In Defense Of: “Ghostbusters II” (1989)

As it stands, though, there’s no turning back the clock. Ghostbusters II exists as is and will remain so forever, and therefore one’s ability to enjoy the film rests solely on whether or not to accept that fact. There’s a feeling of malaise that runs through the sequel that’s hard to pin down; unlike the first entry where there’s an energy coursing throughout the film’s veins, there’s a spark missing here, particularly in certain performances, the absence of which only furthers the idea that everyone involved is simply going through the motions. As a result, I can’t fault anyone who sees the film as inferior to its predecessor – it truly is – but I also can’t agree with the notion that it’s a bad movie through and through.

Even if some of the cast seems to occasionally be slumming it here, the characters themselves are still solid enough to merit catching up with. I mentioned earlier that revisiting Ghostbusters is like revisiting old friends, and Ghostbusters II is no different, even if those friends sometimes seem a little more tired and weary. Their chemistry, especially Ramis’ Egon, Aykroyd’s Ray, and Bill Murray’s Peter, is still in place, and though Ernie Hudson’s delightful everyman Winston Zeddemore regrettably draws the screen time short straw (again), the group still all get moments of their own in which to shine and remind us why they clicked so well the first time around. And while several returning characters all get more to do here, like Dana, Annie Potts’ Janine, and Rick Moranis’ Louis, the real MVP of the movie is Peter MacNicol’s Janosz, Dana’s boss at the art gallery where she works who falls under Vigo’s spell.

If there’s one element that truly elevates Ghostbusters II above its repetitive trappings, it’s MacNicol’s performance here. The character is an absolute scene-stealer, whose line delivery and mannerisms result in some of the funniest moments of the film. From “You are like the buzzing of flies to him!” to “Why am I drippings with goo?” to the way he asks Dana, “Doesn’t that sound nice?” about Vigo’s plan to make her the mother of evil, he’s an example of one of the few new elements that Ghostbusters II introduces done right, emblematic of exactly why the film should’ve kept pushing the edges of creativity in search of new storytelling angles and characters.

Even beyond Janosz’s contributions though, the sequel is still funny. Though the repeated story beats don’t do the film any favors, there’s still a plethora of new jokes and bits of dialogue that land again and again, proving that Ghostbusters II doesn’t entirely plunder its predecessor, from Venkman’s photography session with Vigo’s painting or his calling Vigo a “bimbo with the baby” to Louis’ mishandled defense statement of the gang in the courtroom to Egon’s story about getting a slinky as a child. It may not be on the level of the first film, but it’s still a quotable movie all its own nonetheless.

Ultimately, as I touched upon before, that’s the hurdle you have to get over here: That it’s not on the level of the first film. Ghostbusters was a puzzle where every piece clicked snugly into place, while Ghostbusters II is missing some of the pieces, or has pieces replaced by those that don’t quite fit. For everything it pulls off successfully, like the effective courtroom sequence where the Scoleri brothers wreak havoc, there’s something it doesn’t, like the fact that Randy Edelman’s score pales in comparison to Elmer Bernstein’s work in the original.

If anything, Ghostbusters II could have been a lot worse. It also could have been a lot better, but if its most egregious sin is that it’s simply the first film told over again, then I’d say we got off easy. The cast and characters are still as enjoyable to watch as they were the first time we met them, the visual effects are still slick, and there’s a wealth of genuine humor to be found that helps the fact that the sequel at large feels less fresh go down smoother. It never truly justifies its own existence, but I’m personally glad it exists anyway, as it’s entertaining, harmless, and manages to not diminish the original film in spite of its faults, and while it deserves to live in the shadow of its predecessor, it also doesn’t deserve to be lumped in the “worst sequels ever made” category it so often finds itself in when – even solely in the comedy genre – there have been far greater disappointments committed to celluloid before and after its release.