Ghostbusters II (1989)
Written by Harold Ramis and Dan Akroyd
Directed by Ivan Reitman
Ghostbusters was always meant to be a standalone movie, but financial success in the 1980s meant you had to make a sequel, which remains true today. But something weird happened where a new chairman of Columbia Pictures took control in 1986. David Putnam liked smaller movies that garnered critical acclaim, even greenlighting a handful of foreign directors’ transitions into American films. So as big as the hype around Ghostbusters even years out from its release, everything seemed to point to the franchise being dead. The main actors were also obstacles as many of them were booked up or simply weren’t keen on revisiting the world of Ghostbusters. Putnam was eventually removed as chair in 1987 after making some incendiary comments about Bill Murray and others. Dawn Steel was put in charge, and after numerous box office failures for the studio, she saw Ghostbusters II as a way to redeem Columbia financially.
Five years have passed, and the Ghostbusters have gone their separate ways. Ray (Akroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) entertain at birthday parties in their old jumpsuits. Egon (Ramis) is back in academia researching emotional resonance. Peter (Murray) hosts a talk show about psychics where he openly mocks his guests. What brings them back together is a bizarre supernatural event experienced by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) when her baby Oscar’s carriage is almost run over after moving by itself into the street. There’s also something weird going on with the massive portrait of Vigo the Carpathian that’s being restored at the Manhattan Museum of Art by eccentric Janosz (Peter MacNichol) and a river of mood reactive slime flowing like a river deep beneath New York City. The Ghostbusters must reunite to take down this supernatural menace, but they must first stay out of jail.
Ghostbusters II is bad, real bad. It’s the sort of sequel that you can point to as an example of how sequels mostly don’t work. I liked parts, but by the middle of the film, I was so bored and could see the plot beats materializing before my eyes. The opening with the characters scattered, having not experienced a happy ending after the screen faded to black in 1984, was an aspect I liked. I almost wish we could have seen them struggling to get along, but the movie just makes them a team again without much of a hitch when the plot needs it. Some fun returns happen like Jeanine (Annie Potts) and Louis (Rick Moranis), and I would have much rather spent time with them instead of getting caught up in the dull, lifeless Viggo plot.
Dan Akroyd is pretty well regarded as an eccentric who believes in the realm of the supernatural very earnestly. He admitted his first draft of the script was too far out there, involving Dana being kidnapped and taken to Scotland and the Ghostbusters fighting evil fairies. Harold Ramis seems to have reeled him in and focused the story on baby Oscar. The setting was also switched back to New York to maintain some consistency with the first film. I think one of the biggest detriments to Ghostbusters II was the softening of the original’s edges so that we get a much more family-friendly follow-up. While Ghostbusters appealed to kids, it wasn’t made with them clearly in mind. The sequel decides to get very sappy and make a big deal out of how angry people in NYC are and have the Ghostbusters bring the Statue of Liberty to life with the mood slime to cheer everyone up.
During the writing process of Ghostbusters II, one of the ideas was that every New Yorker would have to be nice to each other for 48 hours, or the world would end. I find that a much more promising comedic premise than what we got in the final product. Many fun scenes could come out of people begrudgingly playing up the niceness to ensure everything stays intact. Unfortunately, I think the film version is heavily sanitized, and what a lazy studio executive would probably feel is nice. Test audiences apparently did not like the movie’s third act, and it was deemed that the connections between Viggo, the slime, and the ghosts were not sufficiently explained. I still think it’s tenuous, even with the reshoots that were done to link these things.
Closely watching the film, you can see threads of subplots that were cut. For example, Ray is briefly possessed by Viggo after encountering the painting, but that was cut down a lot. There was even supposed to be a plotline that had Louis chasing after Slimer in multiple scenes. Slimer had gained massive popularity since the first movie with a prominent role in The Real Ghostbusters animated series, yet another reason why the sequel feels less funny and blander than the original. Some montage sequences incorporate the footage shot for these stories. Overall, that creepy feeling from the original movie feels totally absent here, which makes me wonder what Ghostbusters: Afterlife will skew more towards, the simplicity and humor of the original or packing as many elements and producing a bloated special effects-driven mess?