It was the summer of 1989. The much-anticipated sequel, Ghostbusters II, grossed $112 million, which was only half as much as its predecessor. Despite a record-breaking opening weekend, director Ivan Reitman and screenwriters Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd were unable to equal the success of the original Ghostbusters film. Ramis and Aykroyd do deserve credit for attempting to steer this second round of paranormal activity in a different and novel direction, but, unfortunately, the sequel eventually devolves into schtick by poorly replicating many of the gags from the original film. The main problem with all of this is that, while the first film managed to work in spite of and perhaps because of these bits of absurdity, the sequel lacks the off-the-cuff feeling, along with all the gloriously rampant destruction, of the first film. Overall, the momentum and novelty of the first movie was difficult (if not impossible) to preserve, and the sequel, quite simply, just isn’t nearly as enjoyable as the original.
Compared to its predecessor, Ghostbusters II is a darker film, but it almost has to be that because the characters are much more cynical now. After all, it’s been a full five years since the four Ghostbusters — Dr. Peter Venkman (Bill Murray), Dr. Raymond Stantz (Dan Aykroyd), Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) — blew the top off a high-rise apartment building in New York City. Things are a bit more complicated now, because, despite the fact the apocalypse had been avoided, the Ghostbusters aren’t treated with the superhero gloves that we would expect. Instead, they were slapped with lawsuits from “every state, county, and city agency in New York,” and their subsequent financial ruin forced them out of business. So, the first act of the sequel establishes how things have changed for the Ghostbusters professionally and on a societal level. As such, they’re no longer the self-made superheroes from the end of the first film. In fact, their entreprenial spirit has backfired upon them, and they’ve been recast as frauds, who are only interested in fighting the paranormal for their own commercial benefit.
When we reacquaint ourselves with Ray and Winston, we find out that, instead of heading out on a routine paranomral run, these guys are doing their Ghostbuster routine at a birthday party for “[u]ngrateful yuppie larvae.” As one child tells them, the adults in New York now perceive the Ghostbusters as “full of crap.” Thus, New York City has turned on the Ghostbusters, and the sentiment that ended the first film — Winston Zeddmore’s declaration of “I love this town!” — has morphed into the discovery of a slime river, generated by the city’s negative energy, flowing underground and Zeddmore’s skeptical reaction, “New York - what a town, huh?” As for the other Ghostbusters, only Egon has regained credibility and as a scientific researcher. Poor Peter Venkman is hosting a paranormal talk show, and he’s considered to be such a fraud that only the weirdest crackpot psychics will come on his program.
On a more personal note, things aren’t so great for Venkman either, for he Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) and have long since broken up, that is, after getting to know each other in the light of day, so to speak. Of course, it turns out that Dana had been correct about Venkman all along, for he has fulfilled that infamous “game show host” vibe. Between films, Dana remarried and had a child, but this marriage conveniently dissolves, mostly so she and Venkman can further pursue their mutual lingering feelings. Speaking of rapport, as in the first film, the chemistry between the four Ghostbusters remains intact despite their differing circumstances. Namely, Venkman continues to lead the group and provide deadpan humor at the oddest of moments, such as this discussion of the mood slime:
Egon: We’ve been running tests to see if we can get an equally positive reaction.
Venkman: What kind of tests?
Ray: Well, we sing to it, and, uh, we talk to it, and say supportive, nurturing things to it.
Venkman: You’re not sleeping with it, are you, Ray?
[Ray looks at Egon, who looks away in obvious discomfort.]
Venkman: Oh, you….
Winston: It’s always the quiet ones.
Venkman: You hound!
Besides these sort of exchanges, there are some pretty great moments in Ghostbusters II, including the underground ghost train that runs through Winston and the very late arrival of the S.S. Titanic. In addition, when the Ghostbusters are finally allowed to reclaim their superhero status, the film does grow viable legs for several consecutive scenes. An amusing side note here concerns the decision of Mayor Lenny (David Margulies) to, once again, back the Ghostbusters thanks to the influence of the ghost of former New York Mayor Fiorello La Guardia, the populist who was largely responsible for cracking down on city government corruption and also driving mobsters out of New York City. That little bit of history works a convenient extension to rid the city of paranormal activity, but, unfortunately, the script treats La Guardia as a mere afterthought, which causes his relevance to fly right past a bewildered audience.
Finally, it must be acknowledged there are several aspects of Ghostbusters II that drag the sequel into the realm of stupidity, and most of these elements take place in the third act of the film. After intermingling some fairly heavy social issues with the whole paranormal angle, the sequel quickly shifts gears in a futile attempt at deus ex machina. We are supposed to accept that, when the Ghostbusters use positively charged slime to bring the Statue of Liberty to life, New Yorkers will feel so wonderful that this will somehow obliterate the negative energy of the slime river. Then, after Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg) paralyzes the Ghostbusters, the citizens of New York save the world by singing “Auld Lang Syne,” a resolution that simply carries none of the kickassery that the first Ghostbusters pulled off. Furthermore, while the Statue of Liberty was clearly intended as a throwback to the to the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, there’s just no excuse for that shit. I do hope the makers of the upcoming third film realize that Mr. Stay-Puft cannot be topped or even equaled.
Agent Bedhead lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma and can be found at agentbedhead.com.