In the weeks leading up to June 16, 1989, I can only imagine how incessantly my seven-year-old self pestered my parents to go see Ghostbusters II. I spent years obsessed with the 1984 original, once watching it on repeat from the moment I woke up to the moment I got sent to bed, wearing my plastic proton pack and reciting all the lines, most importantly those of Bill Murray's Dr. Peter Venkman. (Granted, I didn't have the slightest clue why he asked Alice the librarian whether or not she was menstruating, but I did get that "Back off, man—I'm a scientist" was hilarious.)
After we finally saw the sequel on opening night, I remember saying that I loved it, though my parents had far more tepid reactions. Looking back, my pre-adolescent brain probably just couldn't process my dismay, especially given the fervency of my anticipation. As I got older, I came to agree with the popular opinion that Ghostbusters II was a terrible movie, one that forever crossed the comedic streams and killed the franchise. Even Murray himself condemned it: "The second one was disappointing," he noted in 2010, "because the special-effects guys took over. I had something like two scenes—and they're the only funny ones in the movie."
But how could it not be disappointing, following what's inarguably an all-time classic? Of course the sequel has its flaws, but after catching a random late-night showing on Comedy Central—and then watching it again, sober, on DVD—I found myself laughing constantly and realizing that Ghostbusters II is, in fact, a quality comedy on a smaller scale, relying on understated dialogue and a darker tone.
As far as sequels go, this one admittedly had that "let's get the band back together and rake in the money" feel, not to mention that "more fun to make than to watch" feel (think Ocean's 12). But there's still actual actor chemistry (and actual laughs) here, and things could've been worse: Consider the irredeemable celluloid cesspool that was Caddyshack 2, released just a year earlier. A better point of comparison might be the second Back to the Future or Die Hard flicks: If you can factor out its daunting legacy, it's a slightly-above-average film at worst.
To recap the basic plot, the Ghostbusters are disgraced, sued (for all the destruction they caused five years earlier), and hit with a restraining order that prevents them from investigating the paranormal. Ray (Dan Ackroyd) and Winston (Ernie Hudson) are reduced to appearing at snotty kids' birthday parties, while the fraud Venkman is hosting a TV show called The World of the Psychic, interviewing a woman who claims she was abducted by an alien at the Paramus Holiday Inn bar. (On the next episode? "Hairless cats—weird.") They get back together when Sigourney Weaver's Dana Barrett runs afoul of Vigo the Carpathian, a 16th-century tyrant/wizard who's using New York City's negative energy to propel his resurrection, which also involves possessing Dana's infant son, Oscar.
As villains go, the original's Slimer was way cuter (and more marketable), but gnarlier tone aside, Ghostbusters II is never not a comedy, even if a lot of that comedy went over my seven-year-old head. I probably had a vague sense of why the slime would be fueled by the "three million completely miserable assholes living in the Tri-State area," and while I don't recall if I laughed in the theater, Rick Moranis' performance as Louis, especially during his courtroom defense of the Ghostbusters, is now my favorite part: "I don't think it's fair to call my clients frauds. Sure, the blackout was a big problem for everybody. I was trapped in an elevator for two hours and I had to make the whole time. But I don't blame them, because one time, I turned into a dog and they helped me. Thank you."
To which Egon responds, "Very good, Louis. Short, but pointless." While the late, great Harold Ramis' character was mostly confined to "geeky plot explainer" duties in the first movie, here he gets a much bigger share of the laughs, from his dancing-toaster experiment (perfectly set to Jackie Wilson's "Higher and Higher") to his childhood memories ("We had part of a Slinky, but I straightened it"). Best of all is Egon's attempt to convince cops that he's a construction worker while the boys illegally jackhammer a giant hole in First Avenue, which involves pumping his fist up and blurting out, "Yo!" in a terrible blue-collar accent. (It's somehow even funny in Italian.)
Murray is the obvious star, but Ramis' low-key performance here deserves more credit—the writer/actor deserves more credit overall, really, for the two-man proto-bromance that powered both Ghostbusters films, Caddyshack (Murray wisely avoided the awful second one, though Ramis didn't), Groundhog Day, Stripes, and Meatballs. The two were frequently at odds, unfortunately, even as endless Ghostbusters III rumors swirled, though Murray did offer a lovely Oscars tribute shortly after Ramis' death this February. Given his passing, the franchise is almost certainly over, unless Aykroyd gets some studio execs hammered on Crystal Head vodka and convinces them that a Blues Brothers 2000-style redo without the funniest actors is a good idea.
Thankfully, Murray has better things to do, with prominent gigs both in Wes Anderson films and at bachelor parties. And if there's ever even the slightest notion for a complete reboot, you could do worse than let Jason Reitman (son of Ivan, who directed both the Ghostbusters) take the reins: After all, the kid's made some quality movies himself (Juno, Up in the Air), and he even had a cameo in Ghostbusters II as the little prick who tells Ray that "My dad says you guys are full of crap."
Like most of the jokes, the movie's darker aspects and effects—the flying-nanny ghoul kidnapping the baby, the impaled heads in the subway tunnel, the cannibalistic slime-filled tub, the mink coat that comes alive—are much better suited for adults than seven-year-olds, the same problem that plagued the gory Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and the bleak Back to the Future, Part II. I'll admit that the "Walking Statue of Liberty" sequence can't compete with the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, Vigo's not as fun as Gozer, and the dickless Walter Peck was a better human adversary than the Mayor's lousy aide. And sure, it's every moviegoer's right to be miserable and treat sequels like dirt. But 25 years on, Ghostbusters II holds up far better than you might remember. To paraphrase Dr. Venkman, shit happens when it comes to sequels, but who else are ya gonna call?