A Much-Maligned Fish: Why Jaws 2 Doesn’t Suck
By Pat Black
The Jaws movies are a textbook example of the law of diminishing returns.
Jaws: Solid gold. Movie classic. Still gives you the willies. Easy to play on the piano.
Jaws 2: A decent Sunday roast, though not as good as last week’s filet mignon. Hey, it was your birthday.
Jaws 3D: Take me back to two dimensions.
Jaws: The Revenge: Some day, I will have mine.
And yet, the first sequel is a fine thriller in its own right. The chief defect in Jeannot Szwarc’s movie is that it isn’t a patch on Spielberg’s original. But this puts Jaws 2 on the same footing as just about every major cinema release before or since.
It’s not great, but Jaws 2 deserves some love. Here’s why:
1. The kids are alright
Jaws 2 is a teen slasher film before they were invented – Michael Myers first raided the knife block in Halloween three months afterwards. Its young cast is naturalistic, and you’re always worried about them.
If you must judge them harshly, imagine the ghastly mess this film would be if it was made today. The six packs and implants, the stock types, the pop culture references, the buzzwords and hashtag slang. You’d be shovelling them down Bruce’s neck.
2. Big frights
There are some excellent scares in Jaws 2. Consider the body-on-a-spring in the surf, where Chief Brody finds out about what happened to victim number two on the speedboat after she throws herself into his arms.
The only mystery over the Kentucky Fried Mermaid is – why didn’t Bruce go back and finish the job? I like barbecue. You like barbecue. Surely sharks like barbecue?
3. It has some terribly upsetting deaths
Poor Marge. She’s so maternal and caring in her treatment of young Sean Brody… which makes it all the more unsettling when she is devoured. In one go.
Quint’s demise feels inevitable, even necessary. But your heart is with Marge. I never forgot her death. And she didn’t resort to spitting blood in our faces.
4. It tries to make the shark look different
They could just have gone bigger. “A 25ft shark, eh? We can do 30, can’t we? How about 32..? Thirty-five? Forty feet, do I hear 40? Bugger it, let’s do a tonne!”
This one mixed it up a bit. It gave Bruce some scars after he got burned. I’m not sure I found the shark scarier as a result, but it tried.
Nowadays, they would give Nu-Bruce some piercings, or a tattoo. A nice black rose just behind the dorsal fin. Or maybe some Japanese script, translating as “Yo, sushi”.
5. Interesting things happen to the main character
We’ve already seen Roy Scheider’s everyman copper railing against authorities who wouldn’t listen in the original Jaws. Here, he undergoes some development. After a couple of divers go missing, Brody’s sharktennae start twitching. A little too keenly.
It’s fair to say Chief Brody loses the plot. It’s tough to watch him go crackers on the beach, firing his poison-tipped bullets into the surf while people run past him in a panic. But – oh no, it’s just bluefish! He’s left his sharktacles at home.
What makes this breakdown more compelling is that we’re on his side – we know there’s a shark there, dammit! But the narrative toys with him.
6. Orca, killed whale
Perhaps this was a thumb of the snout in the direction of Dino de Laurentis’ Jaws-a-like, Orca: Killer Whale (1977) – but it was neat to show Jaws establishing himself as the biggest kid in the Amity Yaaaaad.
7. The helicopter guy’s beard
In another universe, Jaws 2 centres on a titanic battle between the shark and the rescue helicopter pilot’s beard. Imagine the poster: Jaws swimming along the surface, and that guy – that beard – surging towards it from the depths.
Is the actor – real-life pilot Jerry M Baxter – still sporting it even now? Airwolf could have been so different with him at the controls rather than Jan-Michael Vincent.
Come to think of it…
8. Jaws ate a helicopter.
9. The shark’s death is better
Having the shark chomping a power cable and turning onto a piscine Catherine wheel makes a lot more sense than Hooper’s magical exploding Scuba tank.
Can anyone smell fish? That’s Brody 2 Sharks 0.
10. The tagline
It’s a beauty. Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…
You’ve just used Movie Trailer Guy’s voice in your head, haven’t you?