“Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water—.”
As movie taglines go, this one from JAWS 2 (1978) is one of the best. It also just might be the most memorable part of the entire movie.
To be fair, no sequel was ever going to match Steven Spielberg’s original JAWS (1975).
That being said, I happen to like JAWS 2, although not as much as I did when I first saw it at the movies in 1978 when I was 14 years-old. Back then, I quickly declared it the best movie of the summer, and I liked it almost as much as the original. What can I say? I was young. I was also influenced by a sold-out crowd that was brimming with energy and enthusiasm. The audience cheered during the opening credits when Roy Scheider’s name appeared on screen, just as they had done when Scheider had destroyed the shark at the end of JAWS, and there were plenty of screams and shouts as the movie went on.
Of course, the reality is JAWS 2 is merely an adequate movie, paling in comparison to the original JAWS, and suffering from the repetitiveness from which so many movie sequels suffer. Still, JAWS 2 is far and away the best of the JAWS sequels, which isn’t saying much, since JAWS 3 (1983) and JAWS: THE REVENGE (1987) are both pretty awful.
JAWS 2 opens with a pair of divers discovering the sunken wreckage of the Orca, Quint’s boat from the first movie. Within minutes, the divers are attacked and killed by a shark in a surprisingly tame scene that is vastly inferior to the opening scene in JAWS, the vicious attack on young Chrissy.
JAWS 2 once again takes place on Amity Island, which now looks much bigger, since this sequel was filmed in Florida rather than on tiny Martha’s Vineyard. Four years have passed since the events of JAWS, and Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) is still police chief on the island.
When Brody learns of a possible shark attack, he tries to take action but his efforts are thwarted by Mayor Vaughn (Murray Hamilton) and local businessman Len Peterson (Joseph Mascolo), whose priorities are keeping the tourist season open and making money. Things get so bad this time around that Brody is actually fired from his position as police chief.
But the shark problem is real, and this time the shark sets its teeth—er, sights— on a group of teenagers— including Brody’s two sons— out sailing. Once more, it’s up to Chief Brody to save the day, as he sets off alone in a boat to take on the shark and rescue the teens, which on its own is no easy task, but it’s even more daunting in this case because Brody lives in deathly fear of water.
JAWS 2 definitely suffers from “been there, done that.” You would think that Mayor Vaughn would have learned his lesson after the first movie, but no, he’s still not listening to Brody. He is slightly more sympathetic this time around, as businessman Len Peterson takes over the pain-in-the-ass heavy role. Peterson gets most of the aggravating lines, and Joseph Mascolo does a nice job making you hate the guy.
But the biggest problem with JAWS 2 is that the story doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. The movie asks us to believe that a second great white shark returns to the same island where another shark had wreaked havoc just a few years earlier. What are the odds? To make matters worse, the film tries to imply that this shark has arrived to seek vengeance for the death of the first shark. Really? This is a theme which permeates the series, as subsequent sequels deal with sharks targeting Brody’s wife and adult sons.
If you’re going to throw something that outlandish into the story, you’d better back it up with some facts or some embellishments to get the audience to buy into it, but JAWS 2 doesn’t do this. It’s almost as the film couldn’t make up its mind if it wanted to go all in with its revenge plot. It’s mentioned, and then it’s forgotten.
The best part of JAWS 2 is the return of Roy Scheider as Martin Brody. He’s excellent once again, and he’s largely responsible for making this the best of the sequels, since he doesn’t appear in the next two movies. The film tries to shake things up by giving more screen time to Ellen Brody (Lorraine Gary) and Martin’s deputy from the first film, Jeff Hendricks (Jeffrey Kramer), and while Gary and Kramer are both very good in these roles, they’re not Richard Dreyfuss or Robert Shaw, who are both greatly missed in this sequel.
While director Jeannot Szwarc does an adequate job at the helm, he’s no Steven Spielberg. The camera just never gets in close enough to really get under your skin. In JAWS, Spielberg’s camera always seemed to be hovering around water level, and with the shark lurking, the effect made you always want to turn away.
Szwarc also decides to show the shark much more than Spielberg did, and while the shark actually looks pretty good, it doesn’t always translate into scary scenes.
That being said, there are some very good scenes in JAWS 2. The attack on one of the teens, Eddie, is as intense as anything seen in the original, and the sequence with the water skier is exciting and suspenseful. Unfortunately, there’s also some not-so-good scenes, like the over-the-top sequence where the shark actually attacks a helicopter. But for the most part, the shark scenes in JAWS 2 are a lot of fun to watch.
The second half of JAWS 2 focuses on the teenagers in their sailboats fighting off the shark, and so the film almost follows the teen slasher formula, which got a boost the same year with the release of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978).
John Williams returns as the film’s music composer, and while it would be ludicrous to say this score is better than his original JAWS score, it is an excellent score. His JAWS theme is back, of course, and he also introduces other themes that were not present in the first movie.
The screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler succeeds in telling an exciting story, even if its premise of a shark that attacks an island perhaps out of revenge doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. It also doesn’t feature anywhere near the slate of memorable lines that came out of the first JAWS— that screenplay was co-written by Gottlieb and JAWS author Peter Benchley.
JAWS 2 is not a cinematic classic like its predecessor, but it is a heck of a lot of fun and makes for perfect summer time horror viewing. Just slap on some sun tan lotion, flip on the shades, and settle back in your beach chair, and as you listen to the sounds of happy beach goers and crashing ocean waves, just wait, because soon you’ll hear the ominous notes of John Williams’ music score and then—.
Is that a shark fin I see?