Of all the movie sequel sins, Ghostbusters II commits the most seductive: It plagiarizes the formula that made the first film a monster hit, makes a few cosmetic adjustments, and tries to pass the whole thing off as something new. That probably sounds strange to accuse writers Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis of ripping themselves off. But if John Fogerty can famously get hauled onto the witness stand for sounding too much like Creedence Clearwater, we can indict Ghostbusters II for its strong resemblance to Part I. It pains me to say that, because I absolutely loved this movie as a dweeby kid. Unfortunately, the law is the law, and this movie is 100% guilty.
In defense of its makers, Ghostbusters II was also an inevitability. The 80s were a peak season for sequels, and studio executives were green-lighting Rockys, Rambos, Short Circuits, and Gremlins faster than they could snort bumps of Columbian Pure. Upon release, Ghostbusters became the highest grossing comedy ever made, so that means that some powerful dudes with mullets and brick-sized cell phones were going to demand a second movie. Most of the principal cast and crew were reluctant to dip from this well a second time, but the demand was too massive to ignore. If somebody somewhere made sequels to Mannequin and Teen Wolf, then we simply had to have another Ghostbusters epic. There was just no way around it.
Ordinarily, this is the point within my tidy little rants and ravings where I caution you for spoilers. You know what? I’m not gonna do that here. The first Ghostbusters came out a whopping 37 years ago. Since then, it’s been on VHS, Betamax, Laserdisc, DVD, and Blu-Ray. If it hasn’t found its way into your heart and mind yet…well, that’s on you. I’m gonna proceed like you’re already a member of our little treehouse gang.
Ghostbusters II takes place five years after the cataclysmic events of the first film. Despite the fact they saved the world from a giant, rampaging marshmallow-sailor (whether or not a man made of marshmallows could ever be seaworthy is something we’ll have to debate at a later time) and an inter-dimensional witch/Eurythmic, our favorite paranormal enforcers have become pariahs around NYC. Ray (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) appear at kids’ parties like a couple of washed-up clowns. Pete (Bill Murray) interviews charlatans on a two-bit psychic talk show. Egon (Harold Ramis) conducts pedantic sociological experiments, such as yanking puppies away from little kids. Worst of all, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) has long-since dumped Pete, and married, divorced, and had a child (William T. Deutschendorf and Hank J. Deutschendorf II) with someone else. Needless to say, Ghostbusters II takes the characters we know and love to a very dark place.
It’s impossible to describe the plot of this film without instantly hearkening back to a parallel moment in the first. Both stories kick off with a spooky action set piece: The first movie involves a library, while the second features a runaway stroller. In both films, we cut to our down-and-out heroes. Part one finds them newly unemployed, while part two has them litigated into oblivion. Meanwhile, talented cellist Dana Barrett must contend with unwanted advances from a sawed-off nerdburger (Rick Moranis in 1; Peter MacNichol’s Janosz in 2), and the world-ending plans of a supernatural supervillain. This time around, that monster takes the form of Viggo (Wilhelm Von Homburg, voice of Max von Sydow), a medieval warlord who’s found new life within a spooky portrait. Eventually, Dana and her geeky stalker get abducted, prompting the boys in khaki coveralls to suit up and come blasting to their defense. There are cheering crowds, a stomping giant (either made out of marshmallows or…you know, freedom) that tromps through Manhattan, and a few decent one-liners. Rinse and repeat.
The weird thing is, for all its mimicry, Ghostbusters II still kinda works. Every main actor is an old pro, and they slip into their roles with ease. Murray makes being funny look effortless, and he and Weaver rekindle their instant chemistry. MacNichol, whose Janosz lands somewhere between Bill and Ted’s Napoleon and Cousin Balki Bartokomous, steals every one of his scenes–no easy feat when you’re working across from Bill Murray. Moranis reprises his role as Louis Tully, and his ability to play a klutzy dork is truly magnificent to watch. In fact, if it wasn’t for the two geeks, Ghostbusters II would be a lot less funny.
Another factor comes into play with movies like this: Potent, undiluted nostalgia. Ghostbusters II isn’t just a movie; it’s a cinematic DeLorean. I can’t help but travel back to the ten-year-old version of me, who watched it over and over. Hell, most of the reason I’ve ever revisited it as an adult is to take that journey back. Yes, this movie is flawed. Yes, it repeats most of what was good and great about the first film. And yet, it still occupies an undeniable place in my childhood. So, if I’m to stand in judgment of this sequel, you’ll have to forgive me if I show it a little leniency.
108 min. PG.