Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (July 24, 2016)
Let’s hear it for nostalgic pleasures, as we look at my introduction to the cinematic joys of killer sharks: 1978’s Jaws 2. The original film hit screens when I was eight years old, and frankly, I was too much of a wussy boy to see it.
By the age of eleven, however, I was fully prepared for some real screen-chomping, so my friend Kevin and I eagerly rushed to see Jaws 2 the day it appeared on local screens. Actually, it was a doubly-exciting time for us, since the movie came out on the last day of fifth grade. What better way to start the summer than with a little violent entertainment?
And make no mistake about it: Jaws 2 really captivated me. As a kid, I must admit that I changed allegiances fairly rapidly, and Jaws 2 was one in a line of my “all-time” favorite films.
Still, I loved it well enough that it briefly possessed that minor honor, and I eventually saw it six times during its theatrical run. I just couldn’t get enough of that shark!
I finally saw the original Jaws during a theatrical reissue in the summer of 1979. I thought it was really cool, though I continued to prefer the sequel. In time, I would change my mind; I can’t pin down the exact period during which I realized that 1975’s Jaws blew away the sequel, but when I finally appreciated the original over the sequel, I never looked back.
Though my critical appreciation of Jaws 2 faded over the years, its nostalgic appeal remains strong, so I periodically check it out again. Adult viewings of childhood favorites are dangerous, as theu can damage precious memories. As such, I’ve always gone into each new screening of Jaws 2 with trepidation.
That’s the case for one strong reason: Jaws 2 simply isn’t a very good movie. Of the first film’s three main characters, only one returns: Martin Brody (Roy Scheider), police chief of small vacation island Amity.
Although some supporting personnel come back for the second movie - including Brody’s wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary), his kids and Mayor Larry Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) - we don’t find the other leads of Jaws. Anyone who’s seen the first flick knows why Quint (Robert Shaw) didn’t return, but the absence of Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) seems less logical.
In any case, Jaws 2 functions almost as a remake of the original film. Another great white shark menaces the shores of Amity, and only Brody seems concerned.
Actually, the presence of the shark is less clear-cut to the islanders in the sequel; there have been some mishaps, but no one can say for certain that it was a shark. Brody’s pretty positive a new beastie is responsible, but no one believes him.
Ultimately, Brody is proven correct, but not until many of the island’s young folk are put in danger. In Jaws, Brody, Hooper and Quint specifically went out after the shark to restore Amity’s diminishing commercial fortunes. In the sequel, however, the presence of the fish has not had any impact on the island; despite the place’s history, its tourist trade seems to thrive. However, when the shark attacks a group of teens - including Brody’s 17-year-old son Mike (Mark Gruner) and 11-year-old son Sean (Marc Gilpin) - it’s Brody to the rescue.
Both Jaws and the sequel show similar structues. In their first halves, the audience and Brody become aware of the threat, but it’s not until the second parts of the films that anyone really does anything about it. Of course, the crew in Jaws proactively went after the shark, whereas in the second film Brody works in a more reactive “rescue mode”.
At times, Jaws 2 can offer some fun moments. A few of the shark attacks are well-executed, with the best involving a rescue helicopter. The fish itself still doesn’t look terribly convincing, but the sequel’s beast was a better mechanical animal than the one we saw in the first movie.
Other than a smattering of good action bits, though, Jaws 2 is a bit of a dud. Perhaps it’s not fair to compare it to the classic original, but such viewpoints become inevitable, and the sequel comes up lacking in virtually every category.
My primary disappointment with Jaws 2 stems from character development. In the original, the roles all seem well-defined and rich. All three leads feel full-blooded and believable, and the supporting parts fit neatly into their niches; none of them come across like generic roles, and they mesh with the other personae well.
That doesn’t happen in the sequel. For one, we really feel the absence of strong actors like Shaw and Dreyfuss. In their absence, we get a roster of teens, none of whom show much presence.
Gary and Hamilton take over the co-lead billing once occupied by Shaw and Dreyfuss, but their roles aren’t nearly as important or well-developed. Actually, both Vaughn and Ellen seemed better-realized in the first movie; their roles receive no real expansion in the sequel, and they exist here mainly to fill space.
While Jaws brought us a taut psychological “man vs. beast” thriller, the sequel offers nothing more than popcorn fare. The teens go to sea just to be shark bait and to lure Brody after them - there’s nothing more substantial at work. It’s a simple scare ride in which some thin characters are put into dicey situations to draw a response from the audience.
As such, Jaws 2 acts as a missed opportunity. Throughout the movie, we see the underpinnings of psychological issues that affect Brody. After the nightmare he experienced with the first shark, he’s a guy ripe for a breakdown, and the “accidents” that start to occur look like they’ll push him over the edge.
That never happens, and it never almost happens. Although we see some small hints of self-doubt, the film never lets these take root for one debilitating reason: the audience knows that Brody’s right. The movie clearly shows us that a new shark patrols the Amity coast, so we’re in Brody’s corner from minute one.
This becomes a terrible mistake, as Jaws 2 could have been much more interesting if the audience saw things solely from Brody’s point of view. In that case, we’d be just as unsure as he may be, and we’d wonder about his sanity.
As it stands, we never have any concerns about his mental state, and we just hate the cardboard-cutout villains represented by the town council. They refuse to see the truth that we know exists, so we get no psychological nuance.
Because of this decision, the story of Jaws 2 becomes little more than an exercise in the inevitable. We know there’s a shark, and we know Brody will have to fight it. We know that a number of folks will be eaten along the way. We don’t know who, and we don’t know how Brody will stop the fish, but otherwise, the rest of the path feels predetermined.
Just because a film is predictable doesn’t mean that it has to be bad, and in truth, Jaws 2 isn’t a terrible flick. Director Jeannot Szwarc helmed some serious stinkers over the years - he made both Supergirl and Santa Claus: The Movie - but Jaws 2 doesn’t deserve to stand among those duds.
However, it remains a fairly unsatisfying sequel, one that strips the original to its barest elements. As Jaws 2 grabs the overt action of the first film, it loses that flick’s tension and drive.
Indeed, the lack of stress seems fairly astonishing – even with all the potential victims, it never feels like much is at stake. In Jaws, it was clear that the survival of a community depended on the actions of its chief, whereas in the sequel, nothing much ever seems to be at risk.
Without that threat or danger, the film becomes little more than a series of moderately-effective action sequences. If you want to see some decent shark attack scenes, Jaws 2 will probably make you happy. However, if you seek something with a little more meat on its bones, the original Jaws remains the only game in town.