In Not Guilty, we look at movies that the general consensus tells us we should feel bad for liking, but that our hearts tell us we should embrace -- "guilty pleasures" we don't feel guilty about. This time around, we look at the oft-maligned sequel to a sci-fi comedy classic ... Ghostbusters II.
Like many of you, perhaps, I saw Ghostbusters II when I was a kid, in my living room, unaware of what the film's reputation had grown to be. I just knew I enjoyed it, perhaps less than I enjoyed the original Ghostbusters, but all the same, I walked away thinking, "I like this movie." Years went by, and every now and then I'd catch Ghostbusters II on TV, and I'd still think "I like this movie." To this day, I like this movie.
Then the Internet happened to me, and I discovered the vast numbers of people who thought I was wrong.
I've never been one to argue that Ghostbusters II can come close to touching its predecessor for inventiveness, charm, comic brilliance or anything else, and I never will be. But as I became a creature of the web, and began milling around in the Internet corners where the nerdiest among us tend to roam, I discovered that there are droves of people who straight-up HATE this movie. And I'm not talking "I don't want to watch Ghostbusters II" hate. I'm talking "I walked out of the theater!" hate. I'm talking "Worst. Movie. Ever." hate. I'm talking Firefly was canceled, Jar Jar Binks sucks, Michael Bay ruined the Transformers, Han Shot First, heat-of-a-thousand-suns hate.
And hey, if you really just can't stand Ghostbusters II, fine. We all have those movies. But I have to confess that I'm still surprised (yes, me, a guy who makes a living writing about Batman and Boba Fett on the Internet) by just how much some people outright loathe Ghostbusters II, not just because I like it, but because I've consistenly liked it since about the age of 6, flaws and all. In doing research for this piece, I went back and watched the movie again, specifically searching for things about it that might bring me around to seeing another point of view, and it just didn't happen. Yes, I acknowledge the plot is a poor imitation of the first Ghostbusters film, that many of the jokes don't land as well, that Dana somehow ending up working in a museum after being a classical musician is kinda strange, that the Statue of Liberty bit at the end is kinda dumb, even compared to a giant marshmallow monster. I acknowledge all of that, but rather than spend my time trying to convince you that those things somehow don't matter (they do), I'm going instead to highlight some of the things that, I think, do work about Ghostbusters II. After all, we don't want to charge the slime with too many bad vibes.
So here we go. But first, a quick plot recap:
Venkman and the Baby
I'm tempted to just write "Come on, it's Bill Murray and a baby!" and then move on, but really, this is one of the film's more charming aspects, taking the unpredictable, eccentric Peter Venkman and putting him in a situation where he has to care about an infant, even if at first just because he wants to reconnect with the kid's mother. Watching Venkman and Dana reconnect is fine, but watching Venkman bond with little baby Oscar is much more fun, particularly because Murray somehow manages to merge the sheer strangeness of the Venkman character into the way he interacts with the baby. The line "You wanna play with a big kid?" is delivered with a sincere nervousness, but over time we realize that's how these two humans are connecting. Venkman, for all his libido and "all new cheap moves," is a big kid, and something about that works with this bit of story.
Egon and Ray
They never reach a moment quite as good as "I collect spores, molds and fungus," but I've always felt like Ghostbusters II was more Egon and Ray's movie, while Ghostbusters was more Venkman's. Venkman still steals his share of scenes, of course, but there's something about seeing these two science bros (sorry, Stark and Banner) hanging out in Ray's occult bookstore, developing photos together and, well ... doing stuff with slime, that just creates a cozy feeling for me. We all want to be Venkman, but when I watch Ghostbusters I feel like Egon, so this was a nice touch.
Louis in a Ghostbusters suit
"Stay fit. Keep sharp. Make good decisions."
I've been a Peter MacNicol fan for a long time, and though I grant you that much of the Viggo stuff doesn't quite work, he does. The accent, the weird passive aggression in his opening scene ("Everything you are doing is bad") and his insistence that he's from "the Upper West Side" always tickle me.
The Old Man-Eating Toaster Bit
Even as the film fails to live up to the original, there are moments peppered throughout Ghostbusters II in which Peter, Ray, Egon and Winston all just get to hang out together as friends and colleagues in which you can see greatness peeking through. Those work because there's a lot of heart to them, because they remind us of the chemistry that made us like this franchise in the first place. Though the courtroom scene could also fit as an example of this, it doesn't feature Winston as heavily, so I'll go with this instead. There's something really pure about it that makes you feel like these guys will be friends forever, and it's part of the reason I'd rather not muddy that up with Ghostbusters III. It's funny, it's charming, and they even get to play Jackie Wilson.
The Statue of Liberty
I know, I know, I said before that I acknowledged it was dumb, but come on. When I was a kid watching this movie, the idea of these guys making Lady Liberty walk into Manhattan was just too much fun, and some of that fun remains for me. The whole slime idea might not ever really work, but something about those four guys up in that crown, shouting at the crowd and cracking jokes ("She's a harbor chick!") still resonates with me, partly because I just like to see them working together and being friends, but also because I feel like this was a moment where they went for broke with this film, and even if it didn't really land, the ambition is there.
What do you think? Is Ghostbusters II better than its reputation, or is it the herald of a season of evil? Let us know in the comments, or on Twitter at @blastr.