There have probably been millions of gigabytes written about Ghostbusters, the seminal 1984 film that is widely regarded as one of the funniest movies in the history of the medium. To believe that I could add anything new to the discussion would be folly. So in celebration of the release of Paul Feig’s GHOSTBUSTERS (read our review here) we’ll be taking a look at the much criticized second feature in the spooky franchise. Widely panned when first released, Ghostbusters II is really no more than an entertaining, if somewhat undercooked sequel, of which there are plenty that don’t inspire the same criticism. While it does not possess any of the artistic substance present in the first, Ghostbusters II had me laughing from start to finish.
Many of the negative criticisms aimed at Ghostbusters II at the time of its release are justifiable. It is a messy farce with an underwhelming plot and the problems that the Ghostbusters face are overcome too easily. However, it is entirely probable that the intensity of these criticisms was a reaction to the second film failing to reach the heights of the first. Ghostbusters was both a critical and populist smash. It was the highest grossing comedy of the 1980s and is still regularly as one of the best of the genre. More than that, the first film inspired love. A love that resulted in a wide reaching fan base who continue to pass on that love to younger generations. Ghostbusters II simply was not a film worthy of that level of devotion and when compared to the first it was found lacking.
The film itself is actually quite entertaining. The pacing is fair, the jokes are plentiful and hit their marks, for the most part, and the chemistry between Bill Murray, Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd is simply delightful. This film is just another in a long line of examples of why Murray deserves his place on the comedy Mount Rushmore. His deadpan delivery is exquisite, with the Psychic TV show scene being a particular highlight. Sigourney Weaver plays a much larger role in the second than she did in the first and her son is the focal point around which the story revolves. Her chemistry with Murray is palpable and the two are given far too little screen time alone.
Ghostbusters II is largely marked by missed opportunities. The conceit of the slime using negative emotions to fuel the intentions of the evil Carpathian, Vigo, is potentially powerful. The idea that our emotions can influence the supernatural, or just general energy around us, could have been used to create a story with a powerful message about the importance of positivity. This is vaguely reminiscent of J.K. Rowling’s construction of the Dementors, creatures who feed on happiness and spread depression. While it will be argued that this is just a comedy film and such emotional depths are not needed, all good films must endeavor to convey a sense of emotional truth in order to have a lasting impact. This is one of the reasons why Ghostbusters II has never had the effect on audiences like that of its predecessor.
The film also does a poor job of balancing the importance of the supporting characters. Ernie Hudson’s Winston Zeddemore is inconsequential in both a narrative and comedic sense. He is reintroduced with Ray in the beginning, as the two try to capitalize on the Ghostbusters name as children’s entertainers. This leads the viewer to believe that Winston will play a large role in the sequel. However, after this scene he disappears for the rest of the first act. The Ghostbusters don’t even call him in when they investigate sewers near Dana’s apartment. Surely they could’ve used the help. Winston doesn’t return until the Ghostbusters reunite after their triumph in the courtroom and is rarely heard from even though he is present at every other major event in the film. He could have been completely removed from the movie and it would not have mattered. Janine (Annie Potts) and Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), in contrast, are afforded too much screen time. It’s not that they are boring characters. Tully’s Marxist retelling of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs to baby Oscar is absolutely hilarious. Yet they too are inconsequential to the narrative and not enough effort is made to integrate them into the story in any meaningful way.
The biggest issue with Ghostbusters II is how easy it is for Ray, Peter and Egon to overcome adversity and achieve their goals. Even the problem confronting the Ghostbusters in the beginning is too simple. The film asks us to believe that the inhabitants of New York City pretty much just disregarded the events of the first even though a giant marshmallow man almost destroyed the city. That’s a pretty big ask even for a world where pink slime runs beneath the streets of New York City. On second thought, that’s entirely plausible. However, the city’s disregard of the supernatural and the Ghostbusters’ service is still unmotivated. It would make more sense if the city fears the supernatural as a result of the events of the first film and therefore actively repress any memory of that time. That way the return of the supernatural would cause panic and the slime would grow even more powerful as its strength lays in negative emotions. Furthermore, there is no sense of internal conflict within the Ghostbusters. While we don’t want to see Ray, Peter and Egon at each other’s throats, chemistry is a two way street and can work in a negative sense. It could give the Ghostbusters something to overcome and the negative vibes within their group would be an appropriate environmental antagonist given the challenges faced by the despair loving pink slime.
While Ghostbusters II certainly has its problems, the movie holds up as a sterling example of the comedic potential of Aykroyd, Murray, Ramis and Reitman. It is an undercooked comedy and endeavors to be nothing more. It’s certainly a worthy watch for any fan of comedy yet don’t expect to come away with the same sense of fulfillment as one gets from viewing the first. One can only hope that the new incarnation of the Ghostbusters take more from the latter.
John Drain | Staff Writer