so is the wonderfully tart Annie Potts). And by playing up themes of teenage angst and parental love, it strikes a family-friendly sweet spot that many franchises aim for but often miss.

Set two years after the previous film, “Frozen Empire” finds former science teacher Gary Grooberson (Paul Rudd) and single mom Callie Spengler (Carrie Coon) living together in the famous Ghostbusters firehouse in New York City. They’ve revived the business with Callie’s two kids, snarky teen Trevor (Finn Wolfhard) and younger brainiac Phoebe (Mckenna Grace, the not-so-secret star of these films). Fans will be pleased to see William Atherton returning as Walter Peck, now the city’s uptight mayor, who — as mayors do — blames our heroes for causing damage and mayhem.

When Peck forbids Phoebe, a minor, from busting any ghosts, she goes off in a sulk and winds up encountering one. This is Melody, a lovely looking but sorrowful specter played by a compelling Emily Alyn Lind. While these two develop a secret friendship (some observers might sense something more), the other Ghostbusters delve into the mystery of an ancient orb. It’s held in an underground lab designed by  original ‘buster Winston (Ernie Hudson), but his fancy technology is no match for what’s inside: the spirit of an ancient ice-god named Garraka.

“Frozen Empire” introduces Kumail Nanjiani as Nadeem, a slacker from Queens who discovers he harbors an ancient power of his own. It’s an appealing subplot, though the character may not be strong enough to merit future appearances. More engaging is Dan Aykroyd, returning as Ray Stantz, who takes a grandfatherly shine to Phoebe. Mushy as these scenes can be, they work; so do Gary’s moments as a guy trying to be a dad, but not the dreaded “stepdad.” The screenplay is by director Gil Kenan and Jason Reitman, whose late father, Ivan, directed the original “Ghostbusters”; this movie is dedicated to him.

After so many mishandled or abandoned series — from “Fantastic Beasts” to “Narnia” to “Percy Jackson” — it’s nice to see one that’s heading in the right direction. And if those impish little Stay-Puft Marshmallow Men become the next Minions, “Ghostbusters” might have a merch bonanza on its hands.

WHAT OTHER CRITICS ARE SAYING

"Although “Frozen Empire” improves upon the previous film and there's plenty to dig especially for young fans, it falls short of the 1984 classic's high bar. (To be fair, none of the 'Ghostbusters'[ outings since have come close.)" — USA Today

" 'Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire' doesn’t mess with the well-honed formula, carefully balancing its laughs and scares in the breezy manner that makes for pleasurable, if lightweight, viewing." — The Hollywood Reporter

"The spooky reboot finds its groove in a fun, scary sequel." — Deadline.com

"Its central failing is foregrounding cacophonous mayhem and middling melodrama over the drollness that defined the first two 'Ghostbusters' movies." — Daily Beast

"This is a big and boisterous and just plain fun amusement park ride of a movie." — Chicago Sun-Times

"It does exactly what it needs to do for die-hard fans and families seeking a night out at the movies." — Tribune News Service

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