WARNING: THIS REVIEW DOES CONTAIN SPOILERS, BUT YOU PROBABLY KNOW WHAT THEY ARE ALREADY.
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…”
Ah, what a great tagline to a halfway decent sequel. “Jaws 2” is easily the best sequel to Steven Spielberg’s horrifying classic which became the first movie to make over $100 million dollars, so of course a sequel had to be made. Another shark is off the coast of Amity Bay, to get revenge or just to feed or just to scare the crap out of the residents who depend on the summer months for their very existence.
Some people seem to think this is the same shark from the first movie… What are you, stupid? IT GOT BLOWN UP! This is probably the wife of that shark, or maybe it’s his mother. Maybe it was the shark’s gay lover or something. We never do learn about the shark’s relatives, do we? I am assuming that the shark in “Jaws 3-D” was not a distant relative, but someone who just hates Florida theme parks with a passion. As for the shark in “Jaws: The Revenge,” that one was definitely a relative. It had to be to swim all the way to the Bahamas to go after the damn Brody family!
Anyway, back to this shark, also a relative who waited a little while after the first one to strike. This sequel takes place a couple of years after the original and opens with some divers exploring the wreckage of the Orca who get attacked by the shark. Immediately, we zoom ahead to Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) rushing off to the opening of a new hotel on Amity Island which his wife (Lorraine Gary) has helped out with. We meet up again with Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) who is as excited about the summer months as he was previously. We also get to see the two Brody boys, Mike and Shaun, who have grown up a lot since we saw them last.
Then the darn shark appears again when he (or is it a she?) is least expected. There is a good scene involving a water skier which is “Jaws 2’s” first big action sequence. Of course, no one actually sees this shark attack the skier, so they just assume it was some sort of boating accident. Otherwise they would have found out earlier and got rid of the shark sooner, and there wouldn’t be a movie to watch. But then some kids find a beached killer whale on the sand which has had huge chunks of his skin bitten off, and this catches the eye of Chief Brody who becomes convinced there is another shark on the hunt. He has no proof and only his instincts to go on, so naturally no one believes him.
One of the many great things about “Jaws” was the human drama on the island was very strong. Spielberg wasn’t just interested in giving us shark attacks. That brings me to this film’s biggest weakness; the scenes on dry land suffer without the buddy relationship between Scheider and Richard Dreyfuss. The characters are more like clichés this time around instead of fully realized human beings, and the story is more contrived. One guy standing in Brody’s way is Len Peterson (Joseph Moscolo) who doubts his sanity every step of the way. He is the movie’s key idiotic character, and the one guy we desperately want to see get eaten by the shark. When movies have characters like these, it doesn’t take long for audiences to get aggravated by them.
You’d also think Mayor Vaughn would know better this time around. He went through all this crap with the first shark, and now he thinks Brody is misguided in his assumptions yet again. He urges Chief Brody not to press it this time around, and their working relationship in “Jaws 2” ends up seeming completely ridiculous. If the Mayor is not going to be trusting of Brody’s instincts, then he should have fired him a long time ago.
There was a naturalness to the characters and acting in “Jaws” which unfortunately does not carry over to “Jaws 2,” and this sequel is deeply affected as a result. It would have been great to have Spielberg and Dreyfuss back for this one, but they had better things to do like making “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” Actually, it would have been a huge shock if Spielberg came back to direct this one, considering the hell he went through making the original.
However, if you can get past the contrived screenplay, there are still plenty of shark attacks to enjoy. The shark is still a very threatening villain like its predecessor. Every time that fin comes out of the water, I get goose bumps all over my skin. The tension is still pretty taut as the shark sneaks up on its prey stealthily. There are also a couple of good jump out of your seat moments here, especially one involving Scheider slowly going into the ocean to retrieve some boat wreckage.
While the first shark was indiscriminate in who he, or she, killed, the shark in “Jaws 2” seems to have a big hankering for teenagers, especially ones who won’t stop screaming. One critic, I can’t remember who, said this movie would be a good time for those who enjoy seeing teenagers getting eaten, so I can only imagine what parents around the globe feel about this sequel. After a while, it just seems like the shark is going after these teenagers in order to get them to shut up. It makes you wonder what the shark is thinking throughout, “WHAT ARE YOU STUPID?! I CAN HEAR EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE YOU STUPID SHITS!!”
