Released: June 16th, 1978
Intro: The direct sequel to the iconic shark thriller, JAWS 2 is seen by many as the only true and acceptable sequel out of the three following the original. It earned a novel albeit not by the original author, Peter Benchley, and it also earned its way into being featured on the JAWS ride at Universal Studios.
Story: JAWS 2 is set several years after the first movie, the Brody kids having grown to be seventeen and a preteen, their father still the police chief and their mother now an assistant to the mayor. It begins with a rather whimsical scene showing the aged kids and the current and carefree town of Amity celebrating. It’s a nice way to remind viewers that Amity is a small community that seems to have moved past the shark attacks from years before. It’s not long after that we are treated to some scenes setting the stage that we are about to watch part teen-drama and part cop-show. Believe it or not, it is a fairly balanced story.
Opting to continue to ignore the stripped-out events from the original JAWS novel, there are no signs of the mafia connections or remnants of an affair between Ellen and Matt Hooper, who is only mentioned by name once during the whole film. A wise decision, as neither plot point has a place here. Instead we have numerous segments featuring the elder Brody teen, Mike, and his friends, all of which seem to have the luck to always be the ones to find the latest shark drama. It’s a little contrived and convenient, and my only real complaint with it is that the teens seem not the least bit bothered by witnessing a boat explosion or a dead whale attacked by a shark. Even had they not seen the shark itself, the fact that something was out there causing problems should have put at least a modicum of fear in the kids, but as soon as the scene changes they have forgotten all about it. Even stranger is that both Mike and younger brother Sean were around for the events of the first film, Mike even having had a brush with the killer fish himself, yet neither boy seems to have the least bit of apprehension around the water the moment the word shark is brought up or the whale with a bite the size of a car taken out of it is found. I would have expected Mike and Sean to have had some reservations, but even Sean, who seems to be between 10 and 12, pays it no mind. Aside from that, I enjoy the kids and their interactions as they seem like a genuine group of teens living it up for the summer, obsessed with boating and beaches.
Chief Brody’s story is much more frustrating, only because I feel for him as a character. He has already been through the trauma of shark attacks several years prior and he obviously knows what he is talking about, but every time he tries to provide evidence to the local government, he is rebuffed. He struggles more and more to the point where he almost starts to sound a little crazy, except for the fact that the viewer knows his proof is completely legitimate. He is eventually fired for an innocent, yet dangerous, error in judgement. On top of all that, he is constantly at odds with Mike, who insists on going out in the water despite his father’s warnings. Reference back to the previous paragraph for just how absurd this part is for a teen who lived through shark-trauma only a few years before.
The build up hits when the teens all take their boats out and are attacked by the shark, all of the boats colliding into a clustered up mess of floating junk. One nitpick I have here is that Mike is suddenly taken out of the game by a concussion and thus whisked away to a doctor by the only sailing vessel left. While Sean is still out there, I would have liked to see Mike, who I had grown to see as a secondary main character, going through the mayhem with his friends. The rest of the movie is mostly the young people biding time and feeling helpless, except for one moment of hope when a helicopter shows up to help. While the scene looks neat, the shark sinking and basically eating the chopper as it sits on the water is one of the more ridiculous moments of the movie. It’s fun to watch and filled with tension, scares the kids all the more, and reminds everyone that there is a giant killer shark out there.
The climax of the movie comes when Chief Brody finally gets a small boat out to rescue the teens, but crashes. He then uses his wits to con the shark into biting a gigantic electric cable, lighting it up like the fourth of July. It’s a fun way to kill off the fish and end the movie, even if it does seem a little cheesy.
Don’t get me wrong, this is my second favorite of the films and just as fun to watch as the first one, but some of the later action scenes are a bit hokey in believability.
Characters: One of the best things about this sequel is that they brought back many of the characters from the first movie. They of course brought in the entire Brody family, but we are rejoined by the mayor and several council members as well. They may not be major players, but it’s important to note that those people were all around for the first movie and should know better when it comes to claims of shark attacks.
Roy Scheider was obligated to this film and really had not much desire to be in it, but thankfully that does not come across onscreen. He portrays the chief just as likable as before. I like his work friendship with his deputy, the chief playing a mentor role to the latter. When the shark shows up, the chief is just as adamant, if not more, to protect his family and the people of Amity. He also gets the most character development, seeing him go from collected police chief to panicked, to a man who drowns his sorrows in the drink once he is fired. He recovers and saves the day, of course.
Mike Brody is, to me, the secondary main character, pushing forward the narrative with the teenagers. He’s your average well meaning teenager with a knack for boating and a large group of friends. He’s an all around good kid, even if he does get slightly rebellious sneaking out with his friends after peer pressure from a potential girlfriend. Again, my only real problem with Mike and his brother Sean relates to the believability of boys seemingly unaffected by previous shark trauma.
Ellen Brody returns, but this time she has a job working for the mayor. It’s nice to see her doing something a little more involved and her husband going at odds with the mayor adds a nice little bit of tension. While both of her boys are growing up, there is a touching scene where she cares for one of Mike’s friends whose boyfriend is eaten by the shark, leaving the poor girl traumatized and almost catatonic.
Sean Brody plays the perfect role of only slightly annoying little brother and is seen only when necessary. After almost being eaten near the end of the movie, I would hope that he would stay off the water for the rest of his life, but alas that is not the case in the later films.
Mike’s friends are a likable enough group of teens, filling several archetypes to keep them at least to carbon copies of each other. Only one of them truly got on my nerves and that was because half of the movie was filled with her screaming at the top of her lungs in a very over-the-top fashion. Even Donna Wilkes, the actress who portrayed Jackie the screamer is known to have joked about her role in the film.
Overall there is a nice mixture of characters old and new, granted there is actually very little personal growth for any of the characters, except for Chief Brody. This is one of those cases where I am okay with it, since it’s a shark thriller, not a journey to find themselves.
Visuals: Its predecessor was known for a malfunctioning shark animatronic, and most of those same problems most likely plagued the production of this film as well. The shark still looks fake, especially once it earns half of its face burned, but it gave it a little more personality. We see the shark more in this film, but mostly just the head or fin. In fact, I don’t recall seeing a full body shot to portray his full size. The worst moment is when the shark attacks the helicopter; it just could not look any more absurd, but it was fun to watch as I said before.
Amity is a beautiful beach town, and seems much the same as before. Much more time is spent out on the water this time around, but never do we feel as if we are viewing scenes filmed in a tank. The beaches are pretty and the few extra set pieces we do see fit nicely into the narrative.
Costumes are spot on for the time period, right down to near-booty shorts for some of the guys, and white jeans before labor day.
Sound: Another perfect score for this movie, we get the original theme, slightly updated, and many new pieces as well. The daytime and fun loving scenes had perfectly whimsical tunes and the tense moments had plenty of more unnerving music. Again we do not need a ton of sound effects, but the ones that are there are just fine.
Overall: JAWS 2 is the perfect follow up for the original. It’s fun to watch even if its relatively low on suspense at times, and it hits a little closer to home for those of you who enjoy taking small craft out in the open ocean. It’s not as good as the first movie, but it is far better than the two sequels that follow it.