“Ghostbusters” is the type of movie that, regardless of how well-intentioned, a sequel was never going to work as well as the original did. The blend of horror, fantasy and comedy is the type of thing that will be great once, but is too singular to really be replicated. I’ve always enjoyed the sequel Ivan Reitman, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis were able to come up with, but it felt perfunctory compared to the first one. The visual effects are just as good, the cast is just as funny, but the story isn’t quite as compelling this time around.
The film takes place five years after the events of the original, and the Ghostbusters are out of work. They were stuck with the bill after defeating Gozer, and after the damage done, the city took out a restraining order preventing them from doing their job. So, they had to go their own ways. Egon (the late Ramis) is back in academic study, Ray (Aykroyd) runs an occult bookstore while making birthday appearances with Winston (Ernie Hudson), while Peter (Bill Murray) has a paranormal talk show. Once again, however, they are brought together Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver), who is now divorced and has a young son, Oscar. One day, her baby buggie heads into traffic on its own, and the guys are called on to investigate. After breaking up years before, however, Dana doesn’t really want to deal with Peter, but when they find themselves in their vicinity, old feelings are rekindled. The matter at hand, however, is the paranormal, and the gang discovers a pink slime river flowing underneath the city. The slime feeds off of negative energy, and is going towards the museum Dana works at restoring paintings, with a scary-looking one depicting the 16th Century tyrant Viggo the Carpathian seeming to be the center of the attention. A perfect recipe for pending disaster.
The biggest reason “Ghostbusters II” doesn’t quite work as well as it’s predecessor has to do with the villain. Yes, Viggo the Carpathian is an imposing presence, but being stuck in a painting makes it difficult to really pose much of a threat. That means he needs a lackey, and that’s where Peter MacNicol’s Dr. Janosz Poha comes in. Best known for “Ally McBeal” besides this, MacNicol can be very funny, but the second we see him as the curator of the museum, we know exactly he’s going to turn out to be a bad guy, even if he is an unwitting one at first. One of the things that made the first film work so well was how the supernatural presence took ordinary people and used them for it’s bidding, and it worked because by the time Dana and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) were turned into hellhounds, we cared about them as characters and saw them as victims of circumstance. If we had learned that Janosz had brought the Viggo painting for this specific purpose in this film, we could hardly act surprised because of the way Janosz is presented as a character from the start. It’s a miscalculation on the part of Reitman and co., and it drags down the film’s story compared to the original, which already has some rehashed moments that feel like they just were trying to do more of the same. The budding romance between Louis and Annie Potts’s Janine provides a breath of fresh air in the story that the rest of it cannot muster.
This is a fun sequel, and the returning cast all have good moments, but as it did then, it pales in comparison to how special the original film was. Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own” and Run-D.M.C.’s new “Ghostbusters” theme song don’t hold a candle to Ray Parker Jr.’s classic original, Randy Edelman’s score is not nearly as inspired as Elmer Bernstein’s work for the first one, and yes, the Statue of Liberty walking through Manhattan is a great image, nothing can top that Stay Puft Marshmellow Man imposing it’s will on New York. This actually makes me more curious to watch Paul Feig’s new film in the franchise, because I want to know if the magic Reitman and his cast captured in 1984 was simply a flash in the pan phenomenon, or if there are legs for this concept long-term, because as Peter said in the first one, the franchise rights alone could make them rich beyond their wildest dreams.