When the new Ghostbusters film was released last year there were plenty of choice words thrown back an forth. With all the opinions, think pieces and deranged rants going about there was one sentiment that kept being repeated.
“At least it can’t be as bad as Ghostbusters 2”
“How can the integrity of the franchise be ruined, have you seen Ghostbusters 2”
Ghostbusters 2 was the universal punching bag of the debate. There were times when it seemed that, regardless of what you thought of the new film, the one thing everyone agreed on was that Ghostbusters 2 was shit.
Now, for the record, I never watched the original Ghostbusters at the cinema though I was aware of it from clips on TV and the follow up cartoon series. Ghostbusters 2 I did see in the cinema and enjoyed immensely so, yes, there is an aspect of childhood nostalgia at play here. However, I have never really held with the idea that being nostalgic about something invalidates a good opinion of it. After all something has to strike a chord with you when you are younger in order that you feel nostalgic about it in later life. Not everything does that so something that does has a point in its favour as far as I’m concerned.
With that in mind I would like to state my case as to why Ghostbusters 2 is not only a good film (not expectational or classic. Being good is just fine) but in a few areas out performs its predecessor.
To begin with I like where the characters are placed 5 years after the events of the original film. Ghostbusters as an organisation no longer operates as, due to the events at the climax of Ghostbusters, our heroes have been sued by every agency in the city, county and state of New York. It is such a wonderfully 80s idea and one of the most realistic things in the film. It shows that the events at the end of Ghostbusters actually had consequences. That was relatively minor damage compared to a modern blockbuster. Imagine the legal bill Superman or the Avengers might have been faced with.
On top of that the film uses their hard luck to satirise the cult of minor celebrity. Ray and Winston are showing up at parties full of unimpressed kids who have already moved on to the next craze (“Who you gonna call” “He-Man!!”). Peter has scammed his own cable TV show but no respected member of the paranormal community will appear on it (“They think you’re a fraud” “I AM a fraud”). Only Egon has managed to successfully make his way back into scientific research. This is the sort of thing they make reality TV shows out of now. Many people accuse this film of being a lazy sequel and I disagree. A lazy sequel would have not changed the status quo at all. They would still be catching ghosts and exchanging wisecracks like nothing had changed. Instead these characters are shown to have drifted apart and moved on. If Dana hadn’t gone to Egon for help chances are they wouldn’t have got the band back together any time soon.
Dana’s presence in the film and particularly her relationship with Peter is another area where Ghostbusters 2 substantially improves on the original. While Ghostbusters is still a great film watching Peter hitting on Dana now comes across as really creepy to the point of being uncomfortable to watch. It is kind of hard to see what Dana would see in Peter and he really only gets a chance to be with her as he happens to save her life. Sure enough we find out that the relationship didn’t last and that Dana has since been married, had a child and recently divorced. She is shown to be a pretty successful single mother if her New York apartment and nanny are anything to go by. She is now more than wise to Peter’s shtick and has zero time for it. She immediately puts Peter in his place when he tries to blame her for the end of the relationship (“It’s when you started introducing me as ‘the old ball and chain’. That’s when I left”) and generally lets him know that she is not at home to his silliness anymore.
Now I have heard people say that Bill Murray looks bored and is phoning his performance in. I can’t help but feel that this is people projecting. Yes, Murray has gone one record as saying he wasn’t particularly into the idea of making a sequel but his toned down performance in this film I believe to be a deliberate acting choice. The arc of Dana and Peter’s story is how they come back together again. Peter starts to try and be more mature around Dana and Dana starts to relax more around Peter as begins to see that underneath all that fast talking there is actually a decent man. Someone who might, possibly, be a good father to Oscar. Dana comes to Peter’s apartment after slime tries to grab her baby and Peter is seen making a real effort with Oscar. Yes, he’s making jokes about Dana spooning him but makes no fuss about sleeping on the couch. He later asks her to dinner and just dinner. He’s trying to be more grown up and Dana acknowledges that. By the end of the film Peter has not only shown growth, he’s saved Dana’s life and risked his own to protect her son. I find it much more believable that Dana and Peter become a couple after this film finishes. Does it last? Who knows, but it is clear that there is something between them and they are both going to try.
