Ghostbusters 2
Released 1989
Columbia Pictures
Directed by: Ivan Reitman Running Time: 108min 2.35:1 PG
Cast : Bill Murray, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Rick Moranis, Sigourney Weaver, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts
Heroes today, forgotten tomorrow, and ignored forever after. A biting, but true observation/commentary about human nature and popular opinion.
A great little image the captures the central conflict of Ghostbusters 2, Dana Barrett on the right with the rest of the frame filled with persons (Venkman, Janosz) and entities (Vigo) pursuing her.
Man, I loved Lewis Tully in the first Ghostbusters ... but seriously, what’s he doing in this one? And when did Janine Melnitz get run over by Rainbow Bright?

Review by Jay Wilson

The structure of any narrative follows a distinct pattern in which conflict escalates until the climax and eventual resolution. But within the main driving conflict, there’s often smaller conflicts that contribute to the greater overarching one (you might even describe the big conflict as nothing but a string of smaller ones.) When a sequel comes along, it becomes a part of the saga. It becomes another conflict in the escalating chain. In other words, it is almost obligated to go bigger (at the very least, it has to match the previous conflict.) That’s just how dramatic narratives work. If it doesn’t, then we wonder why the storyteller is wasting our time with trivial crap.

The original movie begins with the Ghostbusters coming into being and ends with them saving the world from judgment day or, to borrow a few quotes, “real wrath of God type stuff,” “dead rising from the grave,” and “dogs and cats living together—mass hysteria.” Once you’ve saved the world ... where do you go? What part of the story is left to tell?

This leaves Ghostbusters 2 with a terrible choice: it can produce another globe-spanning cataclysm and feel like Cthuhlu and his pals lined up to invade earth, or Ghostbusters 2 could go smaller and feel like an extended epilogue not worth our time. It could theoretically go the prequel route except for the tiny detail that the first movie was also an origin story. I guess the point is, in defense of Ghostbusters 2, the first film really didn’t leave the franchise with anything else to do.

No matter what, Ghostbusters 2 is screwed.

Then instead of making one choice or the other, it commits a bit of both sins—recycling the original film and watering it down at the same time. Vigo the Carpathian (the new villain) just does not stack up to Gozer conceptually or visually. Gozer came with his/her/its own personal dimension, and defied expectations portrayed first by an exotic Yugoslavian model and later by a creative special effect in the Stay Puft Marshmellowman. Vigo is a magician whose ghost possessed a portrait and now he wants to kidnap a child so he can be reborn and conquer the world. Sorry, but an evil guy who knows a few magic tricks just doesn’t compare to—what was Gozer again?—ah yes, a god of destruction. (And it doesn’t help that the portrait of Vigo looks more intimidating than Vigo, himself, when he finally manifests in the real world.)

In many ways, Ghostbusters 2 actually does take the next step with its imagery such as the ghost-train sequence which, for the record, I think leans too heavily into goofy territory, but the idea still rocks.
Possession where one of the team falls under the evil spirit’s power, yet another really great idea tapped into (but not fully explored) in Ghostbusters 2.

I actually really like the idea of a ghost haunting a portrait. It’s not a bad idea at all. You know what else? I like Vigo the Carpathian. I like his plan to return to the living world. The portrait, itself, looks great and leads to some stunning imagery with an ominous floating head over a river of slime. He’s a fine act all by himself, and he provides a fine villain for “a” chapter in the Ghostbusters story. The problem is he follows Gozer the Gozerian who should rightfully be the final chapter in this feature film tale. There’s no way Vigo can surpass the threat of an ancient Sumerian god. Incidentally, Vigo’s storyline would’ve worked great for, say, a multi-part finale of a TV series spinoff where the ongoing episodal format leads to a different set of expectations (not lower expectations, the format just better accommodates the smaller scale on which Vigo operates.)

You know what else? I like the quirky Dr. Janosz Poha, whose odd social skills make him less effective as the museum curator and curiously more at home as the eventual puppet of Vigo. Kurt Fuller plays a great political minion out to get the Ghostbusters—you know, the jackass character you love to hate (basically a retread of the EPA guy from the first film—a lively, well done, and amusing retread, but a retread none-the-less). They’re great additions to an already great cast.

Speaking of the returning cast, this brings up another problem posed by this film’s predecessor: Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis played pitch perfect essential roles in Ghostbusters 1, but they were incidental characters. This leaves Ghostbusters 2 with another terrible choice: bringing them back would feel awkward from a character/narrative standpoint (what are the chances Dana Barrett would be at the center of not one but two consecutive plots to end the world?), but at the same time on an actor/filmmaker level leaving them out after doing so much for the first film would feel, well, wrong (they really did deserve to come back.) And, once again, no matter what it does, Ghostbusters 2 is screwed.

