The Bard once wrote, “What’s past is prologue,” and that certainly applies to our pop culture landscape. It’s always important to reflect upon and reevaluate what has come before. Doing so can help us to better appreciate something new, or possibly unlock some hidden meaning in the past that we never considered. To understand where we are, we have to know where we’ve been. With that in mind, let’s take a look back at…
Ghostbusters II (1989)
There are plenty of folks who are riled up about the remake of Ghostbusters. This is a confusing sentiment since it’s not the first time the 1984 classic was remade. Its own sequel, Ghostbusters II, is so similar to the original that it isn’t too radical to call it a semi-remake.
Probably one of the worst things about the sequel is how it starts. The setup puts the Ghostbusters back on the bottom. Instead of being celebrated for their defeat of Gozer, they are even more disparate than when we saw them in the last movie. This undercuts both the characters and the world we left; no one believes in ghosts anymore and the gang isn’t quite together yet. We have to slog through a ponderous first act just to return to the Ghostbusters we know and love. And then we get treated with the same type of ghostbusting montage we already saw!
The sequel’s laziness doesn’t stop there. We get another all-powerful historical monster for our baddie; Vigo the Carpathian cuts an impressive figure but he’s far cheesier than the threat of Gozer ever was. Plus, he doesn’t even have cool henchmen like Zuul and Vinz Clortho. Instead, we get Janosz, a caricature of a foreigner who has the hots for Dana Barrett. Yes, Dana is back in this flick and she’s utterly wasted. Her character has two notes: her attachment to her baby, Oscar, and her pining for Venkman. Oh yeah, Venkman and her broke up but it’s okay because this movie is about them getting together… again. Noticing a pattern here?
One thing that doesn’t carry over from the original is the strong effects work. A lot of the compositing on the ghosts and matte paintings look really splotchy. There are some fun bits — the Scolari brothers are the highlight of the film in terms of ghost shenanigans, even if they are ripping off the Slimer sequence from the first movie — but they are far more sporadic than the onslaught of enjoyment that Ghostbusters offers. Even the Slimer puppet looks worse!
Maybe the whole situation would be made more tolerable if Bill Murray wasn’t so obviously bored. His deadpan delivery comes off much more tired than sarcastic, and Venkman himself seems uninterested in actually being a Ghostbuster. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis still work (Ernie Hudson is… present, I guess) but the chemistry seems to be flattened in general. What the movie needed a whole lot more of was Rick Moranis and Annie Potts. Their romantic subplot is the greatest thing in Ghostbusters II and it makes the case for a separate movie where Louis and Janine both suit up and save the day at the end. Seriously, Janine should have been made a Ghostbuster at the end of the sequel.
The movie isn’t a total dud. The idea of emotionally charged slime is delightfully silly and it leads to a set piece that should be in a better movie: the Ghostbusters piloting the Statue of Liberty. Naturally, there are a smattering of jokes that land but they pale in comparison to the rapid fire quotability of the original. The only sequence in the movie that successfully blends comedy and horror is the ghostly heads on spikes moment. The cast’s reactions make a truly grisly scene burst with laughs. The flick should have had more like that.
Honestly, Ghostbusters II needed a page one rewrite. As its own movie, the story is mediocre but tolerable. As a sequel, it’s unforgivably repetitive and surprisingly leaden. Considering it’s fifteen minutes shorter than its predecessor, it feels interminably longer. That’s partially due to the fact that we’ve seen this same arc play out before. If you consider yourself a die-hard fan of Ghostbusters, there is no defense for Ghostbusters II. It’s a poor imitation of a superior film, and the few things it does right are buried under a mountain of wrong.
Let’s hope the actual remake fares better.
Our last Look Back: Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within