In Defense Of ‘Ghostbusters II’ — A Pretty Good Sequel

For a movie as universally beloved as Ghostbusters, its sequel is certainly polarizing. Released in the summer of 1989, five years after the first movie took theaters by storm, Ghostbusters II told a similar story and managed to capture some the same lighthearted charm as the original. It also happens to be a rather delightful movie to watch on New Year’s Day, given that the film’s antagonist, Vigo The Carpathian (played by Wilhelm Von Homburg, but voiced by Max Von Sydow), times his entire evil plan around the coming of the New Year.

With a long-rumored third installment residing in development hell for years before finally giving way to make room for Paul Feig’s forthcoming all-female reboot, here’s a look at why Ghostbusters II is not an underrated classic, but an ideal movie to watch as one year fades into the next.

It gets the whole gang back together, almost

Ghostbusters II wasn’t exactly a passion project. It was made only after Columbia pressured the team into producing a sequel after the success of the first movie and the subsequent spin-off cartoon The Real Ghostbusters. Screenwriters and co-stars Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis considered the first movie to be a self-contained story. Yet they eventually relented and wrote a sequel. Director Ivan Reitman returned to direct, reuniting the original creative team.

As the film opens, Ray Stanz (Aykroyd) now runs an occult book store, (open ’til midnight on Saturdays) occasionally donning his old uniform with Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) to appear at birthday parties for disappointed kids. Egon Spengler (Ramis) has returned to academic life, and only Peter Venkman (Bill Murray) has been able to salvage some of the Ghostbusters’ fading celebrity, albeit in the form of a second-rate cable talk show. (Worth noting: Venkman’s show, World of the Psychic, features a guest who was told by aliens that the end of the world occurs this coming Valentine’s Day. Bummer.)

Along with the four lead actors, nearly all the supporting characters returned to reprise their roles as well, with even David Marguiles returning as New York’s mayor — better known to Venkman as “Lenny.” Missing from the original is William Atherton’s E.P.A agent Walter Peck, though we do get quintessential 1980s villain Kurt Fuller as the mayor’s smarmy aid/Ghostbuster hater Jack Hardemeyer in his place. We also get Peter MacNicol’s scene-stealing portrayal of Dr. Janosz Poha, so really it all works out okay.

Their actions are shown to have serious consequences

As it turns out, blowing a few stories off of a high-rise and flooding the streets with melted sentient marshmallow mascot isn’t helpful to your career, and the Ghostbusters find themselves sued into oblivion while being barred from studying the supernatural. Political aspirations have also prompted the mayor’s office to turn its back. In an age where costumed characters can level entire city blocks without issue, to have such severe, far-reaching repercussions injects a certain grounded reality in the otherwise far-fetched premise.

This is at its most apparent when the film follows up with what happened between Venkman and Dana Barrett (Weaver) after the events of the first film, a development that ends up driving the non-supernatural part of the story. After Dana grew tired of Venkman’s shtick — hard to imagine, but that’s what a suspension of disbelief is for — she married another man and started a family, only to be abandoned by her husband and left to care for their infant son, Oscar (played by twins Henry and William Deutschendorf). It’s a clever way to introduce a child to the story that also lets Venkman off the hook for not end up being the deadbeat dad.

The one-off gags are pretty good

It’s impossible to deny that Ghostbusters II hits most of the same beats as its predecessor, and while the film received plenty of criticism for doing so, it still generates some reliable gags throughout. This includes the Ghostbusters’ triumphant return to form after Judge Wexler’s rant inadvertently summons the ghost of two criminals he’d sentenced to death, a dancing toaster (just after the revelation that Ray and Egon had been sleeping with the mood slime), and the chaos-filled third act that is filled with ghosts randomly terrorizing the people of the city.

It’s the lattermost that gives us moments like Cheech Marin and Philip Baker Hall discussing the Titanic‘s arrival in New York Harbor. Granted, the Statue of Liberty storming through the streets of New York is a little too close to the finale of the first film, but this time it’s being controlled by Venkman via one of the most popular accessories of all time, the NES Advantage joystick. Well, that and all the positively charged mood-slime.

It makes everyone responsible for what was happening

In the first film, the dead were rising from the grave, haunting everything from dusty library basements to modern kitchen appliances, all thanks to a supernatural antenna that had been built in the middle of midtown Manhattan. This pits the living against the dead in a classic “us vs. them” scenario. Ghostbusters II, however, has Vigo drawing his power from the raw negativity of the millions of people living in New York. As a result, our heroes have to do more than simply work together crossing a few streams, they have to rally entire crowds of jaded New Yorkers, turning these rivers of pink mood slime beneath the city into a force for good.

As the film climaxes at the Manhattan Museum Of Art, just as Vigo sets his plan into action, it’s the camaraderie of the citizens of New York singing “Auld Lang Syne” in unison that weakens Vigo until he has to retreat back into his painting. While it’s not exactly subtle, it does impart a nice, simple moral to the story about treating people well, even if the people of New York are driven to that good behavior out of fear that pink slime will come out of their faucets if they aren’t just a little bit nicer.