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Ivan Reitman’s Ghostbusters opened in theaters all over the world in 1984. And history was made. It broke box office records for the opening week sales, and stayed as the number one grossing movie for five weeks, dropped, and then returned at number one a few weeks later. It was re-released in 1985 and those additional figures made it the most successful comedy of the 1980’s. Critics praised for the comedy, the special effects, and the great performances by everyone involved. To this day it holds a 93% “Fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which means that percentage of the critics viewed it positively. It’s impressive and stands as a sign of its enduring popularity.
It spawned a still-loved animated series, which itself spawned a long-running series of action figures. Video games, lunch boxes, puzzles, and just about every product you can imagine accompanied the movie’s deafening success and promotion.
Naturally, the idea of a sequel was thrown around. Not by anyone involved with the first film, but by Columbia Pictures, who wanted another record-breaker. Director Ivan Reitman didn’t really care to do another, and neither did co-writer and co-star, Harold Ramis. The other co-writer (and co-star) Dan Aykroyd, however, had written a script around 1985, though he didn’t really pursue it. Largely, they all agreed that the first movie was self-contained; there was no more of the story that needed to be told. And they’re perfectly accurate: the audience has no questions after the end of the film. Bill Murray more than likely didn’t know about the earliest discussions, but no doubt he would’ve declined, and we’ll see why in a moment.
But the group did want to work together again, just on an original project. The more they discussed it, however, the more they agreed that another adventure as the Ghostbusters might be the best option. So during a meeting, they met and discussed the sequel. Well, not quite. They discussed financing for the sequel, which translates to precisely how much money all would be making off the film. This early meeting, where only the paychecks were discussed, sets an ominous tone for the entire production, and a quite accurate one. But I digress…
The script was dark, with some metaphysical implications about Ghostbusters and what they do. In other words, it’s precisely what studios don’t want for their summer blockbuster. Though the cast liked Aykroyd’s draft, the script was reworked and most of the dark bits were neutered. In fact, it’s been suggested that this was in reaction to the action movies that were swarming the cinemaplexes.
Somewhere in the mix, as common lore goes, the special effects crew got their hands on the script and embellished it, adding more digital effects which essentially pulled attention away from the characters, one of the components that everyone loved from the original and something that featured heavily in the new script. The cast and crew enjoyed working together again, none-the-less, and Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver all signed on for another.
In 1989, Ghostbusters II hit theaters in a blockbuster-heavy year. And it wasn’t the only sequel. Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Lethal Weapon 2, and Back to the Future Part II were competing for movie-goers, along with the widely anticipated Batman.
But its first weekend broke records, which proved promising, but that same record was beaten by Batman just a week later. From there, Ghostbusters II made respectable, and studio-pleasing, numbers at the box office. It grossed in total around $80-million less than its predecessor, but in terms of critical reception, there was no comparison.
The critics felt the magic was gone, that it was an unnecessary sequel, almost identical to the first. Ultimately, while financially successful, most agreed it was a massive step down in quality from the original. In fact, just barely over half of the critics even thought it was worth a watch, with a decline in positive reviews.
Even almost all of the cast derided the movie. Bill Murray was the loudest critic among them, saying that it was an exercise in “just-for-the-money” filmmaking and that it was lazy at best. Harold Ramis said that it was far from the quality of the first. Dan Aykroyd seemed to be the only one undaunted, and he kept rallying for another go-round for over twenty years after.
Avid Ghostbusters fans were polarized: some felt it was more of a good thing, but the majority just saw it as an insult to the franchise. No one was truly satisfied.
So how is it actually? Well for one thing, they probably should’ve called it Ghostbusters Again. It follows the plot and structure of the original almost to a tee. Let’s compare, shall we?
Pre-title sequence that shows slowly building paranormal activity in a very ordinary setting.
The Ghostbusters are shown, doing other work than Ghostbusting, before they’re officially in business. Ray wants to research the paranormal more. Peter is openly smarmy. Egon is scientific.
Dana comes to the not-yet-Ghostbusters (or former-Ghostbusters, depending on the movie) for help with some strange happenings in her life.
Peter gets wind of the attractive Dana and takes advantage of the opportunity. He flirts with/hits on her while the research is done.
Meanwhile, Ray and Egon look into it further. They find that it may be more than a random occurrence.
The one true deviation between the two: In the first, they go into business and have their first true Ghostbusting job. In the second, they’re arrested and then have their first real job in the court room.
Montage of booming business.
Peter pursues Dana while the paranormal activity gets more and more intense around her.
The Ghostbusters figured out who the villain is, and why it’s trying to take over the world.
