“Ghostbusters II” is the sequel nobody wanted to make, and boy does it show. It betrays the ending of the first film in a worse way than “The Matrix Reloaded” does. If you’re currently girding your loins to decry and condemn the unnecessary remaking of the original 1984 classic “Ghostbusters”, you might want to start with the 1989 retread.
When I was young, I was always a little impatient with the set-up origin parts of movies. Donner’s “Superman” takes its sweet time getting to the tights and flights stage and even “Star Wars” takes a little while to get to the good stuff which is why I tended to prefer “Superman II” and “The Empire Strikes Back” because the explanations were out of the way and you could get on with the action. “Ghostbusters II” throws this all out of the window and goes out of its way to put the characters and even the world they live in back to where they were before the original film started and straight away, Mertmas is disappointed. Like 10 year old me (who has, at least, since learned to appreciate the craftsmanship of Donner’s work and the visual splendour of the early scenes of “Star Wars”), he’s a bit thrown by the abrupt let-down, especially after the bright opening of the film with its clever foreshadowing of the slime’s psychic origins and the genuine creepiness of the runaway pram but it’s all for naught once we reach the kids party.
It paves the way for a cynical and lazy retelling of the first film’s story, complete with a stressed out mayor and a pushy city hall bureaucrat (Kurt Fuller filling in for William Atherton’s Walter Peck this time). Even if you can get past the fact that it simply doesn’t make sense for events to have unfolded in the way they would need to for the sequel’s opening premise to work (After the near-Armageddon of the original film, the Ghostbusters are sued into oblivion and all paranormal activity simply ceases? Nobody else enters the marketplace? The world over?). It’s outrageously stupid and insulting but still you could overlook it if the film had performances with the energy and chemistry of the first one. Unfortunately Peter MacNicol is just conspicuously weird and painfully unfunny from his first appearance. There’s none of the skilful comedy of Rick Moranis’ Louis Tully to the character which is a pity given he’s effectively an OTT version of the accountant who returns for this sequel only to be painfully underused in a role which looks like it ended up on the cutting room floor. MacNicol’s performance is, in fact, pretty much a dry run of his Renfield which he would deliver in Mel Brooks’ “Dracula: Dead And Loving It” six years later. If that doesn’t sound like a ringing endorsement, it’s not meant to. In Vigo (Wilhelm von Homburg), at least, the film has an imposing focal villain (thanks in large part to the dubbed voice by Max Von Sydow) but he’s constantly overlooked and side-lined in favour of anonymous rivers of slime. Just because it helps the Kids’ Choice Awards make a big splash doesn’t mean it makes a good movie villain.
Their parties and their choice awards aren’t the only way kids compromised “Ghostbusters II” – the successful Saturday morning cartoon takes a heavy toll on the movie too. There’s a toothlessness to the comedy and the horror elements which gave the original its edge are dialled way, way back this time. From the height of Harold Ramis’ quiff to the cutesier designs for the ghosts and ghouls, the aesthetic of “The Real Ghostbusters” cartoon series looms large throughout the film. If you don’t believe me, just ask poor Annie Potts who receives one of cinema’s worst makeovers just to look more like the cartoon. She’s not the worst treated original cast member, though. That accolade belongs once again to Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zedmore. Absent for huge chunks of the movie, when he is there he’s often treated shabbily, for example the courtroom scene (which clearly has scars from kid-friendly rewrites), he flees with the rest of the crowd instead of helping the guys battle the Scoleri brothers. There are hints here and there of a snarkier wit trying to get through, mostly in Egon’s dialogue – which I like to think was a small, deliberate rebellion by co-screenwriter Harold Ramis against the tonal shift which damages the film quite a bit. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think for a moment that “Ghostbusters” is not for kids. Of course it is. The original movie was definitely aimed at the lucrative family market but it didn’t talk down to it audience, even when dropping in the odd sly joke for the adults (compare the phantom fellatio of Ray’s dream to the coy non-sequitur of Egon apparently ‘sleeping’ with the mood slime). “Ghostbusters II” patronises and panders instead of offering something new or different or better. Even the warmed over romance between Dana and Venkman feels forced and artificial because they’re so patently into each other right from the beginning that the idea they split up in the first place doesn’t make sense.
There are fun moments, of course, but they’re mostly pale imitations of sequences from the original. in Bobby Brown’s ‘On Our Own’, it delivers a song which will not the equal of Ray Parker Jr’s original is at least pretty good in its own right. In the end, there’s just about enough to mollify a desire for more adventures of Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston but there’s no escaping it’s a flat and lifeless affair. The clearest indication is that immediately after it’s finished, Mertmas wants to watch the original again and since we’ve watched them both, he’s only ever mentioned watching the original one again.
In my last #Rediscovered review, I described “Ghostbusters” as a lightning in a bottle film. The makers of that film weren’t able to recapture the spirit (pun intended) of the original so I’m open minded but not optimistic about a whole new cast and crew having a go. Perhaps if they do something new or different with it, there may be a way but as “Ghostbusters II” painfully shows, if you’re just setting out to try and retell the exact same story, it isn’t going to work. I ain’t afraid of no remakes, but I’m not all that keen on them either.