Just When You Thought It Was Safe to Go Back in the Water: Jaws 2 Turns 40

Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was more than just a box office sensation – it was a cultural phenomenon. Along with Star Wars, Jaws changed how movies were made, released, and watched by audiences. And just like Psycho turned people off of their showers, Jaws scared a generation away from the ocean.

There was no reason to make a sequel to Jaws. It’s among an elite sample of films that should never be remade. But with that much money on the table, it’s hard to blame the studio executive who greenlit Jaws 2. No sequel was ever going to live up to the original, but as far as follow-ups go, Jaws 2 is much better than it had any right to be. Today marks the 40th anniversary of Jaws 2, a film for which I have a lot of love. For this edition of The Vault, I take a closer look at Jaws 2.

A Little Soggy When Its Landlocked

When Jaws 2 is stuck on land it can’t help but struggle. This is in part due to the absence of Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfus. The decision to focus on Brody’s teenage son and his friends probably made sense from a box office marketing perspective. In addition, there is nothing wrong with any of the performances from the younger cast. In fact, teenage Mike Brody and his sailing friends are all pretty likable and sympathetic. But replacing Shaw and Dreyfus was always going to be a tall order and they inevitably leave a great white-sized void in the sequel.

When Jaws 2 is stuck on land it can’t help but struggle.

Much of the problem with Jaws 2 also stems from its recycling of story elements from the first film. Roy Scheider, who is excellent again as Chief Martin Brody, is largely left to once again play the ‘outsider-on-the-inside’ trying to convince the Amity town council that another shark has arrived. It’s an entirely unnecessary and rehashed plot line that just slows things down too much. At this point, in the fictional world of Jaws, would you just trust Brody?

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Jaws 2 Doesn’t Skimp on the Shark Action

Nothing in Jaws 2 was ever going to compare to what Spielberg previously accomplished. No one was ever going to replicate that shocking opening scene or the shark’s infamous first full appearance. Nonetheless, last-minute substitute director Jeannot Szwarc crafts not one but several thrilling shark moments in Jaws 2. A scene with the shark chasing down a water skier and Mike Brody’s later close escape are both fun, thrilling, and tense. Szwarc also gets in a nice jump scare later in the film during a scuba diving class.

…last-minute substitute director Jeannot Szwarc crafts not one but several thrilling shark moments in Jaws 2.

Szwarz also demonstrates that he has a good handle on what it is about sharks and the ocean that audiences find scaring. During one of the shark’s attacks on the teen sailing party, younger brother Sean Brody is lifted atop an overturned boat and rescued by Marge, one of Mike’s friends. The camera shot of the shark emerging from underneath Marge and dragging her under the water when she can’t pull herself to safety is one of the more haunting moments in the entire Jaws franchise. It is everything frightening about the ocean – the sensation of not knowing what is beneath you.

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Jaws 2 Delivers a Roller Coaster Final Act

As Jaws 2 hits its third act, the action picks up and Szwarc delivers the kind of roller coaster entertainment audiences want from the summer box office. Everything that happens in the film’s final act defies logic, but it makes for fun, brainless entertainment. The set-up of Mike and his friends drifting helplessly on overturned boats while the shark attacks is a fantastic substitute for the original film’s shark showdown. Szwarc also wisely sets some stakes with the shark’s initial attack on Eddie and Tina in a cleverly staged scene.

Of course, the climax from the original Jaws still stands as one of the best endings in film history. Jaws 2 can’t top it, but it certainly does manage to deliver an ending that is thrilling and satisfying regardless of how ridiculous it sounds (and is). By the time you reach this moment, Szwarc either has you in the palm of his hand or you’ve turned off the movie. Besides, it’s a movie about a second giant great white shark preying off the coast of the same New England island so why not shoot for the moon?

About that Helicopter Scene …

I actually saw Jaws 2 for the first time when I was a kid during a television airing. It was while visiting my grandparent’s cottage, which only got two channels on the TV. In that version, I always remembered thinking that the shark attack on the helicopter was extended with ‘Jaws’ attacking the pilot underwater. Needless to say, I was pretty confused when I saw Jaws 2 years later as an adult, chalking up my childhood memories to a bad dream. As it turns out, there was indeed an extended deleted scene of the helicopter attack that has since been restored on the Blu-ray version.

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Sequels Happen, But Jaws 2 Is the Right Kind of Sequel

In the 40 years since it was first released, I’ve watched Jaws 2 several times and it never fails to disappoint. Lacking the originality and substance of its predecessor, Jaws 2 nevertheless works as brilliantly fun and thrilling mindless summer entertainment. Hollywood is going to make sequels to successful movies. In some cases, Hollywood may remake those same successful movies. But if sequels have to happen, you can do a lot worse than Jaws 2. If you want evidence for that argument, look no further than Jaws: The Revenge.

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Author: Andrew Welsh

I am a Criminology professor in Canada but I've always had a passion for horror films. Over the years I've slowly begun incorporating my interest in the horror genre into my research. After years of saying I wanted to write more about horror I have finally decided to create my own blog where I can share some of my passion and insights into the films I love.

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