Gremlins 2: The New Batch (1990)

*. A sequel — Joe Dante calls it “this most unnecessary of all sequels” — that was a long time coming. And a very different film from Gremlins, which is to its credit. They didn’t want to just go back and do the same thing with better effects.
*. Sometimes you have to throw your hands up as a critic. At the beginning of his commentary director Dante calls Gremlins 2 “one of the most unconventional studio movies ever,” which I think it probably was at the time.
*. There were precursors. Dante goes as far back as Hellzapoppin’ (1941). Still, but for the fact that Warner Bros. was desperate for a hit Gremlins 2 would never have been made. Or at least never made the way it was, with Dante being given complete creative control.
*. The result is anarchy, no less chaotic for being intentional. The story does have a certain structure to it, but while it never breaks down entirely it does get overwhelmed by all the hijinks. Roger Ebert thought it just devolved into a series of gags. I thought it was turning into a variety show even before it does, in fact, turn into a variety show put on by the boisterous critters.
*. As with any variety show there’s a bit of everything thrown into the mix, with a few hits and many misses. Among the former I’d rate Phoebe Cates’s Lincoln’s Day speech (itself a nod to the controversy over her Christmas speech in the first film), the voice of Tony Randall as the brainy gremlin, and the presence of Dick Miller, who is always fun to watch. Everything else is collateral damage.
*. Something seems to have happened to the character of Daniel Clamp. He’s obviously Donald Trump with a bit of Ted Turner tossed in, and right from the start we expect him to be the usual villainous CEO. I mean, his logo even has a clamp crushing the world in its grip. But as things develop he turns out to be just a goofy kid at heart, and someone who really wants to do good.
*. There’s another interesting bit connecting Clamp to Trump in one of the deleted scenes, where a subliminal message plays over the smart building’s PA system saying “You know, I’ve been thinking Mr. Clamp would make a great president.” And they say The Simpsons was the first to see where the Donald was heading.
*. Another announcement we hear over the PA (this time making it into the released version of the film) warns employees about a new program that will monitor their keystrokes. In 1990 that must have seemed comically dystopian. Now we take it for granted.
*. I know you’re not supposed to ask questions like this of what is unabashedly a cartoon, but where do the gremlins find all the little costumes and props to dress up in? It’s like these tiny sets of clothes and different miniature tools and accessories are just lying around.
*. I was surprised to see Christopher Lee. I shouldn’t have been surprised that he seems to just disappear. At least I don’t recall what becomes of Dr. Catheter. But the same thing happened to most of the characters in Gremlins.
*. Does it go too far? Not in the sense of being offensive, but just in being too much? It’s hard to say given that chaos was the plan (if that’s not a contradiction). Personally I think Dante was perhaps given a bit too much leeway. Especially his penchant for movie in-jokes. These are so plentiful that there’s no way to keep track of them, and in most cases I don’t think they add much. Some of them, like the Rambo parody, have also dated to the point where they will be missed by most.
*. It’s silly. And fun, if you’re a kid. Or, like Daniel Clamp or Joe Dante, a kid at heart. I think even in 1990 I had outgrown it. This time around the charm was all nostalgia.

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