Do you remember how The Empire Strikes Back started with Luke, Han and Chewbacca the heroes of the Rebellion all going their separate ways after losing their jobs? And how Princess Leia got married to some dude we never see and had this guy’s kid, but now she’s divorced and has changed careers. If you don’t remember any of that it’s because it never happened as that would have made for a terrible, terrible movie. Sadly that is pretty much what fans of Ghostbusters got when they went to see this much anticipated sequel.
The film starts with the title card “Five Years Later” and we see Ecto-1 tooling down the streets of New York as Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) are apparently responding to a call. They are lead into house by a concerned woman who hopes the Ghostbusters can handle “them” because they’ve been a nightmare, Winston responds with the question “How big are they?” Answer: Four Feet. We then get the reveal that it is a child’s birthday party and the Ghostbusters are here to entertain the kiddies. Winston asking how big they are now makes no sense as they were hired to work this party so you’d assume they’d now the rough age of the kids attending and their “size” isn’t really a relevant factor. I know I seem to be making a big deal out of lame sight gag but to me this was a big “What the fuck moment,” weren’t these guys saviours of the city? You would think book deals and movie and television options alone would be enough to set these guys up for life. And that’s only if it turns out there are no more ghosts left for them to bust in the world, but if there are they pretty much have a lock on the market. So yeah, these guys should be sitting pretty and not shilling at kids parties.
So what happened in those five years? How did they go out of business? Why does Dana have a kid that isn’t Venkman’s? Well from Winston we find out that right after the events of the first movie the Ghostbusters were sued by every state, county and city agency in New York and almost everyone is calling them showboating frauds. Stantz and Winston are doing these kid parties, Egon (Harold Ramis) is doing studies on how emotions effect the environment, Venkman (Bill Murray) hosts a bad television show called “World of the Pyschic,” and Dana (Sigourney Weaver) is a divorced single mom working as an art restorer at the local museum.
Audiences love an underdog and in the first movie we were introduced to a group of eccentric goofballs that believed in ghosts, and that they could be captured, but no one else believed in them. No one that is until the shit started to hit the fan as ghost after ghost attacked the residents of New York City culminating in a giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man stomping down the street in the aid of an evil god. The day was saved and the underdogs were now the heroes of the city. Then for some reason Ramis and Aykroyd believed it was necessary for the sequel to work they would have to go back to square one.
Returning to my Star Wars analogy that would be like Luke returning to moisture farming or maybe a hosting reality show about shooting wamp rats. In Empire Strikes Back Luke, Han, Chewie, and Leia are all heroes of the Republic, but they are still underdogs because the Empire is still out there and still very, very evil. You just have to up the stakes, change the threat level on either or a physical or emotional level or both. There is no need to undermine what your characters did in the first movie as that is likely to just piss off the fans of the original.
So who is the big bad in Ghostbusters II? Well it’s a haunted painting; in fact it’s one of the paintings being restored at the museum Dana works at, a beautiful coincidence that makes no sense. Vigo Von Homburg Deutschendorf the Scourge of Carpathia is an evil spirit that needs the body of a child so he can live again. He is aided by Dana’s boss Dr. Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicoll) who is established as a goofy guy with a terrible accent and a penchant for work place sexual harassment. Vigo is not threatening or scary, despite being voiced by the awesome Max von Sydow, and the comedy stylings of Peter MacNicol here are just embarrassingly bad.
While investigating weird goings on surrounding Dana’s baby the boys discover a river of slime under the city. Unfortunately they accidentally black out the entire city when Stantz breaks a power cable during his rushed ascent, and this gets them arrested. Who knew the New York City grid was so touchy.
Our heroes find themselves in court before a very nasty and pessimistic Judge (Harris Yulin) who rants angrily against their charlatan tactics, luckily for the boys a jar of the slime is sitting on nearby table and it reacts violently to the Judge’s anger. For some reason this brings forth two ghosts that the Judge had once sentenced to death. The Judge begs for help, offering to drop all charges if the guys and stop that ghostly duo. Our intrepid heroes easily bag the spooks. Cue music video montage of the gang back at work fighting ghosts.
Because of the popularity of the Real Ghostbusters cartoon they movie had its tone changed to be more “family friendly” with the ghost themselves being less scary looking and more in keeping with their cartoon brethren. I mean everyone knows kids hate to be scared, right?
The connection between the pink slime and ghosts is never made clear in this movie. We are told that it has psychokinetic powers that are reactive to emotions and Stantz calls the stream of this slime under the city a “River of pure evil.” How a substance that is pure evil can be later positively charged is never explained. What is Vigo’s connection to the slime is also left rather vague. The slime is apparently a by-product of the negative emotions of New Yorkers, so did the slime awaken Vigo from the painting or did Vigo bring the slime from the other realms and is using the negative emotions of the city to power it? Now I’m not saying you have to explain everything in your big budget supernatural comedy, but if things just happen randomly and for no apparent reason it takes away the tension. If anything can happen, and there are no rules governing them, then you’ve just got a mess for a script and audience that won’t care.
The rest of the film follows much of the formula of the first one; they become media darlings again, things start to turn ugly, they have to go see the Mayor, a government stooge will give them a hard time, and then the boys will show up to save the day. Check please.
• Dana once again is at the center of this paranormal event. Lazy and unnecessary.
• She has also given up a career as a concert cellist to work at a museum. I guess music was just a passing fad.
• Their new shoulder patches are just the movies logo. Lame.
• Slimer is back for two scenes only because he is a popular character from the cartoon.
• I’m betting the reaction to the Statue of Liberty walking down Fifth Avenue would result in more screaming in terror than in cheering.
There are some fun moments in this movie, and the cast of actors here have created characters that are hard not to fall in love with, if only this had been in service of a good story we’d all be much happier. Vigo is just a terrible villain and his ghostly plan to possess a baby and then rule the world just seems old hat. Give me more stuff about ghostly trains and the Titanic arriving at New York harbor and I’d have been a much happier camper.
What it comes down to is that Ghostbusters II is more like a third and tired installment in a franchise than the direct sequel it’s supposed to be. Like there was another chapter and somehow we all just missed seeing it. I waited patiently for five years for them to give us a sequel, and I wish they’d waited a bit longer. Hell, I’d have been just as happy if all we got was a sequel to The Real Ghostbusters Cartoon.
The boys are back but the magic isn’t. Ivan Reitman and the gang bring us a lackluster outing that takes beloved characters and then undermines them for two hours.