In Defense of Ghostbusters II: A Superb Kid’s Fantasy Film

It’s the nature of sequels to disappoint. The fact that a sequel gets made in the first place (usually) indicates something special about the original. Occasionally you get a Godfather II or Empire Strikes Back that surpasses the original, but most of the time the sequel just isn’t going to be as good as the first. That’s always been the problem for Ghostbusters II. Ghostbusters was that rare blockbuster that did something truly original. To combine big budget Lovecraftian horror and witty adult comedy was a huge gamble that paid off big time. Ghostbusters II lacks the otherworldly horror of Gozer and takes the edge off the adult humor of the original.

In spite of all this, I love Ghostbusters II and consider it a great film. It suffers when compared to the original, but judged on its own merits it’s a damn impressive kid’s fantasy film. Whatever Bill Murray’s regrets about it, he turns in one of the funnier performances of his career and has a number of memorable lines:

Valentine’s Day. Bummer.

You know, I’m a voter. Aren’t you supposed to lie to me and kiss my butt?

Boys. Boys. You’re scaring the straights, OK.

Then there’s his rant against Vigo near the end, where he chides the “bonehead” pick of choosing to return to grungy New York rather than “living the sweet life out in Southern California’s beautiful San Fernando Valley.” When I was little I could quote that rant in its entirety and remember cracking up my parents and other adults with it. Speaking of Vigo, he’s definitely no Gozer. But he’s campy fun. The scene where Vigo first appears in the painting to Janosz did used to scare the crap out of me, and I still think it has a certain eerie power. Peter MacNicol plays Janosz as a lackey with just the right amount of menace under his comic, awkward exterior. When he randomly picks a piece of lint out of Dana Barrett’s hair the effect is delightfully creepy.

Many critics dislike the slime, but I think it works well as a fantasy device and gives the film some of its funner moments, like Ray dangling over the slime as a creature’s appendage reaches for him. If anything, the characters are so enjoyable that it’s great to see them reunite and get some action and good lines. It’s certainly true that some of the broader plot mechanics of the film echo the first. The boys start out disgraced and down on their luck, then are given the opportunity to bust a ghost and prove their legitimacy, then are called upon to tackle a larger supernatural threat to the city. But the movie still manages to be inventive and visually engaging in how it builds to its Statue of Liberty climax. Perhaps they got carried away with the slime and too far away from the characters. But it still stands shoulders above most other blockbusters.

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