Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 22, 2016)
Every summer spews it many mega-blockbusters, but 1989 stands out to me as one of the biggest years ever. Batman emerged as the season’s main attraction, but it had a lot of competition from hits like Lethal Weapon 2, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.
Then there were the disappointments of the summer. Star Trek V remains probably the biggest bust of that season, but some others came up short of expectations as well. I’d count Ghostbusters II in that category.
According to IMDB, II snared a not-insubstantial $112 million at the box office. That figure sounds pretty good, especially since those dollars haven’t been adjusted for inflation; that number would be around $213 million these days. To be sure, we can’t regard II as a flop.
But I think it shouldn’t be seen as a real hit either. The original Ghostbusters took in $238 million back in 1984, a figure that adds up to about $542 million in adjusted dollars. That meant a big decline from the first flick to the sequel.
Or maybe I see II as a dud just because I remember that it left me with a feeling of disappointment. I think I enjoyed the movie when I saw it theatrically, but it didn’t live up to the heights of the original. 27 years later, will I still feel that way? Read on and see!
Set a logical five years after the events in the first film, Ghostbusters II immediately reintroduces us to Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver). In the interim, she got married, had a baby named Oscar, and got divorced. As she heads into her apartment building, the baby’s carriage takes off on its own and zooms through the busy New York City streets.
Understandably, this alarms Dana, so she contacts some old friends. Alas, hard times have befallen the Ghostbusters. Ray Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) tries to keep them alive, but along with Winston Zeddimore (Ernie Hudson), he only can muster gigs as entertainers at kiddie birthday parties. Ray also runs an occult bookstore, while Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a cheesy cable TV show about psychic phenomena. Only Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis) remains in the field.
After the events of the first film, the Ghostbusters went bankrupt and were legally ordered never to pursue spooks. Egon went back into university-level research, and that’s where Dana contacts him to help her figure out what’s wrong with her baby. He brings in Ray, and as a result, Peter comes along as well. Dana and Peter broke up badly, and she doesn’t want him involved, but he tortures Ray and finds out the scoop. The team investigates her situation and tries to find out why Oscar’s pram went so bonkers.
In the meantime, we see that Dana now works at a museum where she cleans up dirty old paintings. She needed more flexibility when she had her baby so she left the symphony, though she plans to return now that he’s a little older. This upsets her boss, Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol), a prissy European who has romantic interest in Dana. He also undergoes a transformation when a painting of 16th century tyrant Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg) comes to life and orders Janosz to find a baby to act as his re-entry into human form.
Gee, I wonder whose baby that will be? Ray, Egon and Peter continue to investigate Dana’s case, and they locate a virtual river of slime underneath the streets of Manhattan. Unfortunately, they also bust a power line while they’re down there, and this lands them in court. Judge Stephen Wexler (Harris Yulin) doesn’t believe in ghosts and orders them to go to jail. However, when the ghosts of some killers he once had executed pop up in the courtroom, who’s he gonna call? He withdraws the old restraining order and lets the Ghostbusters off the hook as long as they save his bacon.
This means the boys are back in town, and just in time. The river of slime leads to the museum and it appears some major stuff will hit the fan soon. The Ghostbusters have to deal with Vigo’s attempts to return to life and take over the world along with various other spook-related challenges.
Many sequels do little more than remake the original, and Ghostbusters II falls into that category. I don’t want to describe it as a carbon copy of the first flick, for it does make a number of changes. However, you’ll definitely see many similarities between the two.
I regard that as a disappointment and a lost opportunity. Within the genre, plenty of different storylines exist, and the franchise could have gone off into numerous escapades that displayed little connection to the first movie. Instead, this one’s tale and pacing strongly resemble the original movie. We get a definite feeling of “been there, done that” as we watch.
One prominent change occurs, and it’s not a positive. The loose, carefree and wild attitude of Ghostbusters doesn’t port over to the sequel. You can feel the pressure on all involved to create a blockbuster, and the stress shows. It suffers Big Budget Sequelitis, as it’s bigger and fancier but less inspired and creative. It manages to rehash a lot of the same elements without the same spark or energy.
This means II ends up as sappier, cuter and more sentimental than the original. The introduction of the baby influences those trends. I like that the film develops Venkman beyond his status as a wise-cracking cartoon in the first movie, but I don’t care for the kinder, gentler tone the film takes. It lacks the crackling intensity and feels just a little too family-friendly.
Geez – this discussion makes me look like I hate Ghostbusters II, doesn’t it? But honestly, that’s not the case. In truth, the movie has its charms, and it improves measurably as it progresses.
Much of that comes from Murray’s performance. He sleepwalks through the first third or so, but he slowly starts to come to life. As the flick moves along, he displays more wit and charm; we start to remember why we liked him so much in the original movie. Murray was that effort’s driving force, so the sequel needs his power to make it work. When Murray brings his “A” – or at least “B+” – game here, the film becomes significantly more amusing and enjoyable.
Of the new elements, MacNicol provides the best work. His European of Uncertain Descent reminds me of others like Serge (Bronson Pinchot) in Beverly Hills Cop and Franck in Father of the Bride. MacNicol manages to make a role that could become tedious and inane into something quite entertaining. He’s weaselly enough for the part but he never goes over the line to become a true villain.
On its own, Ghostbusters II winds up as a moderately enjoyable film. It has some laughs and good times attached to it. The movie simply pales in comparison to its predecessor.