Film Review: Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

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In a time when any modestly successful 1980s Hollywood film was expected to have a sequel, such fate was inevitable for Joe Dante’s 1984 horror comedy Gremlins. Joe Dante at first didn’t want to make a sequel and had to be talked into by the studio promising large budget with creative freedom uncharacteristic for the era. When Dante finally made a 1990 film Gremlins 2: The New Batch, the result was one of the more interesting sequels of the time.

Plot takes place few years after the small town town of Kingston Falls survived the invasion of gremlins – small, ugly and malevolent creatures that like to create mayhem. The source of the infestations – cuddly “mogwai” called Gizmo (voiced by Howie Mandel) - was returned to its owner Mr. Wing (played by Keye Luke) in Chinatown, but after his death Gizmo gets picked up by scientists working in the genetic engineering lab led by Dr. Cathether (played by Christopher Lee). The lab is situated in huge tower building owned by Daniel Clamp (played by John Glover), New York City construction and media tycoon. Daniel Peltzer (played by Zach Galligan), the protagonist, works as an artist for Clamp’s company, while his girlfriend Kate Beringer (played by Phoebe Cates) works as tour guide in Clamp’s building. When Daniel discovers that Gizmo is in the lab where he would likely to be dissected, he takes away his old pet. Despite taking precautions in order to prevent Gizmo from hatching gremlin, the inevitable happens and Clamp’s building gets swarmed by creatures that destroy equipment, cut power lines and attack people. Only gremlins’ fatal vulnerability towards the sunlight prevents them from leaving the building, multiplying and creating apocalypse in the rest of New York City. Daniel must find the way to contain them and destroy them before sun goes down.

When Joe Dante approached the sequel, he decided to make things completely different. While the basic premise – army of little monsters inadvertently created by benevolent exotic pet – remained the same, the tone was different. Unlike Gremlins, which was rather dark and at times disturbing for more sensitive viewers, The New Batch was made as light-hearted family-friendly comedy with irreverent silliness of Looney Toones cartoons. Dante makes his intentions clear by having the opening titles made in form of short cartoon directed by legendary Chuck Jones. He also changed the setting from idyllic small town into modern megacity; instead of Spielbergian celebration of middle class values, The New Batch goes for biting satire of corporate world and media, epitomised in the character of Clamp, obviously modelled after larger-than-life real life figures like Donald Trump and Ted Turner. Dante and his scriptwriter Charles S. Haas also used opportunity to put as many film, television and popular culture references as possible. Dante uses even some “meta” techniques, like in the scene where he tries to trick audience into believing that the film projector malfunctioned because of the gremlins or cameo by famous film critic Leonard Maltin roasting Gremlins before being attacked by creatures (Maltin, had written bad review of Gremlins, was ultimately much generous towards The New Batch). Dante also uses opportunity to mock his own work in the first film, giving humorous variations towards some of their most memorable scenes while also has characters discussing the concept of gremlins in the way fans of the original film did. This combination of surrealism and anarchy works very well, making the film quite entertaining.

The New Batch is also very good on technical levels. Dante obtained very large budget by Warner Bros. (estimated at between 30 and 50 million US$) and it shows in the film. Visual effect supervisor Chris Walas, creator of the original Gremlins, was unavailable and was replaced by legendary Rick Baker who not only improved on puppetry and mechanical effects, but also bothered to give many of the creatures their own specific identities and characters. As a result, most of the human cast looks somewhat bland in comparison, with exception of John Glover whose portrayal of publicity-seeking Clamp was so good that film creators have decided to change him from villain into some sort of misguided hero. The plot is, however, very thin and film looks slow in the first part before gremlin infestation when Dante and Haas try to fill the blanks with cliched subplot involving romantic rivalry between Kate and Daniel’s female boss Marla Bloodstone (played by Haviland Morris). The epilogue featuring Robert Picardo as chief of Clamp’s security, is also somewhat weak.

The New Batch, because of its originality and author’s willingness to experiment, became one of the rare Hollywood sequels that was at least as good as original. However, it took some time for the audience to appreciate it. Results at the box office were quite underwhelming and took the possibility of the new sequel out of studios’ equations. Seen from today’s perspective, The New Batch is quite entertaining, and not only for those nostalgic for 1980s and early 1990s.

RATING: 6/10 (++)

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