When it comes to sequels, the Ghostbusters franchise has struggled to find its footing. The hit comedy’s threequel languished in development hell for years. After that, Paul Feig’s 2016 relaunch failed to strike a chord with longtime fans. Ghostbusters: Afterlife, a direct follow-up to the first two films, aims to rekindle the spark that first ignited a loyal fandom so long ago. But in order to truly understand the series history, one must revisit Ghostbusters II, the divisive 1989 follow-up that temporarily planted the franchise in its grave.
The tale of the sequel’s development is nearly as famous as the franchise itself. Whether it was the cast’s hesitance to commit, script issues, or corporate drama, the success of Ghostbusters came as both a blessing and a curse. One might argue that Ghostbusters II is a product first and a passion project second.
Set five years after the original film, Ghostbusters II finds its heroes somewhat scattered. After facing a number of lawsuits due to their climactic battle with Gozer’s Mr. Stay Puft, the quartet disbands, navigating their new lives outside of paranormal pursuits. The gang later find themselves reunited after mysterious unexplainable circumstances befall them when a new threat emerges, once again plunging NYC into chaos. While the film has most of the charm that made its predecessor so beloved, it ultimately ends up retreading old ground. Even so, the result is something that’s not without its merits.
Ghostbusters II‘s strongest asset is undoubtedly its cast. Like the first film, every character has their own delightfully distinct quirks and personalities. Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis, and Ernie Hudson share exceptional chemistry as the titular ghost-busting team. There’s never a dull moment when the four are together onscreen. Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis return as well, and their charm rounds out a wonderful cast of heroes that keep an overly familiar story afloat.
The script places the team right back where they started; separated and struggling to find a purpose for themselves. A recycled plot is weighed down by a more family-friendly tone, a stark contrast to the original’s adult-oriented cynicism. The idea of negative emotions materializing as a toxic sludge might be juvenile. However, the cast sells it as best they can. Plus, it’s fun to see our main players united and bickering about how to best deal with their new adversary Vigo the Carpathian, a legitimately frightening villain. Additionally, Peter MacNicol’s delightfully whacky performance as Janosz Poah creates a wonderfully fun contrast between the sinister pair.
For their time, the effects were sharp and impressive. I can’t imagine it was easy to bring the dead to convincing life. However, credit must go to the VFX team. Sure, they might be dated by today’s standards. Nevertheless, their age adds a pleasantly ghoulish feel to the ancient threat the Ghostbusters are facing. Like its predecessor, Ghostbusters II‘s third act culminates with another giant stomping across NYC. It might feel like more of the same. And yet, I couldn’t help but smile as the music swelled while our heroes went to face their new enemy.
The original Ghostbusters is fondly remembered for its cynical comedy, supernatural threats, and charming characters. Meanwhile, Ghostbusters II can’t quite live up to the high bar set by its predecessor. That said, director Ivan Reitman has openly discussed the difficulties surrounding Ghostbusters II, and it’d be unfair to criticize him for the film’s shortcomings. Despite the heavily publicized reshoots and forceful nature of the studio, Reitman handles his directing duties like the expert he is. The cast’s love and respect for him shine through in all of their performances. If Ghostbusters II had to happen, we should be grateful Reitman was there to steer the ship. – Danny O’Brien
Ghostbusters II is available on Blu-ray and Digital HD.