Is Ghostbusters 2 really so bad? Well, yes, it has some big, crucial flaws which a few virtues can't make up for. But there are a few virtues. I've certainly seen worse. Like, the 2016 reboot, for example.
Like the Star Wars prequels, Ghostbusters 2 has become a byword for bad followups for popular franchises. The Star Wars prequels, in my opinion, don't quite warrant the casual rancour they get but in any case they're certainly more complex than people give them credit for. Ghostbusters 2, as many, notably Roger Ebert, complained at the time was like a rough draft of the first film, a far less satisfyingly complex version, in other words. The broad outline is there--Dana (Signourney Weaver) is a normal woman whose encounter with the supernatural forces her to bring the vexing and eccentric Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) into her life. The Ghostbusters struggle at first to be seen as legitimate, they're threatened by a vindictive government functionary before the mayor (David Margulies) grudgingly admits these clowns are the only ones who can save the city and they become improbable, everyman heroes right in front of a massive, cheering crowd.
The necessity of rebooting the relationship between Peter and Dana creates a lot of problems directly tied in to one of the biggest flaws in the film, Bill Murray's performance. In the first film, he has his cheap little tricks and jokes, but you could also see why Dana was eventually charmed by him. In Ghostbusters 2, he just comes off as a pushy creep. His saying to her baby that he might have been his father ought to be sort of sweet and sad but it just seems presumptuous and obnoxious. He's filled with nervous energy throughout the sequel whereas in the original his charm was his ability to remain calm with maybe a simmering anger. But what's worse is that his anxiety in Ghostbusters 2 seems to have nothing to do with ghosts or Dana but seems oddly hostile to everything. Like he didn't want to be in the movie.
Egon (Harold Ramis) and Ray (Dan Aykroyd), though, actually come off generally well. The film lacks the sense of real guys struggling that the first part of the original film benefited from but I love the idea of Ray having an occult bookshop. And Egon's experiment with the couple in marriage counselling is genuinely funny.
I was a big Ghostbusters fan as a kid--I was ten when Ghostbusters 2 came out and by then I was already close to having worn out a VHS copy of the first film and avidly watched the cartoon series. I don't know if it's like this for all kids, but oddly I didn't think about whether one film was better than the other, I was just happy that there was more. In a sense, kids are easy to please, but despite the fact that the second film is more kid friendly than the first, no VHS copy of it was ever in danger of getting worn out. Why is it, when I had no idea what they were talking about when Ray took out a second mortgage on his childhood home or even really understood what was happening when they were getting kicked out of college I still enjoyed the first film more? Maybe it's because when you're a kid you're used to not understanding the things adults do but still sense an underlying logic so the sense of authenticity was more satisfying even then.
Certainly watching the second film as an adult has provided me with insights I never had as a child, like the mood slime that unfortunately takes up so much of the plot. I can't be the only one who raised eyebrows when, shortly after Venkman speculates on whether the Statue of Liberty is naked under the robe, the guys get inside her and immediately begin spraying love goo from some very phallic guns. Some might be tempted to see this as a metaphorical rape but I see no reason not to see it as consensual--I mean, there's no reason that would make less sense. I don't know if Ramis and Aykroyd were thinking of symbolism when they wrote the screenplay but I actually found the concept peculiarly resonant--because of the thoughtless every day behaviour of American citizens, a destructive natural force has gradually gained power and now threatens their destruction. The Ghostbusters wondering if the city can actually consciously reverse course on environmentally harmful, habitual behaviour surprisingly had me thinking of the reaction to climate change. Suddenly the mood slime didn't seem so silly. How symbolic sex with the Statue of Liberty fits into it I couldn't exactly say . . . and yet I think one could tease out a meaning. Like human behaviour in positive harmony with nature (consensual sex as a representation for a love of liberty) versus human behaviour as a selfish, destructive influence (climate change).
I remember really finding Vigo fearsome as a kid. Now I still think Max von Sydow as his voice is pretty impressive. Peter MacNicol as a foreign man from no distinguishable country is funny as a sort of harbinger of Tommy Wiseau.
I really like the scene on the abandoned subway tracks, Winston's (Ernie Hudson) only real moment to shine, first when a demonic voice speaks his name in the darkness, then when he's struck by a ghost train. The severed heads that appear briefly around the group feels more Evil Dead than Ghostbusters but it works, especially in contrast to the softball subway scenes in the new film. I liked the weirdness of the Titanic coming to dock and Janosz flying in as a demon nursemaid seemed like kind of a nice homage to Darby O'Gill and the Little People.
Aside from Bill Murray and the less adult storytelling, I'd say the biggest flaw is the score. Elmer Bernstein's score for the first film is something I associate even more with it than Ray Parker's familiar theme. The Randy Edelman score from the second film just feels like a cheap imitation and it's distracting.
Twitter Sonnet #1035
A night in steady pulses waits again.
In bronze balloons were cast to dream of work.
A shifting eye's behind the system's spin.
And yet the green and drifting spirits lurk.
In to the seat descends a walking lamp.
Beneath the cushions coins're coarse to take.
Above the bait the fish have built a ramp.
But fins refuse to step or scales to bake.
On tongues and tips, retried the trees demurred.
And soft, the step of glancing wisp to pass.
In brighter lights the aether last inured.
As armless birches sway in candid grass.
Misplaced the squash's found asleep inside.
In catered stories roles and hills reside.