Simon Columb on the hate for Ghostbusters II…
Off the bat, I’ll admit it’s inferior to Ghostbusters. The combination of Dan Ackroyd, Harold Ramis and Bill Murray, in a family-friendly blockbuster, with a fiendishly spooky-but-fun script is a perfect cocktail of expertise.
With these elements in mind, Ghostbusters II ultimately doesn’t have the innovation calling card. In most cases, this alone is what automatically secures the first of a series as the superior offering. Recently reading Hadley Freeman’s witty and candid reflection, Life Moves Too Fast, on 1980’s American movies, Freeman devoted an entire chapter to Ghostbusters alone – dismissing Ghostbusters II flippantly as ‘Sold out and bloated, something faintly embarrassing from the past that has left an ugly legacy”. Rick Moranis too, has said he was “disappointed with the second one”. Ivan Reitman, the director of both films, argues “We probably waited a little bit too long for Ghostbusters II”. Critics, understandably, mocked the structure and, compared the two, it seemed to be the same film beat-by-beat.
But there is an enormous gap that’s been missed. Nothing is black and white. It’s not either good or bad (and even then, I’d argue it is ultimately good). There is a vast, grey area where most sequels sit within as they fail to be as unique as their predecessors (they are sequels, of course) but still enjoy a warm embrace and a necessary boxset purchase when released. Back to the Future Part II, though inferior is inextricably tied to Back to the Future. Beverly Hills Cop 2 still carries the action and charm of Eddie Murphy of the first film, but it’s ultimately flawed when compared to the flawless Beverly Hills Cop. This is opposed to Teen Wolf, Dirty Dancing or the many other successful films that earned sequels – but we all wilfully erase them from our memory. It still happens today too. While The Hangover remains an awfully funny film, with a balanced who-done-it and ‘lads’ bantz that has been carefully plotted, the sequel seems to ignore the relatable nature of the boys and replaces it with unbelievable car chases and monkeys biting on a monks penis. Rest assured, it’ll be forgotten in due course.
Ghostbusters II on the other hand immediately sets up a new dynamic in the group – and thankfully re-introduces Winston Zedmore (Ernie Hudson) from the get-go, rather than the minor role he had in the original. Every cast member returns too. The ghostbusters themselves, Dana (Signourney Weaver), Janine (Annie Potts, now looking like the Animated series reimagining), Lewis (Moranis) and, inexplicably, the mayor (David Margulies) himself. Of course, American Pie 2 proves that merely bringing back the cast is not enough. The story is a re-tread of the first film in many ways, I have to concede that. This is 1989, whereby the Die Hard films not only spawned sequels with virtually the same plot (on a plane! In New York!) but multiple others use the same plot device as a concise plot description (Die Hard on a bus = Speed, etc). But there is one element that, arguably, is stronger: the villains of Ghostbusters II are absolutely unforgettable.
Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) is at the centre of the story. I, for one, feared him. My brother and I, chanting his name, spooked each other out thinking of his stern glare and deep voice. It could be the brief moment his face squeezes out of the painting or the historical context that hints at the possibility of his return that gets under your skin. His terrifying presence though is countered by the adorable Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol). Part-Borat and part-Robin Williams, this guy is ahead of his time. He steals virtually every scene he’s in. His slimy wooing only revealing how cute Venkman is, as both vie for the attention of Dana.
I can’t hold up my hands and say it’s the sequel all should strive for, but it does deserve re-appreciation. As an extension of the first, Ghostbusters II remains as fun and playful with a lovely finale as the whole of New York cheer and sing Auld Lang Syne. The themes of positivity are on-the-nose, I see that, but what an inspirational tale for the kids. This is a 1980’s sequel that didn’t ‘jump the shark’, as many claim. This is a film whereby, it you see one – you see the other.