The confirmation last month that Ghostbusters III, a second sequel to the classic 1984 sci-fi comedy, was rolling into production for a 2011 release, with director Ivan Reitman and most of the original cast on board, wasn’t exactly a surprise after years of teasing and speculation. And while it’s hard not to feel a nostalgic tingle of excitement at the thought of Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and the gang strapping on the proton packs for one last adventure, I wish they’d leave well enough alone, because odds are that Ghostbusters will never be as good a trilogy as it was a duology.
1989’s Ghostbusters II is by no means an equal to its predecessor. But with a memorable villain in Vigo the Carpathian, an underrated New Jack Swing theme song in Bobby Brown’s “On Our Own,” and a fair share of memorable scenes and quotable lines, it’s not a bad follow-up. And I just can’t see another movie living up to even II’s more modest standards, especially two decades later. The oddest part about the announcement of the new film was that it came scarcely six months after the release of Ghostbusters: The Video Game, an acclaimed cross-platform release which much of the movie’s original cast provided voice acting for, and which Aykroyd himself called “essentially the third movie.” By taking the franchise to a completely different medium, they’d wisely sidestepped the issue of whether to attempt another full-scale theatrical film. And yet here we go, into the risky waters of extremely belated sequels that franchises as sturdy as Indiana Jones and Die Hard have most recently fallen victim to.
In fact, the more I think about it, I’ve come to realize that duologies are the way to go for comedies. Action/adventure spectacles in the Star Wars mold benefit from the epic storytelling arcs made possible by trilogies. But since comedies are usually written as stand alones, the best they can do for a sequel is to come up with a decent new story that sets up the characters for more entertaining situations and humorous dialogue. Asking the filmmakers to cough up two more movies is hard enough even for big action franchises (remember those Matrix sequels?), but for a comedy it just seems gratuitous. A comedy sequel should be treated like an encore to a good show, a quick one-two punch to reward the audience that loved the first one.
Unfortunately, sequels are about maximizing profit from a successful brand first and foremost, and often, creative standards are an afterthought. A big opening weekend is pretty much guaranteed when you’re trading on the name of an established blockbuster, and if fans decide they hate the new movie, who cares? They already bought their tickets. So most of the duologies mainly exist because the second movie was a flop and/or so bad that nobody could be bothered to make a third. Disappointing box office receipts for Wayne’s World 2, Caddyshack II, Legally Blonde 2: Red, White And Blonde, A Very Brady Sequel and Deuce Bigalow: European Bigalow are probably the reason those movies concluded their respective series, not that they were mediocre movies. Jim Carrey’s second Ace Ventura movie made more money than the first, but was such a piece of crap that Carrey has wisely avoided sequels ever since (although studios have been happy to produce absolutely dire sequels to The Mask, Dumb & Dumber and Bruce Almighty without the original star’s involvement). It was a foregone conclusion that Clerks II would have a better theatrical run than the original 1993 festival hit that found an audience on home video, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s a complete piece of garbage that nearly every fan of the first movie hated.
The list of comedy franchises with three or more movies isn’t exactly dignified either, though. Nobody really wanted a third Crocodile Dundee or Look Who’s Talking movie. The only threequel I can think of that was funnier than the second movie is Ocean’s Thirteen. Well, that, and Army of Darkness, which is technically the third Evil Dead movie.
Still, there are some great sequels out there that didn’t beget more sequels, and probably don’t need them. 1993’s Addams Family Values was an improvement on its predecessor in every way, with a more mischievously dark sense of humor and a villainously inspired performance by Joan Cusack. Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey is by far funnier and more absurd than their Excellent Adventure, with the titular duo being killed by robot clones of themselves and having to beat the Grim Reaper in Clue and Battleship to be back among the living. Both sequels were moderately successful, but didn’t produce follow-ups largely because of cast availability. Raúl Juliá, who played Gomez Addams, passed away a year after the release of Addams Family Values. Bogus Journey was released just a week after Point Break, and with Keanu Reeves rapidly rising to leading man status it’s not surprising he left behind the goofy character that first made him famous. Still, regardless of why, it’s fortunate that those series were able on a high note: it’s doubtful I’ll say the same of the third Ghostbusters.