Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was more than a box office sensation – it was a cultural phenomenon. Along with Star Wars, Jaws changed how movies were made, released, and watched. And just like Psycho turned people off of their showers, Jaws scared a generation away from the ocean. Still there was no reason to make a sequel. Nothing about the movie lent itself to a continuing story. But with that much money on the table, it’s hard to blame the studio executive who greenlit Jaws 2. Unfortunately, no sequel was ever going to live up to Spielberg’s original. Yet as far as follow-ups go, Jaws 2 is much better than it had any right to be. Certainly, it’s head and shoulders above the sequels that would follow. Critics were on the fence, but there’s lots to love with this pure popcorn follow-up.
Jaws 2 Is A Little Soggy When It’s Landlocked
Right off the bat, let’s address the ‘Great White’ in the room. When Jaws 2 is stuck on land, it struggles. 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 struggleS.
Much of the problem with Jaws 2 also stems from its recycling of story elements. Roy Scheider, who is excellent again as Chief Martin Brody, is largely left to once again play the ‘outsider-on-the-inside’. When Jaws 2 isn’t in the water, director Jeannot Szwarc gives us scene after scene of Brody trying to convince Amity‘s town council that another shark has arrived. It’s an entirely unnecessary and rehashed plot line that just slows things down too much. Ultimately, it ends up feelings like filler while we wait for the next shark attack. Besides, at this point, in the fictional world of Jaws, wouldn’t you just trust Brody?
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 going to replicate that shocking opening scene. And the shark’s infamous first full appearance is movie moment history. You can’t catch lightning in a bottle. Nonetheless, last-minute substitute director 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 movie during a scuba diving class. If Szwarz struggles to find dramatic purpose on land, he excels when the story movies to the water.
…last-minute substitute director Szwarc crafts not one but several thrilling shark moments in Jaws 2.
Fortunately, Szwarz also demonstrates a good handle on what it is about sharks and the ocean that scares us. 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. In the next shot, the Great White emerges from underneath, dragging Marge under the water. For what’s essentially a popcorn horror movie, the scene is one of more haunting moments in the Jaws franchise. Moreover, it taps into what scares us about any deep sea thriller – we’re afraid of what we can’t see. Jaws 2 exploits our fear of ]not knowing what is beneath us.
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 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’s shark showdown. Furthermore, Szwarc also sets some stakes with the shark’s initial attack on Eddie and Tina in a cleverly staged scene.
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?
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.
Sequels Happen, But Jaws 2 Is the Right Kind of Sequel
In the 40 plus 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 3D or Jaws: The Revenge.