It's been three years since Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) helped dispatch an immense great white shark terrorizing Amity Island, and things have gone relatively back to normal. His kids have grown up, and his wife, Ellen (Lorraine Gary), is working closely with development and construction on the island. In the midst of summer rush though, weird occurrences start to happen including the disappearance of two divers and a bizarre boating accident where the driver and water skier are both killed. A killer whale even washes up on shore with huge bites in its side. No one has witnessed anything funny though, but Brody is convinced that all the weird incidents, evidence and clues point to another great white shark patrolling the waters around Amity Island. Can he convince anyone else of what he believes before more lives are claimed?
Much like its classic predecessor, 'Jaws 2' seemed doom from the start. The Steven Spielberg directed film from 1975 was obviously able to right the ship, becoming a fan favorite and one of Hollywood's all-time best flicks. Making its follow-up though was far from a smooth ride. Filming started and went on for over a month before the studio decided it wanted to go in a different direction. In stepped director Jeannot Szwarc and the tone of the movie was lightened up a bit (as much as you can with a movie about a killer shark), some of the darker ideas left behind. Filming went on with some other issues developing, and the final product went on to gross over $200,000,000 at the box office.
If you're going to make an unnecessary sequel, might as well do it right. Less than pleased about having to play Chief Brody again, Scheider apparently had some pretty intense on-set incidents with director Szwarc and crew. You'd never guess from watching the finished product. In the original, Scheider was part of an ensemble, carving out his own niche alongside similarly scene-stealing Robert Shaw and Richard Dreyfuss. This is his film, and he embraces it (issues he was there at all aside). We see character development, especially considering how his earlier interactions with the shark impacted him. He becomes paranoid, even obsessed when the possibility of another shark arises. We see Brody's descent into that obsession, putting his job and family at risk. It's a character we like and sympathize with, and Scheider does a fine job.
Along with Scheider, Gary returns as Ellen Brody, Martin's wife who worries more and more about her paranoid husband. She believes him and supports him, but even she questions if he's lost his mind a little bit. Also returning is Murray Hamilton as Larry Vaughan, money-minded mayor of Amity Island. Jeffrey Kramer plays Deputy Hendricks, Brody's goofy but well-meaning deputy.
Also setting it apart from the original is a more straightforward mentality. One of the most clever parts of the original is that we basically don't see the shark until the final third of the movie. The drama and tension builds until it's almost unbearable. Well, if you're watching a movie called 'Jaws 2,' you kinda know what it's about, right? No point in hiding the shark. The shark attacks are more aggressive, more in your face as we see the great white rip his victims to pieces (divers, swimmers, boaters, helicopters, stupid teenagers). Composer John Williams returns with his famous score, especially the main theme. Seeing the shark can be just as scary as the unknown, and we get our fair share of shark P.O.V. shots as he swims closer to his next meals. Similar to the original in the big picture, but it does enough to distance itself and create its own identity.
The biggest difference between the first two movies is the second hour. Instead of going on the hunt, Brody ends up being a rescuer. A bunch of horny, drinking teenagers, including Brody's son, Michael (Mark Gruner) and a tag-along younger son, Sean (Marc Gilpin), head out on their sailboats for the far-off lighthouse and more! The shark is in pursuit and wreaking havoc, Brody following behind in hopes of fending off the attacks. The build-up can be a little slow, but the last 45 minutes makes up for it. Also worthwhile to see how much it influenced future slasher films like Halloween and Friday the 13th among others. It's a solid ending to an enjoyable if unspectacular sequel.
Jaws 2 (1978): ***/****