Sequels to beloved films often cause a stir. Fans react wildly to announced reunions of casts and characters. It is possible to feel simultaneously excited that we are given a chance to revisit with old friends on screen and to cower in fear of what missteps the filmmakers may make with these beloved characters. You hope for the best, but brace yourself for the possibility of a soulless cash-grab from Hollywood.
GHOSTBUSTERS 2 is just the type of film to give audiences something to look forward to as well as something to worry about. Released five years after the original, it brought director Ivan Reitman back with the entire iconic cast of phantom fighters. Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis returned to write the script, which should have been the final piece in recreating the magic of the first film. But with all of these elements coming together once again, what else would they have to say? Why create a second GHOSTBUSTERS film if it is just a rehashing of the first?
Somehow GHOSTBUSTERS 2 ended up in the middle of the spectrum of possible outcomes for sequels. It hits many marks, but misses a few crucial ones too.
The most glaring difference between the two films is where the sequel falters the most: the plot. In the first film, the crisis that the whole film is building towards is the showdown between Dana (now Zuul, the Gatekeeper), Louis (now Vinz Clortho, the Keymaster), Gozer, and the whole Ghostbusting crew. The excitement that the audience feels in watching all of these elements come together is rooted in the fact that we have no idea what will happen next. Sure, it is easy for us to assume that the Ghostbusters will bust these ghosts, but other than the inevitable happy ending there are seemingly limitless possibilities. What will Gozer look like? What are her powers? What will happen when the Keymaster and the Gatekeeper find each other? With so many moving parts in the plot it is exhilarating to see what will happen next.
GHOSTBUSTERS 2, however, gives us more absolutes from the beginning. In the first scene of the film we see Dana pushing her baby buggy down the street and mother and child get roped into the plot right away. An evil force wants Dana’s baby. As we go through the investigation, we find that a possessed painting has brought back a medieval tyrant, Vigo the Carpathian, who needs Dana’s baby to become reinstated as a living person. This sets up our good versus evil showdown in such black and white terms that the fun ambiguity of the first film is lost. The beautiful, tiny white baby is the picture of good and purity, while the scowling Vigo can be seen as nothing but pure evil. Even without seeing the end of the film, the audience knows what is likely to happen. The excitement of hoping to see something new and weird is not there.
Fortunately the more successful elements that are in both GHOSTBUSTERS and GHOSTBUSTERS 2 have nothing to do with the plot. These films could be about nearly anything, and we would still watch them and have a great time. One thing in particular that remains the same between the two films is Bill Murray.
Even with the shortcomings of the sequel, director Reitman knew a good thing when he had it, and he lets Murray steal nearly every scene. His masteries of charm, dry humor, and selling an entire character in just one line are featured heavily in GHOSTBUSTERS 2, just as they should be.
Two of my favorite moments in the film are courtesy of Murray’s unparalleled timing.
After all of the Ghostbusters are committed to a mental institution, Egon and Ray try to explain to their doctor why it is so important that they get released. Of course the explanation sounds crazy. It is after all a rant about haunted paintings and Carpathians and bathtubs. When the doctor turns to Murray’s Venkman, he deadpans, “Don’t look at me. I think these people are completely nuts.”
Earlier in the film the Ghostbusters head to the museum to investigate the possessed painting and Venkman is tasked with taking photos of the canvas. He has a special ghost detecting camera, and sets to working a photo shoot with his painting. Venkman gently coaches the image of Vigo as one would a fashion model. Nice at first, and trying to bring him out of his shell. But soon the informational shoot turns into Venkman passionately yelling at the art work to show him what it has got. When Venkman is told to stop harassing the painting, he looks at it with admiration and says, “I’ve worked with better, but not many.”
On top of these Murray moments, GHOSTBUSTERS 2 does keep a good amount of what is fun in the first film. There are plenty of montage sequences of the Ghostbusters advertising their services in poorly produced television commercials, and shots of the guys running down the street in their jumpsuits and proton packs. There are also loads of ghosts around, and even more befuddled New Yorkers reacting to them. These were fun moments in the original GHOSTBUSTERS, and though they are all things we have seen before, they are still fun the in the sequel, too.
Ultimately GHOSTBUSTERS 2 has plenty of reasons to revisit the franchise. Though it may have been created to pry some money away from those who still love the original, it gives the fans the satisfaction of another chance to spend some time with Egon, Ray, Venkman, and Winston.