Ghostbusters II: The most unfairly hated sequel of all time?

2014 saw Ghostbusters celebrate the 30th anniversary of its original theatrical release, an occasion marked by a brief return to cinemas across the UK as well as a new Blu-ray release. Reaching its quarter century this year as well is the second instalment, Ghostbusters II, but there has been considerably less fanfare around this milestone. No cinema return has happened for the sequel, and although it too has finally received a Blu-ray release this year, Ghostbusters II still feels as though it's following the much-loved original movie around like an unwanted younger sibling twenty five years on.

Ghostbusters II has for much of its existence been a regular feature on lists of "worst sequels ever made". Receiving some increased attention this year thanks to the confirmation, following over two decades of speculation and discussion, that a third Ghostbusters film will be directed by Paul Feig, the first sequel is commonly cited in these discussions as an argument against another installment by those who see it is as a pale imitation of the original film.

Personally, I have never understood the hate Ghostbusters II receives. To me, not only is it a great film, but it also at times matches the excellence of Ghostbusters. And here's why...

(N.B. If you've never seen Ghostbusters II, there's likely to be some spoiler information in the rest of this article. If you've seen the film, or don't mind a few spoilers, scroll past Peter, Egon and Ray to continue reading).

1. The returning team
Before you've even started watching it, Ghostbusters II succeeds where a great many other sequels fail: all the key members of the Ghostbusters cast are back, from the Ghostbusters themselves to relatively minor characters such as David Margulies' New York Mayor. Not only that, but every actor's performance is as good as it was before. True, charactes such as Louis (Rick Moranis) and Janine (Annie Potts) are updated to more closely match their appearance in spin-off cartoon The Real Ghostbusters that had been airing for three years by the time Ghostbusters II was released, but the actors themselves remain true to the characters they crafted in the original.

Behind the scenes, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis return to pen the script as they did with the original film, and Ivan Reitman is again in the director's chair. The fact that the central team both in front of and behind the camera is unchanged from the original filters through the film. Ghostbusters II definitely feels like a Ghostbusters film from start to finish.

2. The set-up
This is something which so often gets overlooked when Ghostbusters II is criticised. Aykroyd and Ramis could have gone for an easy option in returning to these characters, having the Ghostbusters riding the crest of their celebrity after saving New York from Gozer at the end of the original. Instead, we return to the team ostracised, fragmented and more washed up than ever. Ray (Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) are the only members clinging to the Ghostbusters name, scraping a living as kids' entertainers in the jumpsuits they once used to battle spooks. Peter (Bill Murray) meanwhile has a tacky cable show about the paranormal, and Egon (Ramis) has managed to break back into academia studying the effect of human emotion on the physical environment - an idea which becomes very prominent later on.

The reason? After saving the city - and indeed the planet - from Gozer, instead of being hailed as heroes the team were sued for the damage they caused in New York. It's a brilliant and biting satire of the money-driven and compensation-obsessed society of the 1980s which still resonates today. From a narrative point of view, this is also Aykroyd and Ramis challenging themselves to do something different, not just trot out the same story as they did before - and it works brilliantly.

3. The tone
One oft-criticised element of Ghostbusters II is the tone it adopts, with many seeing it as a softer and more child-friendly experience than the original movie. It's a criticism which is entirely unfounded, and seems to be based partly on the aforementioned small changes influenced by The Real Ghostbusters, but a great deal more on the fact that one part of the plot revolves around pink slime. Never mind that the slime is a physical manifestation of human hate; other themes include black magic and demonic possession. Not seeing the kiddie focus so far, I have to say.

The ghosts themselves further the darkly comic tone. At one point the Titanic pulls into the harbour, complete with spectral passengers filing past the iceberg-damaged bow. At another, a distinctly Harryhausen-esque monster peers through the Washington Square Arch. And perhaps the most memorable ghost-based scene - on a par with anything the original film has to offer - involves the spirits of the Scoleri Brothers coming back to haunt the judge who sentenced them to execution, the fraternal phantasms each strapped into an elecric chair with the current still coursing through their bodies. It's fair to say that not only is the tone of Ghostbusters II regularly far from child-friendly, but in many ways furthers the darkly humorous tone set out in its predecessor.

4. The bad guy
Let's face it, Aykroyd and Ramis would have had a hard time bettering Gozer, Zuul, Vinz Clortho and the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man no matter what they came up with. Vigo The Carpathian, primary antagonist of Ghostbusters II, therefore had a hard act to follow. And, whilst he's admittedly not as memorable as Ghostbusters' main bad guys, he's still a pretty formidable foe, at a few points clearly getting a considerable upper hand over our heroes. In terms of creativity from the two writers, it's great to see them aim yet again for something notably different from what they did in the first film. Vigo is also voiced by Max Von Sydow, which automatically notches him up a few more awesomeness points.

5. The finale
Before the final battle with Vigo, Ghostbusters II delivers the culmination of its plot focused upon the manifestation and harnessing of positive and negative emotional energy by having the team animate the Statue Of Liberty to lift the spirits of the people of New York, as well as giving them a way into the Manhattan Museum Of Art to get to the bad guy. It's a scene too often lazily dismissed as a copy of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man finale from Ghostbusters. But, when you actually examine what each scene offers, the similarities are fleeting; the purpose and meaning behind the two finales is quite obviously different in a number of ways. Whilst the Statue Of Liberty scene may be the cheesier of the two sequences, it's certainly one of the most memorable and creative scenes from the sequel.

Ghostbusters II is not a perfect film by any means. There are weaker elements scattered within it: Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol) is too much of a one-joke character; Jack Hardemeyer (Kurt Fuller) is essentially an underdeveloped copy of the much more memorable Walter Peck from the first film; and the brief diversion during the finale onto Louis' pipe dream of becoming the fifth Ghostbuster should have ended up on the cutting room floor with most of Slimer's scenes. The Run-D.M.C. version of Ray Parker Jr.'s unmistakeable theme song is also pretty atrocious. But in the end, the good far outweighs the bad - there is a lot more within this sequel to like than many give it credit for.

So, if you've never seen Ghostbusters II - or if you've previously watched and dismissed it - the 25th anniversary of its release is as good a reason as any to experience (or revisit) all the creativity and entertainment it has to offer. After all, you ain't afraid of no sequel, are you?

By Ben Broadribb. Ben is a regular contributor to Film Intel, having previously written at Some Like It Hot Fuzz. He is normally seen in the wild wearing t-shirts containing obscure film references. He is a geek, often unashamedly so. He's also on and Twitter.


  1. I didn't think it was that bad. I enjoyed it for what it was. I just think it was only weak due to some of the kiddie elements as well a few things such as the main villain in Vigo which I couldn't take seriously.

    1. Thanks for the comment, thevoid99. Both of those are things I've heard before, and as I say in the article, I don't see either of them. In some ways I think the humour in GHOSTBUSTERS II is actually darker than the original - the "kiddie" stuff is generally just surface changes (e.g. Janine's day-glo makeover from the original) that doesn't really change anything. Why do you think you couldn't take Vigo seriously?

  2. For whatever reason there will always be some movies that need a little extra propping up. For Ghostbusters II, I am more than happy to do the honors. :)