This week marks the release of Ghostbusters: Afterlife, the true third installment in the Ghostbusters franchise. Fans have been waiting for the long-delayed third film, not just over the course of a pandemic, but really, since 1989.
Original star and writer Dan Aykroyd had tried for years to make a true Ghostbusters sequel. Stories were developed that featured the original cast, as well as some that had new casts of characters that had been trained by the old guard. Unfortunately, a major roadblock was Bill Murray, and his disinterest in returning (apparently he said he would only return if he was a ghost).
Over the course of the 90’s and early 2000’s, many proposed Ghostbusters movies were announced, but failed to ever get off the ground. Sadly, Harold Ramis’ passing in 2014 put the kibosh on the original crew ever returning together again. So, instead, the 2016 reboot with an all-female cast was greenlit. The film goes by many titles – the opening proclaims it as just Ghostbusters, while the end credits and Blu-Ray/DVD covers refer to it as Ghostbusters: Answer The Call. From here on out, it will be referred to as Ghostbusters 2016.
Fans maligned the film and it did mediocre box-office, but recently, there has been a growing trend amongst viewers to compare it favorably to Ghostbusters II. I’m here to say that as disappointing a movie Ghostbusters II is to some, it’s of course better than Ghostbusters 2016!
The first Ghostbusters is such a perfect movie. It’s a beautiful blend of comedy and sci-fi and it really feels like a movie about best friends, made by best friends. Ghostbusters utilized each of its performer’s comedic strengths and didn’t shy away from getting a little dark when it could easily be very silly. Despite the fact that 3 out of the 4 Ghostbusters are scientists, it feels like a blue-collar film. They curse, smoke, and work hard doing a dirty job, and despite the fact that the movie is a comedy, it respects its macabre subject matter and takes its scare scenes very seriously.
Ghostbusters II was inevitable, but it took too long to get made. In between movies, the children’s cartoon show The Real Ghostbusters became popular so the more family friendly Ghostbusters II feels more like an adaptation of the cartoon show rather than a sequel to the first.
The biggest problem with the sequel is that it repeats the beats of the first film almost exactly. The film features montages of them catching ghosts, as well as a period where no one believes them, then they get bullied by a bureaucrat, and finally conjure up a giant figure in the third act. To so clearly parrot the formula of the original is unforgivable from a storytelling perspective, yet there is so much good stuff in Ghostbusters II that it’s impossible to call it a bad movie.
Rick Moranis’ expanded role as Louis Tully is comic gold, and the courtroom scene is one of the best scenes in either film. Peter MacNichol’s Yanoush steals every scene that he’s in, and the film doesn’t avoid menace. For a comedy, there are actually a few geniunely scary moments, such as when Dana’s bathtub tries to eat her, and when the gang finds themselves in the subway surrounded by decapitated heads on pikes. It’s hard not to love these characters, and they’ve become iconic for a reason — something the film proves. Ghostbusters II may not be a great movie but it’s, without question, an entertaining movie.
And that brings me to Ghostbusters 2016, a film mired in controversy due to its decision to feature an all-female cast. Despite all that, the problems with the movie have nothing to do with the cast’s genders. The entire cast is talented and funny, but the movie’s problems are ultimately with the writing and directing.
Director Paul Feig brings a style of humor to the movie that’s different than the first two, and because of it, there are no stakes. Unlike the original which created a real world with fantastical things happening, Ghostbusters 2016 exists in an unbelievable world. And the unbelievable happening in an unbelievable world isn’t all that interesting. The original Ghostbusters films had humor coming from the main cast while the rest of the movie’s world was serious. However, Ghostbusters 2016 has funny characters in a funny world where all of its inhabitants are idiots who crack jokes, riff endlessly, and are just plain stupid.
The other big thing about Ghostbusters 2016 is the setting. Despite being set in New York City like the originals, it was mostly filmed in Boston and never feels like a New York movie.
Ghostbusters is one of the best NYC movies ever made, and 1980’s NYC seeps from the pores of every shot of the first two movies. The hard and grimy NYC setting matches the fact that these are really working class guys doing amazing things.
Also, the writing of the original film’s characters were spot on, with each one having a specific personality trait and finding the humor in that. The four women all have the same personality traits as the originals do, yet they all can’t seem to stop riffing as if the entire movie was one big improv sketch.
And why does the only non-scientist character have to be black again? And speaking of science, one of the better aspects of the original films was that it really took the ghost science seriously, to the point where the conflicts had to do with the struggle of trying to trap ghosts. Ghostbusters 2016 forgets the science of the supernatural and its finale is a CGI-filled spectacle of the characters just zapping ghosts in cool ways, which just isn’t as interesting as the jeopardy featured in the original.
While Ghostbusters II may not be as good as the first one, it still features an amazing and iconic cast firing on all cylinders. Despite its faults, it will never be worse than Ghostbusters 2016, or whatever it’s called. Did I mention the dancing? Why is there so much dancing in that movie?
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