Nothing is a given in Hollywood – that sparkly town where people are paid to attempt to bottle lightning on a regular basis – but even the most ardent supporter of this train of thinking must’ve been aghast at the echoing non-reception that has followed Ghostbusters II in the wake of it’s 1989 release…
A quick rewind to give things some scale… it’s 1984 and Ghostbusters is EVERYTHING. Bootleg t-shirts are being sold TWO MONTHS before the film was released, only hinting at the voracious appetite the movie going public had for a film that they hadn’t even seen yet and Ray Parker Jr’s title song became a merciless earworm for generations to come… surely a sequel would be even bigger than a church stomping marshmallow man. Simply put: a sequel to Ghostbusters would be gangbusters…
And then it wasn’t.
It’s five years after the quartet of spectre-spanking paranormal investigators and eliminators saved the world from the Brigitte Nielsen-style hair of trans-dimentional God conqueror Gozer and after getting used to the nether world and back, the Ghostbusters are out of business and employed elsewhere.
Egg head Egon Spengler has his research, sweet talking Peter Venkman has a cheesy talk show and human ball of enthusiasm Ray Stanz has his book shop with a side gig of performing in uniform at kid’s birthday parties with former teammate Winston Zeddemore. It seems that the Ghostbusters’ fifteen minutes of fame are well and truly up until Pete’s old flame and serial apocalypse-magnet Dana Barrett walks back into their lives with her baby, Oscar, in tow. It seems that her adorable little poppet has become the focus of Viggo The Carpathian, a mass murdering diabolist with the rumbling larynx of Max Von Sydow whose soul lies within typically threatening self-portrait in a local museum and who aims to transfer it into the baby in order to live again.
Aiding Viggo by boosting his strength is a psycho-reactive river of slime so vast it could comfortably keep the Nickelodeon Awards in goo for the next 20 lifetimes and is itself energised by the negative emotions of all the wise-asses that populate Manhattan Island.
Neatly dodging various disgruntled authority figures, the Ghostbusters find themselves ghost-busting ghost-bastards once again but will they be in time to Viggo’s plan to enact the greatest mid-life crisis of all time?
There is (on paper at least) absolutely no reason that Ghostbusters II shouldn’t have been as memorable experience as the original, after all it plays the textbook sequel trick of being the same but somewhat different by having the plot beats be virtually identical to the first movie. Exchange the central plot of Dana’s possession with little Oscar’s, diminutive neighbour Louis Tully with equally smitten, mystery accented Janosz Poha, the initial bust in the Sedgwick Hotel with a court room and the giant Marshmallow Man with an animated Statue Of Liberty stomping down 5th Avenue and you should have a tried a true blueprint for success, right?
Something else that should’ve worked for it is that the entire main cast, not to mention director Ivan Reitman, returned for the film – although Ernie Hudson is still criminally underused, Annie Potts’ secretary, Janine, has confusingly gone from a dowdy cynic to a neon clad man eater and franchise mascot Slimer has updated effects which only serves to make him look like a rigid, toxic, green testicle. Everyone plays their part as they should and it feels like no one has missed a step in the 4 year gap with franchise newcomer Peter MacNicols standing out as Janosz with the sort of foreign accent that Martin Short would dismiss as being too extreme.
And yet Ghostbusters II stubbornly resists every attempt to make even the slightest cultural dent making it the movie equivalent of a younger sibling dropping out of life and deliberately underachieving because he resents living in the shadow of his older, more successful brother. Maybe it’s because the central message of everyone should be nicer to each other sort of flies in the face of the original’s defiant cynicism, maybe it’s because people saw the plot as just a retread of the original, or maybe it was because it’s tumultuous screening process which saw whole scenes removed and refilmed; but whatever it was, it certainly doesn’t make the movie click. It just sort of…. is.
Every now and then it manages to find itself somewhere approaching the standard of the original. Their frantic court house toe to toe with electrocuted mass murderers The Scoleri Brothers hit many classic beats in concept and creature design (despite a noticable lack of Winston, AGAIN) but on the whole there’s nothing here to touch the iconic absurdity of the original’s line up of childhood-traumatizing creatures and that’s even taking into account that the villain’s plan in part 2 is essentially to enter a baby… and what the fuck is that scene with all the severed heads in the train tunnel all about? Who let THAT through?
Frustratingly unaffecting and suprisingly forgettable it seems that the only person to make good on this movie is song contributor Bobby Brown, and that tells you everything you need to know…
The movie scrapes three stars mostly due to the overwhelming amounts of goodwill that the original still has to this day and it’s a legitimate kick to see the boys, endearingly bestowed with middle aged spread and tooled up with their proton packs but ultimately Ghostbusters II finds itself in an incredibly odd place: too late to capitalize, too soon for nostalgia and the whole affair lacks a certain… spirit.
The timeless first movie asked the iconic question Who Ya Gonna Call? It’s still the Ghostbusters but this time you might want to think about reversing the charges…