Ghostbusters 2: A Retrospective

With Ghostbusters 3 beginning filming soon, this may be as good a time as any to look at one of the most reviled additions to the franchise. No, I’m not talking about the 2016 all-female reboot (which deserves its own piece). Instead, I’m talking about Ghostbusters 2. Yes, as early as the first sequel, fans of the franchise were already sharpening their knives and carving up what they loved.

Since it arrived in theaters, feelings toward Ghostbusters 2 have ranged from apathetic to hated, with a small cadre of fans toting its merits in face of incredible backlash. If Ghostbusters 2 had been released in the age of social media, there’s no doubt that the film would have been received almost as terribly as Ghostbusters 2016. 

But why, though? Why so much derision toward the movie? Is it deserved, or are the feelings toward Ghostbusters 2 simply the result of people piling onto the movie? Let’s take a look at some of the reasons that the film hasn’t cultivate the legacy of its predecessor.

The original Ghostbusters in their classic victory pose.
The original Ghostbusters in their classic victory pose.

1.) Sequelitis

Sequelitis, when it comes to books and film, refer to the tendency of writers to follow the pattern of the first story too closely. Horror movies are almost always an example of this, with murderers returning, the victims remaining the same, and a similar setup to the first film framing the narrative. A recent example of this is Deadpool 2, which relied too much on the same surprises and humor of the first without changing things up enough to make the sequel its own film. It felt more like a Deadpool 1.5. 

Sequels that avoid this fate retain the heart and spirit of the first while also changing things up enough to make the film feel fresh. A classic example is Empire Strikes Back. All the old heroes from the original Star Wars came back, the same amazing ships were back, and yet the tone and direction were strikingly different. The first film revolved around an immature young man, Luke Skywalker, being ripped from his home and embarking on a journey of growth. The second still focuses on him, but this time with an oppressed rebellion desperate to survive and struggling from the opening moments to the closing lines. Even the feeling of the film as darker.

Ghostbusters 2 suffers from sequelitis in some of the worst ways. Despite being heroes in the first film, the team is broke in the second. It’s as if the writers wanted to reset the film so that the Ghostbusters would be right back in their original places in life. The sequel features a split Dana and Peter Venkman, back to being single so that the film can bring them together again, just like in the first. Ghostbusters 2 even goes back to the idea of some godlike entity behind all the ghost activity. What’s worse, the god like villain of the second isn’t even as interesting as the first. You get the feeling while watching Ghostbusters 2 that the writers felt the audience would like it if the team followed the old story beats from the first film. The audiences didn’t like it, and it shows in the movie’s reception.

The ghosbusters and Dana save the day again.
The band reunites, with Dana’s baby in town.

2.) Tone Shift

We mentioned how in Star Wars, the tone shifted for the darker between the first and second film. The franchise went from being a fantasy in space to being a fantasy in space with a much heavier emphasis on a desperate rebellion struggling to survive. The humor and humorous characters entered a slightly darker universe without losing the joy and light that made the first film so endearing. It was a fine balancing act to strike, but the writers made it work.

Ghostbusters 2 took the opposite tactic, becoming more lighthearted. In between the first and second film, the franchise spawned a toy lawn, cartoons, and Halloween costumes. The Ghostbusters team was all over television as the franchise grew into a massive cultural icon. Of course, with so much focus on entertaining children and their parents, the second film had to change its tone to keep their attention. The incredibly frightening ghosts of the first film became cuter, less horrific in the second. There’s no greater case in point than the ghost Slimer, who was just another horrific entity in the first film. By the second, he was considered the mascot for the team. Even the name of the television cartoon changed to Slimer! And the Real GhostbustersThe second film became much less adult (somehow people forget that one of the Ghostbusters gets a ghost blowjob halfway through the movie).

The Ecto 1 toy from Ghostbusters.
The Ghostbusters line of toys changed everything.

3.) Does this make Ghostbusters 2 terrible?

No. In fact, there’s plenty to enjoy about Ghostbusters 2 to enjoy. The writing’s still good and the movie’s still funny. There’s hand clapping moments, like when the Statue of Liberty goes trotting through the center of NYC as Jackie Wilson’s Your love keeps lifting me plays across the city. The characters are just as lovable and engaging as ever, and the guys still have a great dynamic. Nerdy Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler are constantly vexed by the obnoxious behavior of Peter Venkman, while everyman Winston Zeddemore continues to ground the team in the realities of living in NYC.

The problem’s not so much that the second movie is bad as much as the first movie is, well, amazing. The original Ghostbusters is a landmark film, a cornerstone movie that perfectly encapsulated the glory of NYC and wrap it all in an amazing blend of comedy balanced against horror. Think of it this way. A 10 carat diamond is beautiful, but put it up against a 100 carat diamond, and its flaws come into sharp relief. Ghostbusters 2 is still a beauty of a movie, but its flaws are too glaring compared against the incomparably amazing nature of the original.

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Jason Luthor is the author of the science fiction and dystopian horror, FLOOR 21.

Bonus! Enjoy the defining song of the Ghostbusters franchise!


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