Here we go with another nice natural progression for the Ghostbusters’ saga. With emotional slime, possessed paintings, and dancing toasters who wouldn't think they’re crazy?
Michael Chapman’s cinematography certainly compares well with the original. Randy Edelman’s score, however ...

It has its own internal issues—don’t get me wrong, I won’t write excuses for it. For example: Ghostbusters 2 goes brighter and more colorful and tends to go more over-the-top which undermines the suspenseful and horror moments (or even the touching dramatic moments, for that matter.) Look at Annie Potts, who plays the Ghostbusters’ secretary in both films. In the first movie, there’s really nothing extraordinary about her. She looks like a secretary with thick glasses, short hair, and non-descript wardrobe; she sounds like a secretary with that great nasally voice, forever unenthused tone, and thick Brooklyn accent. In a sense, the filmmakers go out of their way to make Janine “boring” which paradoxically sets her up to be a fun character (epitomized in the moment where Venkman pisses her off and she answers the phone, snapping at the poor unoffending caller “Ghostbusters—what do you want?!” It’s funny, because monotone Janine is the last character we expect to emotionally explode on a random nobody.)

The key to that success is the interaction of organically evolved comedy/drama bouncing off Janine’s “boring” character. In an early scene, she casually attempts to make friendly conversation with Egon by talking about her hobbies and asking if he has any. Egon, the scientist’s scientist, gives the great response, “I collect spores, molds, and fungus.” A conversation killer if there ever was one, true to Egon’s character. Janine doesn’t deliver the punchline, but she sets up the joke. The seed planted here pays off in a touching moment midway through where she embraces Egon and says, “I have a very bad feeling something awful is going to happen” which in turn gives the film a surprising amount of emotional weight going into the final climax. And, again, it works because Janine is not an over emotional flake—she seems completely unfazed by ghosts running rampant in a city—so, when she acknowledges the possibility “I’m afraid you’re going to die” for a brief moment, we think, “damn, I hope not—wait a minute, this is a comedy. What the hell are they doing playing with my emotions like this?!”

Now, contrast that with Ghostbusters 2 which feels compelled to give her bright red hair, a bright green dress, which makes her look more like a friendly daycare ad rather than a secretary, and now she has the personality of a stock sitcom character as she aggressively and shamelessly makes passes at the timid and uncomfortable geek, Lewis Tully. It’s not that the scene necessarily fails—that setup is inherently funny if a bit cliché—and it’s not that’s Ms. Potts’ gives a subpar performance—not at all, she plays the role convincingly and charmingly—but the overall direction of the character feels artificial and contradictory to what was established in the first film. And worse, this new role feels tacked on and inconsequential to the movie. She (and Lewis) could be written out entirely without really impacting the overall story. It’s sad when you consider that though she’s barely in the first film, her role is so well integrated, that she really does feel like one of the (many) vital pillars holding that movie up.

I can accept Dana, in New York City, at the heart of another ghostly plot to destroy the world with only the ghostbusters able to stop it ... but I draw the line at another giant thing walking Manhattan’s streets.
I dare you to find a sequel with imagery this good, but juxtaposition is everything, and when you’re stacked up against Ghostbusters 1 and the awe-inspiring reveal of Gozer’s domain ... well, sucks to be Ghostbusters 2.

And lastly, an interesting observation: the special effects of Ghostbusters 2 are unquestionably better on a technical level, but curiously less effective in terms of atmosphere. Ghostbusters 1 wasn’t afraid to go into action overdrive with the flame-engulfed Mr Stay Puft scaling a building hell-bent determined to destroy the Ghostbusters, it wasn’t afraid to go dark and menacing with malicious spirits attacking sweet and innocent Dana Barret and hurling her towards a monstrous red-eyed beast, and it wasn’t afraid to be awe-inspiring and ominous with a gateway to Gozer’s domain. But Ghostbusters 2’s bright and colorful palette—brighter and more colorful effects—gives everything cartoony undertones which undermine suspense and intensity. The effects do work and work well; there’s no doubt about that. But the scene where Dana’s baby crawls out on a ledge and a ghostly visage kidnaps him just doesn’t pack the same punch as Lewis Tully fleeing from the terror dog in Ghostbusters 1 (which somehow managed to be both exhilarating and funny.)

Which nicely brings me back to the original point: what’s the most prominent flaw of Ghostbusters 2? Simple. It’s a sequel to the near-perfection that is Ghostbusters 1.