The Beauty of Ghostbusters 2’s Optimism

First thing’s first, I owe Ghostbusters 2 an apology. In a recent post, I described it as a “disappointing” sequel. I suppose, in an objective sense, that’s kind of true, seeing as Ghostbusters 2 was only a modest success, whereas the original was a decade-defining movie. But I spoke out of faulty memory. I hadn’t seen Ghostbusters 2 in years, and after you hear/read about how it wasn’t as good as the original Ghostbusters so often, I guess at some point I let that get the better of me. As I’m gearing up for Ghostbusters: Afterlife (a movie I have quite literally waited my whole life to see, given I was born the year of Ghostbusters 2’s release), I watched the original two Ghostbusters movies. And you know what? Ghostbusters 2 is actually a solid sequel. Maybe not an all-time great like the 1984 original, but Ghostbusters 2 is definitely better than it gets credit for.

Sure, Ghostbusters 2 has its faults: some story elements feel very loosely connected, the story of the Ghostbusters getting back together plays a little too close to the story of the formation of the Ghostbusters in the first movie, and that echoing is really felt in the third act, which feels a bit too familiar. There’s also that weird part with the disembodied heads in the subway which comes out of nowhere. Point being Ghostbusters 2 is a good movie that has its flaws, but it’s better than its reputation suggests. It just has the burden of being a good movie that follows-up a great one.

With that out of the way, there is one element of Ghostbusters 2 that stands out from its predecessor: it has something to say. While the original is one of my favorite films (and arguably the most quotable movie of all time), it is more about the comedy, the concepts and the entertainment. But Ghostbusters 2 has a message for its audience, and while it may be a bit overt, it’s so well meaning and earnest that it’d be hard to call it preachy.

In Ghostbusters 2, as the titular paranormal exterminators are slowly reforming, they discover a mysterious pink slime is taking over New York City. Meanwhile, at an art gallery, the spirit of a 16th century tyrant, Prince Vigo von Homburg Deutschendorf, begins to enter the world of the living through a painting, with his presence bringing about other specters as well.

It turns out that the slime is a physical manifestation of human emotion. Though the slime that’s building up under New York City is specifically the product of negative feelings: people’s anger towards one another, their contempt, frustrations, hostilities, and hatred. Vigo, the spirit of a wicked magician, is drawing strength from the presence of the negatively charged “mood slime,” allowing him to gain more and more power and influence in the physical world (though he plans to kidnap a baby and possess it to have a proper physical form).

The presence of the slime both creates and feeds off the negativity of people. When Ghostbusters (and friends) Ray Stantz and Winston Zeddemore (Dan Aykroyd and Ernie Hudson) are exposed to it, they nearly come to blows. The negativity of the people of the city created the slime, and the slime in turn enhances that negativity. Hatred begets more hatred.

Later, the Ghostbusters learn that the slime can in fact be purified when exposed to positivity: love, friendship, hope, happiness, even song and dance. The presence of the “evil” slime isn’t entirely doom and gloom, and people can in fact reverse the negativity that they themselves created.

As Vigo gains in power, he can manipulate the negative slime to do his bidding, eventually sealing the art gallery with an impenetrable shield of negative energy so no one can interrupt his planned ritual to possess the aforementioned baby. To combat Vigo’s power, the Ghostbusters need to produce a massive amount of positivity in order to enter the art gallery. They end up using the purified “good” mood slime to animate the Statue of Liberty (“something that everyone in this town can get behind… a symbol“) as a means to instill hope and unity in the people of New York, blasting Howard Huntsberry’s “Higher and Higher” through loudspeakers for good measure.

Using the Statue of Liberty and the positivity it produces in people, the Ghostbusters break through the barrier into the art gallery. Although Vigo manifests, overpowering and immobilizing the Ghostbusters, the people throughout New York City, inspired and united, begin singing and embracing each other, weakening Vigo and forcing him to retreat into his painting. The Ghostbusters are then able to use the positive slime on the painting (in an admittedly disappointing final encounter) to seal off Vigo’s access to the physical world. Although the Ghostbusters get that last little moment of action, the real victory took place a few moments before then, when they instilled hope and happiness in the citizens of New York. It’s that positivity that destroyed Vigo’s power.

“Aw hell yeah!”

A few other creative works have had similar messages, that the very idea of good can save the day, but they are still pretty rare, and fewer still that feel genuine enough for their message to ring true (It’s a Wonderful Life and EarthBound are among the exceptions that come to mind). And it’s this optimistic, hopeful attitude that I feel propels Ghostbusters 2 into being a better film than it gets credit for (this, and the entertainment value).

Some may say that’s cheesy or naive (though by doing so, those same critics may be proving the movie’s point), but I think it’s a beautiful little message. One that resonates truer today than it did in 1989 when the film was released. In this day and age when it seems like people want any and every excuse to be angry at the world, hate on everything, and embrace cynicism and nihilism as some forms of intellectualisms, we could all learn a thing or two from something so purely optimistic. We’re willingly bringing about Vigo’s world. Let’s all try to be a little more like the Ghostbusters, piloting the Statue of Liberty and bringing out the best in each other.