When attempting to defend anything, I always find the most rewarding approach is to slate it first. If a film is underrated, it’s usually because there’s something wrong with it. Something is amiss that means Joe Public doesn’t show up to watch it, and the critics tear it a new one. So, with this in mind, take all the bad stuff about a particular piece out of the equation and endeavour to love what’s left.
In the case of Ghostbusters II, the biggest gripe I have personally with the film is that it is virtually a step by step retread of the original. It literally follows the blueprint of the first film to the letter. Again we have four washed up protagonists, a little more embittered, having been sued by virtually everyone in New York following the events at the climax of Ghostbusters.
Again we have our heroes called upon by Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) to investigate after her 8-month-old son took a joy ride through downtown New York in his demonically possessed buggy. Sure, some of the events are different, but the premise is virtually the same. Replace William Atherton’s slimy environmental agent, Walter Peck, with an equally repugnant substance in the shape of the Mayor’s assistant (Kurt Fuller) and add a similarly sized climax, this time with the Statue of Liberty as opposed to a giant marshmallow, and you virtually have the same movie.
The flip side to this, however, is it creates exactly the right environment for the brilliant comedy to shine. Business as usual is not necessarily a bad thing. Well versed in improvisation, the gang manage to elevate the dialogue beyond the rigid confines of the script, giving the movie a much more relaxed feel, the jokes that much sharper for the environment from which they are birthed.
Being familiar with the characters and situations with which they are working also makes for more coherent dialogue. Improvisation in unfamiliar territory, although an interesting challenge for the actor, might not yield the best results. No such trouble here, with Murray, Ramis and Aykroyd on fine form. Bill Murray especially is on electrifying form; with flawless comic timing, Murray peppers all around him with glorious put downs and immensely quotable one liners.
Ghostbusters II’s real ace in the hole, though, comes in the shape of its villain. Whilst the original stuck to the standard ‘end of the world’ scenario, the villain this time around is a far more menacing foe. Viggo, the scourge of Carpathia, the sorrow of Moldavia, needs the body of an infant so that he may be freed from the painting in which he has been trapped for hundreds of years. With the help of a superb Peter MacNichol as Janosz, the curator for the museum, he sets out to find his vessel and enslave the world.
This provides the Ghostbusters with a formidable adversary, making for a thrilling, bordering on terrifying, final confrontation. Wilhelm von Homburg’s turn as the monster villain provided me personally with a childhood bogeyman so scary that it wasn’t until around the ninth or tenth time of watching that I was able to peer out from behind the sofa when he was on screen, which, in retrospect, meant I spent the majority of the movie’s best sequences hidden in fear.
Although viewed as inferior to the original, Ghostbusters II boasts some attributes that suggest, in many ways, the film is superior. For example, the overall tone of the film is much more sinister. For a family-friendly, effects driven comedy, the film is actually pretty scary, not to merntion depressingly downbeat at times. Sequences such as Janosz walking down the hallway with his eyes lit up like torches, and flying by the apartment building to kidnap baby Oscar, dressed as a demonic nanny, have stuck with me for years.
The movie’s most exceptional visual sequence comes in the shape of its ending. Riding the Statue of Liberty through downtown New York pumping out Jackie Wilson’s Higher And Higher was an inspired choice by the film makers, easily topping the Stay-Puft sequence of the first film (albeit in a similar fashion) with an uplifting, spectacular ending.
Sure, people will point out the moral of the film, how the ‘mood slime’ is a comment on how the “completely miserable assholes” of the world need to be nicer to each other, or else a demonic painting possessed by the soul of a madman will come and wreak havoc in their neighbourhood. This is largely lost on the majority, purely because an event movie such as this isn’t the best place to make a social comment; most people are only here for the action.
For those that haven’t seen it, it is as worthy of your time as the original. For those that have and don’t remember it as fondly as I do, please check it out again. You might see things a little differently this time around.