The teenagers do a great job of screaming and acting when they are in shock. The moments where they are in shock are very effectively done, and it helps quiet things down before the great white pops up again. Among the kids is Keith Gordon who later went on to star in “John Carpenter’s Christine” and “Back to School” with the late Rodney Dangerfield. Seeing him looking so young here is a bit of a shock after all these years.
The last half of “Jaws 2” has the teenagers out sailing, basically laying themselves out as shark meat. Among these kids are the Brody boys, both who have been grounded from getting into the water because of their father’s suspicions. But what’s a boy to do when a girl’s cousin wants to go with him to the lighthouse? She tempts Michael with that line we often hear teenagers say, “Do you always do what your parents tell you to do?”
Furthermore, why should the older brother have all the fun? Little Sean hitches a ride with Mike who really doesn’t want him around. So, they have the typically brotherly relationship which adds quite a bit to the story. When the teenagers find their lives in danger upon the appearance of the shark, how they feel about each other becomes completely irrelevant as they have to band together in order to survive.
Actually, I wonder if the filmmakers went with teenagers as shark meat in response of the sudden popularity of the slasher genre. I mean, the great white shark is in many ways the ultimate serial killer. He has sharp knives for teeth, and he (or she) can cut you up good. This one leaves no leftovers even if we wanted any, and much blood is spilt.
“Jaws 2” was directed by Jeannot Szwarc, and it is a good thing I am writing down his name instead of trying to pronounce it. He takes on daunting task of following a Spielberg masterpiece with a sequel which can only hope and pray to match the power of the original. The fact he does not entirely succeed is not altogether his fault. No one could ever have expected this sequel to be better than the original, and this certainly could have been a lot worse. Szwarc pretty much films “Jaws 2” in the same manner Spielberg did in terms of the shark attacks, but he also shows us more of the shark as well. While showing the shark takes some of the suspense away, he still does a good job of keeping the viewer on edge as we wonder when the shark will strike next.
Scheider made it clear on several occasions of how he did “Jaws 2” as a contractual obligation to Universal Pictures. I doubt he was all that excited about doing the sequel while the other key players went off to do other things. At least Robert Shaw had a good excuse; his character got eaten in the original. All the same, Scheider is still very strong here as Brody as he tries to convince the town there is another shark out there and makes it clear he’s not going to wait around for everyone to realize this. Scheider is one of the best reasons to watch “Jaws 2,” and he gives the audience a lot to cheer for as the film reaches its inevitable conclusion.
Of course, we all know what happens to the shark at the end. If you haven’t seen the movie yet and don’t want to know, don’t read any further. But it is a very cool death as Brody gets the shark’s attention by banging on a power line and drawing it in by sound. Holding the power line out for the shark to take a bite out of, his glee and anxiety are ever so apparent as he invites the shark to “SAY AHH!!!!!” The death of the shark by electrocution is right on a par with the way the first shark died, and it’s a scene I’m sure audiences cheered like crazy.
Another key ingredient of “Jaws 2” was also one of the main ones from Spielberg’s film, John Williams’ music. His score to the original remains one of the best and most frightening pieces of music ever created for a movie. With “Jaws 2,” Williams takes those themes from the first film and mixes them up with new ones for the characters inhabiting this sequel. It’s another great score which captures the heart and terror which unfolds onscreen. None of the other composers in this franchise came close to matching what Williams did. They simply lost the heart of the music and relied too much on the main “Jaws” theme to carry them through.
“Jaws 2” is understandably no masterpiece, but it is “Citizen Kane” when you compare it to the other sequels which followed it. “Jaws 2” was the last good movie in a series which soon descended into mediocrity. If you have to watch something on cable in the afternoon, you could certainly do worse than watch this one. Besides, it gave us one of the greatest taglines in movie history:
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the water…”
Of course, by the time “Jaws: The Revenge” came around, the tagline sounded more like this:
“Just when you thought it was safe to go back to a movie theater…”