You Probably Hate This Movie: GHOSTBUSTERS II

For many years, most of them pre-Internet, I lived inside my own bubble where everybody liked Ghostbusters II. I assume that’s because I grew up in a small-ish town where the majority of my friends were equally large Ghostbusters fans of around the same age. I was too young to be aware of the film’s tepid critical reception, and it wasn’t until I joined Twitter that I learned how divisive it is.

There’s a recent movement in film criticism to purge nostalgic feelings from our collective consciences. The argument being it clouds our judgment and keeps us rooted in the past. I’ll be the first to admit a lot of people live almost exclusively back there (read the comment section for any new horror movie for affirmation of this point), but there’s nothing wrong with remembering where you came from.

For me, Ghostbusters II was the most excited I’d ever been for a movie. I was nine and  I’ll never forget the first time I caught that teaser on the big screen. My eyes widened and the world around me fell away because the Ghostbusters were finally coming back! Yes, the cartoon was still in production, and I had mountains of those action figures that helped keep the world alive, but this was the “real” sequel. It was big deal.

The movie looked epic and everyone was back. I wanted to know everything as soon as possible. Playground speculation among 4th and 5th grade classmates was off the charts. What was that weird painting? Why do Ray and Winston have big oxygen tank-looking things strapped to their backs instead of proton packs? What does the ghost Titanic have to do with anything? I couldn’t wait to find out, and in the days before the Internet, the waiting game was a hard one to play.

In some ways, I wish I had the ability to process films like I used to. Back then, when a movie started, there was nothing else. It had my attention the way a dog chews a bone. My sister and her (now) husband took me to see Ghostbusters II on opening weekend. I remember shaking with excitement as we pulled up to the theater. I remember where we sat (in one of the left aisle seats, because the house was packed), and I can even remember how the audience reacted to many of the jokes. At that age, there wasn’t any worry about Ghostbusters II meeting my expectations. It was Ghostbusters. How could it be bad?

It’s funny, but I feel the same way about this sequel now as I did then. I was never silly enough to rank it over the original, but I loved every second of it. And I like it so much that I’ve never gone that long through life without revisiting it. I watched the hell out of it as a kid, had the VHS to keep me company through the 90s and wore out the DVD, too. In my sheltered world, my friends and I loved the movie: we chuckled about “Doe, Ray, Egon…” , quoted Dr. Janosz Poha endlessly (“you are like the buzzing of flies to him”), and thought Venkman’s efforts to talk his way out of an arrest was a classic moment.

I concede that the story is dicey and the adult in me wonders why co-writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis adhered so closely to the original’s template. Couldn’t they come up with anything that might take this adventure in an entirely new direction? They did, after all, have five years to think about it. It’s more surprising when you consider that these are some of the smartest guys in cinematic comedy. Ever.

Perhaps that speaks to the nature of sequels in general. Even Paul Feig’s recent remake* feels stale, despite coming along almost 30 years after this one. The idea of “ghost exterminators” is, of course, the original’s joke, but its central premise was so novel for its time there’s always going to be a movie studio desperate to take another crack at it. But is there anywhere else to go? When even Aykroyd and Ramis have trouble finding anything else to say on the subject, perhaps the answer is “no.”

Ghostbusters II is built on a fallacy. The original film concludes with New York City, and humanity, facing an extinction-level event. The city was overrun with ghosts, and the Ghostbusters became our last hope. You can argue there were enough naysayers there who never believed in ghosts, but it’s difficult to deny the existence of a marshmallow man’s destructive rampage. Yet, Ghostbusters II acts like nobody believed their legitimacy, and that’s a tough pill to swallow.

When I got older, I started to see a good amount of people writing this off as a lazy endeavor. That’s fair, just as it’s fair to lament the more kid-friendly direction, but I’ll submit there’s plenty of stuff here that works. Overall story beats aside, Aykroyd’s imagination is on full display. I like how he mixes history with the supernatural by using the old Pneumatic Transit subway station as a hotbed of slime activity, and the overall concept of “psychomagnotheric slime” flowing and bubbling beneath the city is inspired. That it’s powered by people’s raw and negative energy is one of the sequel’s highest points.

Comedy is a subjective thing, and Ghostbusters II probably isn’t going to work if you don’t find it funny. It’s not as effortlessly hilarious as the original, but the cast and their chemistry keeps me coming back for more. Murray’s deadpan humor perfectly deflects Aykroyd’s outré inspirations, and theres a comfort level in everyone’s rapport that shines through…like the look between Egon and Peter while electing Ray to explore the slime river. It’s like getting together with old friends. The energy may not be the same, but their company continues to be welcome.

That’s why Ghostbusters II earns a lot of goodwill from me. It’s just fun to be in this world again. The courtroom sequence may at its core be nothing more than a retread of the original’s Slimer haunt, but the Scoleri Bros. design is excellent and the scenario is not without laughs (“there were already so many holes in 1st Avenue we really didn’t think anyone would notice”). And when the Ghostbusters trek into an old subway station, director Ivan Reitman musters up some of the trademark unease that makes the original such a thrilling mixture of comedy and horror.

It’s also nice that they bulked up the role of Winston Zeddemore. I always thought Ernie Hudson was an under appreciated key to the original’s success. Not because he’s integral to the story, but because he’s the “everyman” cypher that provides the audience an easy way to process the escalating and outlandish chaos. He feels like an integrated part of the team in the sequel, and I love it for that (though his absence from the courtroom scene is disappointing).

I think it’s easy to acknowledge this production’s issues without reducing its reputation to one of atrocity. Maybe there was no story to tell here, or maybe this is more of a cynical cash-in than I want to admit. No matter the case, there’s a lot to like about Ghostbusters II and I’m genuinely relieved to be on the side of the aisle that has one great Ghostbusters movie, and a solid sequel sitting alongside it.

*If you’re eager for another Ghostbusters rant, visit Dread Central to get my review of Paul Feig’s 2016 remake. 

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