In Defence Of... is a new series of articles where we'll step in and try defend - operative word is 'try' - films that have been unduly lambasted and unceremoniously dumped by critics and audiences alike. Previous defences mustered have included Starship Troopers, Con-Air, Batman Forever and, for this week's feature, it's all about Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
When you mention Gremlins 2: The New Batch to someone nowadays, there's a 90% probability that someone is going to bring up Star Magic Johnson Jr. from Key & Peele's sketch on the film. For those that don't know what it is, essentially it's about a flamboyant studio executive who greenlights pretty much any idea that comes up in the writer's room no matter how ridiculous and outlandish it sounds. Hulk Hogan breaking the fourth wall, an electric Gremlin, a brainy Gremlin, and so on. The script ends with the head writer, after listening with incredulity to the ideas, ordering that none of them will make it into the final film - which, as we know, is not true. Everything brought up in the sketch made it into the film.
It's a great sketch and, yes, it points out how utterly ridiculous Gremlins 2 was - but, at no point, did anyone think Gremlins 2 was going to be a serious film. In fact, Joe Dante was pretty adamant that he wanted to make "one of the more unconventional studio pictures, ever", and it was. What Gremlins 2 did so brilliantly and so assiduously was that it satirised both Gremlins and sequels with complete ferocity. In doing this, Dante elevated the film beyond what could have been a rote, corporate-driven sequel into something truly unique for its time. Gremlins 2 knew it was shit, and embraced it.
Sure, the first one was pretty effective as a horror film and definitely had some particularly scary moments, but it was a creature feature. The second one wasn't going to be anything other another creature feature, so Joe Dante stepped in to take charge - and got complete creative control over the process. This allowed him to not only thumb his nose at the idea of sequels, but also to make fun of audience's conventions and expectations of a sequel.
How many self-aware sequels are there nowadays? Almost none. In fact, the one that people often mention is 22 Jump Street and, in pretty much every way you can think of, that film took its blueprint from Gremlins 2: The New Batch. You had the acknowledgement of its own failings, the fact that it simply was retreading the same steps as before, and it never once even attempted to take itself seriously - because, really, why bother? It's a sequel, after all. Its only purpose is just to move repeat what came before and at least attempt to do something new with it. The fact that it brought in other films and mediums, such as Wizard Of Oz, Chuck Jones' Looney Tunes, the critic Leonard Matlin (who hated the first one and is eaten alive by gremlins in this one), shows how clever Joe Dante was at recognising how the lines would eventually blur in media.
Yet, for all this, Gremlins 2 was dismissed by the critics of the time and underperformed at the box office. Roger Ebert called the film "a faded imitation of the original," whilst Janet Maslin in the New York Times said it made "no effort to avoid any feeling of deja vu." The film only found its way in home video and broadcast TV, where it could be replayed over and over again and the sheer rapid-fire nature of its gags and jokes allowed for second and third viewings to digest them. While it's true, Gremlins 2: The New Batch wasn't high-brow entertainment or anything even close to it, it still was a hugely entertaining and was deeply aware of its own shortcomings - and embraced them fully.