In Defense Of: “Ghostbusters II” (1989)


It’s hard to argue with the idea that 1984’s Ghostbusters is a certified classic. It’s stood the test of time – and will continue to – not merely because of its once-dazzling special effects or laugh quotient but because, underneath it all, it has a big, beating heart that’s granted it an everlasting charm.

It’s clear in every frame and every line delivery that everyone involved is simply having fun, more intent on having you laugh along with them than simply force-feeding you telegraphed punch lines. It’s a love letter to the paranormal, to campfire horror stories, and to goofy science fiction that never needlessly overindulges itself in the genres it adores, remaining accessible for anyone and everyone, powered less by its actual narrative and more by the fact that its characters are genuinely lovable.

Even beyond that, it’s an immensely quotable film with iconic imagery and a theme song that has remained a pop culture fixture to this day. As a result, it’s no surprise that after its release, everyone involved in making it was caught in a conundrum: It’s a perfectly fine standalone film, one that never needed a sequel, yet its concept and the simple fact that audiences wanted to spend more time with these characters and their world meant that one could exist if need be. As with all sequels to films that don’t necessarily need a second instalment, especially in comedy, there’s a fine line to be toed upon making one. Stray too far from what people loved in the first place and you make them unhappy. Repeat yourself too much and, well, they’ll still be unhappy.

For better or worse, Ghostbusters‘ popularity made Ghostbusters II an inevitability, and in 1989, the sequel arrived to obvious financial success while being met with a harsh critical response. Great sequels know how to straddle the line between the familiar and the fresh, giving audiences just enough of what they expected to be satisfied while giving them something new they never knew they needed. It’s an issue I’ve discussed before, but it bears repeating here, because if there’s one true fault about Ghostbusters II, it’s that it fails to follow that idea, resulting in a final product that feels less like a natural extension of the first film and more of a retread of what we’ve already seen. And yet, in spite of that, I’d argue that the film doesn’t deserve the level of vitriol it still receives.

If you haven’t seen the flick in a while, here’s a quick refresher on its plot: Despite saving New York City – and the world – in the original, the Ghostbusters find themselves disbanded several years later, legally banned from continuing their paranormal investigations, with many citizens believing them to be frauds despite all the evidence to the contrary. After a series of events inevitably brings them back together, the gang finds themselves looking into a mysterious slime that feeds off emotion and has allowed supernatural activity to resume throughout the city, all while a tyrannical force, Vigo the Carpathian, forwards a plot to unleash himself from a painting in which he’s been trapped for centuries and rule the world.

On the surface, the film may seem like a completely different beast than its predecessor thanks to elements like the slime, but dig a little deeper and you’ll find that it really isn’t. Though the characters’ personal circumstances have changed a bit between films – the biggest one being the fact that Sigourney Weaver’s Dana now has an infant son named Oscar – they’re all essentially the same people forced to go through what they went through in 1984 all over again. Once more they start off discredited, work their way up in the eyes of the public, have to help Dana, win over the mayor, and defeat another incredibly evil force. And instead of a colossal Stay Puft Marshmallow Man turning up in the third act, they bring the Statue of Liberty to life to march through the streets of New York.

Just on a structural level, Ghostbusters II is Ghostbusters with a whole new coat of paint (or slime, if you prefer). To that end, it’s undeniably frustrating, because it’s hard not to believe that the minds that gave us such a creative film only a few years before, particularly Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd as writers and Ivan Reitman as director, could have delivered something that turned the concept on its head rather than rest on their laurels.