People have been talking about Ghostbusters a lot in the past couple of weeks. Not sure why. Whatever the reason, all of this perfectly rational discourse got me thinking: why the hell was Ghostbusters 2 so mercilessly shredded by critics upon its initial release? I remember when I first started taking film criticism seriously, around the age of 12 or so, and discovered how many intelligent critics had ripped a beloved movie from my childhood to shreds. I was befuddled and frankly, I still am. Maybe it’s not better than the original but is it truly, “a terrible disappointment, a shockingly self-satisfied and unforgivably slapdash sequel”? Let’s unpack this a bit and try to figure out what got film critics so riled up back in 1989.
The original film was a tremendous critical and commercial success. It made Bill Murray a bankable star, officially put Ivan Rietman on the A-list team of directors, and basically invented the special effects comedy. A sequel was a no brainer. What’s a little surprising is the five years it took to become a reality. By today’s standards, that’s decades. If The Dark Knight had come out five years after Batman Begins, people would have been too impatient to give a rat’s ass or assumed it to be a reboot. But the long wait for a sequel was due to a very simple, even noble reason: nobody involved in the original production wanted to make one. Reitman, Ramis, and Aykroyd have all stated that they viewed the original as a stand-alone film and it was only after pressure from Columbia Pictures, coupled with the success of the cartoon show, that they agreed to make a follow-up. Not the most organic way to start the creative process.
As we know though, all sequels are cash grabs to a degree (hell, most movies are cash grabs) and the original film does leave the door open for a sequel. One could easily accuse Ghostbusters 2 of simply being ‘more of the same’ but if it worked before, why shouldn’t it work again? They weren’t making a serious, high-minded sequel like Godfather Part 2. They were making a sequel to a movie about a bunch of funny guys cracking wise while dispatching visually inventive ghosts. People didn’t want something radically different. They wanted some new jokes and some new ghosts and that’s what they got.
The bits in the beginning chronicling what the former Ghostbusters are up to are some of the best parts of the movie. Watching Ray and Winston be reduced to children’s party entertainers who are mocked for not being He-Man is a nice commentary on people losing interest in the Ghostbusters and an amusing dig at the cartoon show. Having Venkman wind up as a the host of a TV show for moronic physics is hilarious and feels like a natural progression for his character. Egon’s labrotroy experiments are a bit lacking in human emotion but that’s Egon for you. These scenes work because it’s fun to see what the guys have been up to while providing these gifted comedic performers with something new to chew on. Plus, it wets our appetites for their imminent reunion. It’s also a smart move to have them be the victims of a lawsuit due to them nearly destroying a city in the first film. This is something that super hero movies are regularly criticized for not acknowledging.
Part of the problem critics had with the movie must have been due to high expectations and a fiery hatred of sequels. In the 80’s, critics were besieged with sequels to Friday the 13th, Halloween, Elm Street, Hellraiser, Child’s Play, Poltergeist and Jaws every other week. When you add in the fact that Ghostbusters was universally praised, you’ve got a bunch of angry critics just waiting to bring down holy hell upon the sequel. This thing would have probably had to have been the greatest sequel ever made merely to get a passing grade. Siskel and Ebert trashed it, with Ebert declaring that he saw it at a full movie theater and not one person in the audience laughed. I have a hard time believing that. No one laughed during the court room scene? Pull the other one. And their insistence that the filmmakers didn’t even try to make a good movie is more than a little insulting.
Granted, the film has its problems. It is awfully similar to the first one, particularly in regards to the climax, but I don’t know, I get a kick out of the idea that New Yorkers just need to be nicer to each other in order to vanquish an evil Carpathian who stepped out of a painting. It’s a message that’s too goofy to get angry about. While we’re on the subject of Carpathians, Viggo is a far creepier villain than Gozer. He’s a more intimidating figure and the film understands the inherent uneasiness most people have around paintings where the central subject seems to follow your every move. Many find Peter MacNicol’s side villain annoying, but I think he’s a hoot. He also gets his moment to be scary in that horrifying scene where he kidnaps Dana’s baby. That image of him riding through the sky like a witch out of a fairy tale as he gets closer and closer has given me more than my fair share of nightmares.
So is nostalgia responsible for my fondness or is it actually a good movie? I think it’s a bit of both. There are undeniably dull spots and jokes that are nothing more than call backs but there’s also a nice sense of energy, a great deal of fun, some surprisingly creepy villains, inventive special effects, four wonderful comedic actors doing solid work, and…mood slime. That apparently wasn’t enough for critics but it’s more than enough for me and most fans. The intense hatred for the sequel was misguided and counterproductive. It didn’t ruin the original, didn’t destroy anyone’s childhood, and was not worth such ire. Critics were just tired of sequels and all too eager to piss all over something that, to them, represented the apotheosis of cynical, cash grabbing Hollywood. They didn’t realize that ranting about it would only add fuel to the fire and refused to accept the fact that
reboots sequels are never going to go away. They rushed to judgement and refused to view the film on its own terms. Glad nothing like that is going on today.