Now five years later, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) encounters the paranormal once again as an unseen force guides her baby’s pram into bustling New York traffic. Dana approaches the now defunct Ghostbusters (Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Harold Ramis and Rick Moranis) who are out of business after being sued by a myriad of city and state agencies with New York City deeming the band of paranormal extinguishers as frauds. After years of trying to re-etch new careers for themselves separately, the Ghostbusters agree to rebrand, putting themselves at stake amidst a city that has ectoplasmic slime threatening to over take it and an evil sorcerer whose possession plans will lead to ultimate destruction. Who ya gonna call?
Australian promotional advert of a competition tieing in with Ghostbusters II promoting sunscreen (strange but true).
The word Ghostbusters reappeared in pop culture in 2016, trending a multitude of times for controversial reasons; ones that are irrelevant (and were irrelavant in the first place) to this particular review. But the fact is Ghostbusters never really went away, it offset itself into tiny merchandise particles that made up for its lack of film continuation. Time is a funny thing and can alter truths of the past. One of them, is that Ghostbusters II is as good as the first when in actuality, is far from it.
1984’s Ghostbusters was a high concept supernatural-comedy showcasing the writing talents of Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis (also two of the films stars). In addition to the good script was the Hollywood brains behind it; producer and director of studio comedy vehicles Ivan Reitman. To cap it off, the film had the star power of Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver (in addition to the remainder of the cast who are all A-grade talent) and the special effects, a showcase of both physical and digital effects which cemented themselves and its creations into pop culture.
On paper and on film the original Ghostbusters sounds overly ambitious and ridiculous and that’s why it works. The film has become visually known by its iconography; the Ghostbusters symbol, Slimer, proton packs, ectoplasm, the company mobile, Zuul and Stay Puft Marshmallow Man just to name a few. almost eclipsing the film was the theme song with Ray Parker Jr’s hit song immortalising itself along the likes of Christmas carols and nursery rhymes as the jingle of all jingles. The film was successful and naturally, Hollywood was eager to cash in quickly. The real truth is Ghostbusters II is better known for its merchandise than the film itself and that’s never a good thing when it comes to film discussion. A certain balance of the components and elements is crucial and while the film does have that to an extent, audiences had already seen it five years before.
This brings us to 1989. Ghostbusters II is released in theatres. This time however, it’s not really about the film itself. The film played secondary to the merchandise. Ghostbusters is no longer a film, but a commercial machine and a brand, and like all brands the opportunity to franchise itself emerges and for this particular film, lived through its merchandise way beyond its expiry date which we have learned.. doesn’t exist. Commerciality has a tendency to bleed the creative value from many films and while Ghostbusters was never striving for an Academy Award, its purpose was a more wholesome one, relying on imagination. Ghostbusters II was not an exception. Franchise is the key word here, with animated spin offs and an abundance of merchandise to keep generations of fans content, it was ultimately this 1989 sequel that managed to get it wrong.
Ghostbusters II starts strong. Shifting five years later we see the characters dispersed, attempting to re-carve careers after being branded as frauds and pushed out of business operation. From here, it all begins to go downhill as life imitates art and the narrative begins to possess the corpse of the first film, which sees a lazy attempt to mimic the success of the 1984 original by almost cloning it with a few minor tweaks. The remainder of the sequel sees the film become one big rehash, a shameless attempt to catch movie-magic lightening twice. An example of the films laziness is obvious, this time in place of the Stay Puft man, it’s the Statue of Liberty and while the special effects of this sequence are tremendous and impressive, the feeling of deflation can’t be helped because its retreading the same ground without the same emotional impact The high concept narrative and concept that drove the first film into success obstructed any future sequel to build upon it. It’s a blessing, but also a curse. This creative vs commercial instance ultimately saw the end of the Ghostbusters films and sadly, put a wet damper on Aykroyd and Ramis’ potential, which initially bought forth a film that was transformed into a merchandise hit that overshadowed anything on the screen. While studios tend to artistically tame original vision, this particular sequel suffered because it begs to expand any which way due to its hyper-sized universe that spans dimensions and realms.
In the age of Netflix television that is seeing audiences streaming content and binge-watching what traditionally was a season of television in the span of a week, Ghostbusters could be revived in the form of 10 hour long episodes that would see justice done to Aykroyd’s exciting hyper-paranormal universe. It’s not a bad idea and serves to expand the concept’s potential as opposed to sacrificing it for the sake of a quick box-office buck. It is a brand itself and product placement would be immenent to sustain the show along with the advent of all the merchandising and marketing oppurtunities. While I am veering off topic, it is a creative solution to the demands of the Ghostbusters story (and fans) that desperately crave. Rumours of a sequel have floated online for many years. A studio sequel was never going to be enough and it’s for this reason Ghostbusters II was the end of the line and the reason why Ghostbusters III was sent straight to development hell. Alternatively, GIII could work today, the problem would be its self-reflexivity and awareness of its commercial self, that sort of meta-ism is so common of reboots today that it often spoils a film’s potential to be original.
Cast wise, GII cannot be criticized. The cast is A-grade and there are some interesting humorous moments as you would expect in a supernatural-comedy. The direction is great. The soundtrack is as ’80s as you can imagine with hints of hip-hop bursting through the seams that would soon devour the soundtracks of the later years. It’s the story and the familiarity of the screenplay that set GII up for disappointment and it’s not the screenwriters fault (who are also the films’ star vehicles), it’s the controlled sense of feeling that rather than be its own, it opted to be a rip off it itself and for such an ambitious concept and potential for a rich cinematic universe, the only way to fathom this error is to question whether the studio really took the reigns on this one. There is a reason Ghostbusters is so etched into the annals of pop culture that sees generations of fanboys and girls debate the instance of the unfairly maligned 2016 reboot: the cast and characters are loveable and have remained in the collective minds of the movie fans who have waited since 1989 for a decent sequel. A very impressive feat for a film that only has two films in its own timeline.
Ghostbusters II relied on its commercial power to pull it through but a rehashing wasn’t the way to do it. Don’t get me wrong, Ghostbusters is iconic but it appears time has changed the truth of the matter and warped our memories of this sequel; Ghostbusters II was never good, not even close. If you were to compare its commerciability and power to a contemporary film, Suicide Squad (2016) would be the best example. Both films have all the elements (and financial factors) to succeed in abundance and all of them are underused because commerciality and non-creative power dictates each and every important, creative move. With these sorts of studio films (and sequels) that are obvious projected commercial hits (and success is almost imminent), critical reception doesn’t really matter as long as the films near, reach or succeed its projected amount at the global box-office. Franchisability is the aim of the game and it’s the art that suffers and while not the best, Ghostbusters II is a loveable disappointment, one that sees us defend it because somewhere within its inception we know what was delivered on-screen wasn’t at all what was envisioned in the first place. This is a common truth for many studio films, more so today (notice how many directors cuts are released?) If Ghostbusters II were released today, it would have embraced augmented reality and most certainly have its own Pokemon-Go style spin off game seeing players catch ghosts in every city of the world. See the power of this franchise? This is why a theatrical film sequel cannot do it justice!
Overall Ghostbusters II suffered deadly symptoms of sequel fever which saw the film reduced to being a rehash of the 1984 original. The Ghostbusters franchise retained its commerciability and continued to be a presence in pop culture managing to churn out cartoon spin-offs, candy, drinks and tonnes of merchandise for years WITHOUT a film, confirming its paranormal commercial power. Not bad at all. While the film is a bareable disappointment, it’s mostly unmemorable. You can’t catch the same ghost twice.