Meanwhile, a political straight-lace endangers their operation, and shuts them down.
Montage of mayhem breaking out throughout the city.
The Mayor calls in the Ghostbusters to help.
A distinct building is the source of all the evil and there’s some sort of problem before they enter.
A giant character enters the fray and walks through New York.
The heroes fight the true villain, win by forcing it back into the gateway it came from, and release Dana from some sort of constraints.
The heroes (and an awkward secondary character, who loves Dana and has been a pawn to the evil the whole time) walk out of the distinctive building to the strains of Ray Parker, Jr. ‘s theme song, waving to the mammoth crowds.
Slimer rushes out and eats the camera (only in the theatrical version of Ghostbusters II does this happen).
Change some names and locations, and both movies are nearly identical. The cast is identical, with the exception of the straight-lace. It’s true that most sequels are either total departures from their predecessors or just more of the same, but this takes it to a whole new level.
Granted, the original was and still is a classic. It was the most successful comedy of all time until The Hangover came out (but that’s another review for another day). And it’s endlessly watchable. So that’s good, right?
It should be, and personally, I really enjoy Ghostbusters II. It’s a follow-up to my favorite movie of all time, with the same actors and actresses. I guess I might just be easily satisfied with seeing more of the Ghostbusters’ adventures.
But I can also see the criticisms. It’s clear that not everyone’s excited to be here. Bill Murray is nearly asleep through most of the film. While the first movie’s Peter Venkman was smarmy and painfully sarcastic, he was also arrogant. You could tell he thought much of himself, trying to score with coeds and clients, and that was part of the appeal: he was a funny and outgoing character. But here Venkman doesn’t even seem to like himself anymore. He rarely if ever cracks a smile, and doesn’t seem all that interested in starting up the Ghostbusters again. And part of it is Bill Murray. He simply doesn’t want to be in this movie, and it shows. Granted, he’s still funny. The sarcasm only seems more empty, as if he’s actually being serious a fair amount of the time. And when he’s with his buddies, you can tell he at least likes working with them again. Dan Aykroyd is as excitable as ever as Ray Stantz, and Harold Ramis is a little looser this time as Egon. It’s good to see Ernie Hudson get more screen time as Winston, and he’s pretty much exactly the same (sans mustache) as in the original. Rick Moranis, Annie Potts, and Sigourney Weaver are all great again.
But there’s something off about all of them. There were only five years between the movies, yet everyone looks quite different. It’s hard to describe, but I’ve heard one theory that I think holds weight: everyone looks too clean.
While the first movie showed the actual Ghostbusters as raggedy, very human characters. It’s apparent that they don’t spend too much time on their looks, preferring a cup of coffee and a cigarette to any sort of preening. In short, they’re realistic. But everyone in Ghostbusters II always has perfectly coiffed hair, and looks perfectly clean (with the exception of the occasional slime shower). It’s all too manufactured.
And this extends to the soundtrack as well. Elmer Bernstein didn’t return for the score due to his growing frustration with composing only comedies. So instead, Randy Edelman takes over the reins. And Bernstein’s absence is painfully obvious. The ethereal, almost B-movie sounding score of the first is replaced by a superhero-esque alternative, and not only does it not fit, it’s just boring. Any piece of Bernstein’s work is instantly recognizable and it fit Ghostbusters to a tee. But Edelman’s work is glaringly generic: it could easily be mistaken for any run-of-the-mill action movie.
But also the pop-soundtrack takes a hit. The original had Ray Parker, Jr.’s iconic theme, and great supporting songs by The Bus Boys, The Alessi Brothers, and Mick Smiley.
The sequel soundtrack has songs from Run-D.M.C., Bobby Brown, and even Oingo Boingo. Unfortunately, a fair amount of the tracks are rap, and it feels like a lame attempt to make the movie hip for the 1989 movie-going crowd. Unfortunately, it really dates the picture, and leaves the first movie feeling even more timeless by comparison. Admittedly, Bobby Brown’s On Our Own, which was promoted as the hit single of this film, is pretty catchy.
So how is Ghostbusters II? Personally, as I said, it’s an entertaining sequel. From an unbiased perspective, it’s okay. I might give it better than that, but it’s just a lazy movie. Most of the cast is trying, but the script just isn’t as funny. It registers more as a missed opportunity than a successful standalone film, whose charm quite honestly relies on the original.
Basically, if you’ve seen the first (and if not, why are you reading a review of the sequel) and enjoyed it, Ghostbusters II is worth a watch. If you didn’t like Ghostbusters, then skip it, because it’s just more of the same, slightly watered-down.