I feel a little sorry for Jaws 2. Most people will agree that sequels tend to have a hard time living up to the original movie, and with a few exceptions, tend to fall short. Whilst I’m not going to turn around and say that Jaws 2 is better than the original, I am going to say that it’s a lot better than people make it out to be.
It’s easy to make fun of the Jaws movies as a whole because of less than stellar sequels, just look at the Jaws 19 joke in Back To The Future 2 (and if you’ve not seen it yet, go and watch the fake Jaws 19 trailer that Universal Pictures released to celebrate Back To The Future as it’s brilliantly funny). Jaws 3D is an awful, awful movie, with a ridiculous plot, and Jaws: The Revenge is just dull and lacklustre. But Jaws 2 really tries to be a good movie that lives up to the original and recaptures some of that magic.
The film brings back many of the things that make you think about the original Jaws; the locations from the first film were reused here and helped to recapture the qualities of Amity Island and all of the main characters from the first film (apart from Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper) were back.
Jaws 2 manages to use these assets well, carrying on a believable story for the survivors of the first film yet taking the story in its own direction and not just rehashing the events of the original. One of the ways that it struck out on its own was by changing the tone of the film somewhat. The long mystery and slow burning tension of the first film was gone, replaced now with the shark being seen from the very beginning.
I know that this is often something of a complain for some viewers, saying that the film was being lazy for not trying to create tension, or that the filmmakers just wanted to show off their shark straight away. But you have to remember, audiences were aware of what to expect the second time around. A slow burn that held the shark back until the end of the film wouldn’t work the second time around. The decision by director Jeannot Szwarc to show the shark, instead using the desperate race to save the teenagers to increase tension, was a smart move.
It may be a bold thing to say, but I sometimes prefer the final act of the second film to that of the original. Now, I’m not saying that the original is bad in any way, I absolutely love the film, but the tension of the final act is interrupted by long moments where nothing much really happens. Whilst I love the drinking scene where the three hunters exchange stories and compare scars I can’t help but feel that it breaks the pace a little. Jaws 2 has, in my opinion, a much tighter final act, setting everything over a much shorter time-span. This works well because it feels like the shark isn’t just something out in the ocean that is being looked for, but an active predator that isn’t leaving the defenceless teens alone until it kills them all.
When you also factor in the extremely troubled production, it’s an absolute miracle that the film is even as good as it is. The script was rewritten several times, with the original concept being completely different (this version of the story focusing on the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent shark attacks that Quint (Robert Shaw) witnessed) and had several variations to the final act.
Coupled with this was a change of director part way through the production when the original director, John D. Hancock, was replaced when Universal Executives were unhappy with the tone of the film. Whilst the new director, Jeannot Szwarc, was delivering the film more to the liking of the studio, he didn’t get on well with Roy Scheider, and the two of them even came to physical blows at one point.
Despite these troubles, the film hold up surprisingly well. You would never guess that Scheider had issues with the director due to remaining completely professional throughout and still giving the project his best, even though he didn’t really want to take part in the project.
Jaws is an absolute classic, and there will never be a sequel to it that will beat if for quality, but Jaws 2 comes close, and is easily the best of the three sequels, and a damn good movie in its own right.