Then there are the supporting characters. Annie Potts as Janine has clearly been made to look more like her animated counterpart, not the only nod to The Real Ghostbusters, but the look really suits her and she is given more to do in this film. Her little romantic sub-plot with Lewis is rather sweet and she is given some moments to actually shine as a comic actor. She is given just enough time to be memorably entertaining and make sure the film isn’t a one woman show. As for Rick Moranis being back as Lewis, it makes sense. As was made clear in Ghostbusters they are in need of a good accountant and Lewis seems to be that even if he isn’t, by his own admission, a great Lawyer. Moranis is an often overlooked comedy performer and one of the secret weapons in the original film. Again, it is good too see the character and he’s given just enough time that he doesn’t outstay his welcome.
The other main supporting character is often cited as one of the film’s most egregious offences. Cards on the table, I absolutely love Peter MacNicol as Dr. Janosz Poha. I can absolutely understand that his performance isn’t going to be everyone’s cup of tea but I think he’s fantastic. Like Moranis, MacNicol is often overlooked as a comic actor but is frequently the most memorable part of most things he’s in. It is interesting to note that Janosz’s persistently unwelcome way of approaching women is very similar to Peter’s in the first film but here it is presented as sleazy rather than endearing. He’s a jerk but you are supposed to think he’s a jerk. The little bits of comic business he adds, such as discretely checking his watch while awaiting Vigo, help to elevate what would otherwise be a stock 80s asshole character to something else. It is telling that even the people who profess to hate this films and Janosz in particular can still quote from it and it is usually a Janosz line. If you have ever uttered the line “You are like the buzzing of flies to him!” then you know what I mean.
Then there is the villain. I’m going to say something that some people may find contentious. Vigo the Carpathian is a better overall antagonist than Gozer. Gozer is a nebulous presence which keeps changing forms. Zuul and Vinz are the more immediate threats with Gozer coming in last minute. Vigo, through the medium of his portrait, is a constant and threatening force throughout the film. The more subtle moments such as the painting leering at Dana behind her back are really creepy. His plan, to return to the mortal realm by possessing a baby, is simple and suitably despicable. With the combination of Wilhelm von Homburg’s striking looks and Max von Sydow’s menacing voice Vigo the Carpathian is an intimidating presence and when he manifests it feels like the threat has been raised. This is a villain so powerful that It takes the combined positivity the city of New York to even begin to weaken him enough to for our heroes to act.
That moment is the culmination of the last thing that I am going to express love for here. The overall theme of not just good defeating evil but positivity defeating negativity. The concept of the collective negative emotions of a city manifesting as a physical substance is really interesting and original but, again, the film usually isn’t given credit for it. That the slime can also feed off and generate negative emotions depending on how it is interacted with makes it self-perpetuating.
Then comes the third act set piece. Yes, I know the visual of something large walking through the streets of New York is a ripped straight from the first film but try to take a moment to look at it in isolation. The Ghostbusters know they can’t crack the shell surrounding the museum without rallying some positivity from the city. As soon as they see a picture of the Stature of Liberty they all know that they can get people to rally behind New York’s ultimate positive symbol. Yes, the method of moving it is a bit convoluted but that isn’t what the moment is about . Everyone in New York and the wider western world knows what the Statue of Liberty represents. The image of Lady Liberty walking the streets with her look of resolve, coming to the defence of the city in its darkest hour, is a powerful image. The fact that this is accompanied by Jackie Wilson’s Higher and Higher, which is such an upbeat song, only adds to how uplifting it is. The whole sequence and the idea of New Yorkers coming together to stand up against dark times would be later echoed in Sam Raimi’s Spider-man films. Of course between the two films was an all too real tragedy that the people of New York weathered together.
That may be why I think that Ghostbusters 2 deserves more love today. Some may consider it twee but the fundamental message of the film is that cynicism, anger and hate can be defeated when people come together is as important now as it ever was. We sadly see that in the real world more and more as communities and cities stand as one and reject hate and terror. Ghostbusters 2 was never meant to be prophetic and I wish it wasn’t because that would mean that the world isn’t where it is at the moment. But it is and because it is I’m glad that there is Ghostbusters 2. It send a positive message and it is fun film. I’m sure that I won’t have persuaded people who hate it to love it, I know I’m not that good a disputant, but I hope that I have at least persuaded those people that it isn’t as universally hated as they may have thought and therefore to maybe go a bit easier on it in future.
If all that doesn’t persuade you then I will simply say that this is a film where concentrated positivity makes a toaster dance. If that doesn’t make you smile I don’t know what else I can do.