Steven Spielberg wanted nothing to do with a sequel to Jaws, saying he was “done with the ocean” after the 1975 picture. Universal, on the other hand, wanted everything to do with a sequel and threw a ton of money at Jaws 2. The results are mixed, but there is a lot more shark in this nautical thriller.
Jeannot Szwarc directs the 1978 picture from a screenplay by Carl Gottlieb and Howard Sackler, with characters from Peter Benchley’s 1974 novel once again providing a basis for the adventure. Cinematographer Michael Butler swings the lens through Martha’s Vineyard and captures the action well, although the sequel lacks the visual tension of the original.
Amity Island is recovering from the events of Jaws when another great white shark starts attacking people. Police Chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) recognizes the signs, even if the mayor (Murray Hamilton) is once again disinclined to admit the problem. This is in large part due to the development of a new set of condos on Amity.
Brody is eventually fired after a costly error. Nobody believes his shark evidence, either. And Brody’s eldest son Mike (Mark Gruner) is among a massive group of teenagers to take to the waters, with his younger brother Sean (Marc Gilpin) in tow. When the shark surfaces again, all hell breaks loose.
While Jaws was fixed on a more “adult” environment, Jaws 2 contends with a fresher set of prospective victims. The teenagers inhabiting Amity Island, whether through summer vacations or more permanent settlements, do the lion’s share of heavy lifting.
Mike and his fellow teens are subject to the toothy impulses of the gyrating shark as they pay for certain indiscretions with the screams of their constant terror. The latter portion of the movie is spent watching the kids, including young Sean, stuck on an island of snarled boats as the great white shark does its dirty work.
The sequence is traumatic and neatly covered by Butler, but it lacks the essential strain of the original because there are no secrets. The shark is readily apparent, limping through its paces thanks to previously-acquired damage, and Szwarc makes no bones about thrusting all the chompy-chomp action right down the gullet of the viewer.
Ahead of the voracious, squealing finale, Jaws 2 is mostly a mountain of balmy slasher movie tropes. A lot of it is concerned with reiteration of its predecessor, complete with unconvinced administrators more interested in money than safety and security.
And Brody is thrust into the same position, although he ultimately loses his job and seems a little bonkers – for a while. Things are okay with his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary), though one gets the sense she should be a little more disturbed by her husband’s reckless firing of a gun on a teeming beach. So it goes.
Jaws 2 is a bit of a hodgepodge, but it’s not bad. It does pale when viewed in contrast to Spielberg’s understated layering and it definitely lacks wrenching tension. But it’s still a competent exercise in shark-related horror, with a suitably shocking final punch.