There are few more iconic films than Ghostbusters (1984). Still, I wonder if it would have been as much of a smash-hit if John Belushi had still been alive to fill the role of the wise-cracking Peter Venkman instead of Bill Murray. Not that it would have made a huge difference to me personally as they are both Chicago guys. Us Windy City natives like to see our own make it big. And, again, Ghostbusters was big. It entered the social conscious, with references like the giant Stay Puft Marshmallow Man and the rule about never crossing the streams become as recognizable as the president. And everyone knows who you are going to call when there is something strange in your neighborhood. Such things are great for the bottom line of the studios that produce them, but it also creates a problem: how do you follow them? I do not think the line, “Should we make a sequel?” has ever been uttered in Hollywood. If it has, those people have not lived to tell the tale. The resulting pressure of making something as good or better than the first often lead to a number of missteps that ultimately fail to please the fans. Thankfully, that is not the case for Ghostbusters II (1989).
Everyone seems to have moved on from the events of the previous movie in Ghostbusters II, and I do mean everyone. Of the original team, only Raymond “Ray” Stantz (Dan Aykroyd) and Winston Zeddemore (Ernie Hudson) are still donning their jumpsuits and proton packs. Because their past exploits resulted in a great deal of property damage for which they were sued, and due to the lack of supernatural activity, they were forced to give up their business. Now, Ray and Winston appear at children’s birthday parties, but even the kids do not want them there, chanting for Heman as soon as they launch into their trademark song. This is the final insult, and they decide to go back to their old jobs. Meanwhile, Peter’s ex-girlfriend Dana Barrett (Sigourney Weaver) is working at an art museum cleaning works in advance of a new opening in order to support her infant son, Oscar (William T. and Hank J. Deutschendorf II). She labors alongside her supervisor Janosz Poha (Peter MacNicol), who concentrates most of his efforts on the opening’s centerpiece, a portrait of an evil sixteenth century magician named Vigo the Carpathian (Wilhelm von Homburg, voiced by Max von Sydow). Vigo’s spirit inhabits the portrait, and it seems to take notice of Dana. When creepy things begin happening to her, she calls on Peter, who is now hosting a television show for quack psychics, to investigate the painting. When Peter shows up with Ray, Winston, and Dr. Egon Spengler (Harold Ramis), Janosz reacts negatively to them looking closely at the painting. This is partly because of his restoration efforts, but also because he has become enslaved to Vigo. In private moments, Vigo instructs Janosz to steal Oscar, believing that the child can be used by Vigo to possess and grew up to go on to conquer the world. An attempt to bring the child to Vigo ends when Oscar’s stroller is stopped in the middle of a busy intersection, which is another reason why the Ghostbusters are asked to look into these odd happenings. Egon, Ray, and Winston decide to look further into this intersection, while Peter has dinner with Dana in an attempt rekindle their romance. When the three dig down into the intersection, they discover a river of pink slime that seems to be flowing towards the museum. That is not the only discovery. The sludge has reactive properties, and it pulls the three into the flow. After they re-emerge outside of the museum, they begin fighting until Egon realizes that the substance feeds on emotions and enhances them. Meanwhile, a number of supernatural events begin breaking out all over the city, leading the Ghostbusters to present their findings to the mayor. While they are dismissed as lunatics and locked away in an insane asylum, Vigo sends Janosz to kidnap Oscar. Dana follows him to the museum, and once she enters an impenetrable wall of slime encapsulates the entire building. This, along with a number of other extraordinary events, leads to the Ghostbuster’s release. So, how do you break through a seamless wall of supernatural pink goo? If you are the Ghostbusters, you head to the Statue of Liberty, coat the inside of the structure with the same slime, turn on some happy music, and walk the copper lady up to the museum using a Nintendo controller for guidance. Once there, with a mighty stroke of her torch arm, the Ghostbusters are able to break through in time to stop Vigo from taking over Oscar. It is not exactly smooth sailing, though, as Ray is temporarily enslaved by Vigo as well. Nonetheless, they are able to either slime or proton pack the Carpathian back into whatever evil dimension from whence he came, and thus save the day. And all on New Year’s Eve.
As strange as it might seem, I find the notion of the slime in Ghostbusters II an interesting one from a Catholic perspective. As Egon, Ray, and Winston find out, it turns up all emotions to a higher degree. If you are angry, you will be furious. If you are happy, you will be euphoric. Emotions are an important part of the Faith life, as is being detached from them. Put in a Ghostbusters II-fashion, those that feel far from God tend to drift farther away, and those who feel close get closer. Granted, there are peaks and valleys to these journeys, but like a line-graph of the stock market, the trend is usually up or down. One thing I have learned from becoming a spiritual director is that one of the goals of the Faith life is to smooth out the ups and downs so that it is more of a straight line to God. In doing so, we identify emotions, which play a powerful role in determining our relationship with God. When people are angry or upset, unfortunately it seems like the last place they turn is to God. Alternatively, people praise God when they are at their happiest. It is understandable. Negative feelings tend to isolate, which is an apt metaphor for Vigo’s museum slime fortress. Further, it is suggested that the bad feelings of New Yorkers in general fuel his power. At the same time, the Ghostbusters breaking through is portrayed as a victory for positivity, and they even carry canisters of happy slime to spray all over the place. To be sure, those behind Ghostbusters II were not thinking of Faith when they made the film, but it still works.
Comparisons to the role of emotions in Faith aside, Ghostbusters II is a worthy follow up to its predecessor. In fact, one of my criteria for a good sequel is whether or not it can work on its own, and I feel it does. As with the first, the Ghostbusters must come back together and remember how to work as a team to save Oscar, and the world, apparently. What more can you ask for from a stand-alone movie, or a part II? Further, there is not the sexualization you see in the first. I call that a win-win.