You know, it’s a pretty forgone conclusion that if a film is successful, sooner or later it’s going to have a sequel. And, sometimes the sequel is worse, sometimes the sequel is better – hell, sometimes it is a sequel in name only. Or, in the case of today’s film, it could completely turn the genre of the first film on its head and become something so incredibly zany that it can only really be described as a live action Warner Brothers cartoon. That film? Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Gremlins is one of those films that I loved the hell out of as a kid, but ended up getting muddled in my brain over the course of time. I remembered what I thought was a lot of good about the film, and revisited it about 6 years ago. It turns out that I couldn’t even make it halfway through – I’d forgotten what a cloying, saccharine piece of crap the first half of the film was. The only really good parts of the film happened when the actual gremlins showed up and wreaked havoc on the film. And that is basically what Gremlins 2 is – the insanity of that part of the film, turned up to the Nth degree. And it’s a film I can watch again and again. And again.
This new direction was a concerted effort from the director, Joe Dante, who was given complete creative control over the new film and decided to make the film into a complete and utter exaggeration of what he saw was the direction entertainment was heading in. He also wanted to make the film a satire of the first film and all sequels in general. In fact, by doing this, he ended up taking the film back to the cartoon anarchy of the 1940’s and 50’s. So much so, that the film even starts off with cameos from Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, which leaves you with absolutely no question as to what the film will actually be: unbridled, unfettered insanity.
Regardless of any new direction, the film itself actually wears its sequel status proudly, featuring the surviving central characters of the first film as they move to New York City, including Gizmo (yeah, that’ll end well for all involved). Gizmo is actually living back in Mr Wing’s store, soon finding himself on his own following the death of everyone’s favourite FroYo slinging Chinaman (spot the reference). Billy and Kate, our heroes from the first film, find themselves working in the same building that Gizmo ends up in (the world’s first “Smart Building” – so you can guess what happens there), meet up with him again, accidentally get him wet and then the whole thing goes crazy.
From there it becomes part cartoon, part Channel 51 (spot the reference) and all fun. Nothing is safe, not even the first film, with multiple meta-references featuring throughout, including a discussion of the rather arbitrary Mogwai to Gremlin change rules – sadly too late for the unsuspecting denizens of Clamp Towers. It even manages to completely shatter the fourth wall in one particularly memorable segment.The film, as is the style of sequels, even manages to up the Gremlin count, with hundreds of the little fuckers running around towards the end of the film – leading to my favourite scene (I won’t say much, just “New York, New York”).
Now, given that the film is in fact a live action cartoon, there is a LOT of WSD-style tomfoolery in the film, but unlike actual WSD, none of it actually feels forced. Most of it comes at the hands of the various Gremlins, creatures that basically thrive on anarchy, which makes the WSD just part of the proceedings, rather than “humour by committee”. Some have said that the film, especially after the Gremlins get loose and start running wild, just devolves into a series of gags – have they never seen a cartoon, say I. That is all cartoons are, and hell, that is all satire is – gags, only with a more direct target.
Even before the Gremlins get their mitts on everything, the film proudly flies its satirist flag. The building Billy and Kate work in itself is a far better satire of office “cube culture” than Dilbert or The Office could ever dream of being – forced “individuality”, corporate suck-ups, state of the art technological everything that never ever works right. The building/company owner himself, Daniel Clamp, is even a thinly veiled send-up of Donald Trump. Even the building seems straight out of the finest Zucker Brothers production (“would the owner of the car with the license number 18G 401, please remove it from the Clamp Parking Garage. Your car is old and dirty.”).
The film itself is one giant cameofest, with everyone from Julia Sweeney, John Astin and Henry Gibson to Christopher Lee, Leonard Maltin and Hulk Hogan (poking fun at their images) showing up to join in the fun. And what fun it is, as the film trades in the cloying Capra-lite family togetherness of the first for satire and anarchy and it works so much in the film’s favour.
You may have gotten the impression that I like this film, and you would be right. As sequels go, it is head and shoulders above the first film. As I said, it’s a film I can watch again and again.