Jaws 2 Is a Great Sequel

Okay, uh… I actually kind of loved that???

I haven’t seen this since I was very young, and my recollection if it was pretty hazy. It’s not surprising to me that I didn’t soak this one up like a sponge at the time, because the beginning is pretty slow. All I really remembered going into this was the opening with the scuba diver’s camera, and the dramatic photo development lab scene.

By the way, in the category of Technological Progress: The Hidden Cost!: we can no longer have dramatic photograph development scenes except in period pieces. I worry about the important issues here, okay? I worry about America. No one wants to watch a dramatic Instagram upload scene. Or maybe they do. I probably shouldn’t assume that, especially since I’ve never used Instagram and know basically nothing about it.

Anyway, back to the matter at hand. This isn’t Jaws, clearly. But that’s not totally fair. Without Spielberg, it was never going to be. And even with Spielberg, it probably wouldn’t have been. If The Lost World taught us anything, it’s that he would’ve gotten bored and wanted to do something a little different and y’all would’ve hated him for it, anyway.

So yes, if you try to compare this with Jaws, you can’t possibly be anything but disappointed because Jaws was a completely different kind of movie with loftier aims. A lot of this was driven by realities of the troubled production–Spielberg famously wanted you to see a lot more of the shark, and when he had to work around that he ended up switching gears and instead crafting an exercise in suspense that now ranks among the greatest films of all time.

It was a very fortunate twist of fate that may have changed cinema as we know it, but it’s not the kind of thing you can pull off twice. Fortunately, Jaws 2 doesn’t even try to. Instead, it takes the most essential character-driven elements of Jaws and uses them as its through line, and repackages it into what’s basically a slasher movie. You have Roy Scheider over here trying to save the city from themselves, and over there you have teens and twentysomethings running around half naked and then getting attacked by sharks. I legitimately can’t think of a better direction for this sequel to have gone.

It’s indulgent, sure. And it probably wouldn’t work at all if it didn’t have the first, more serious film’s history to draw from. There’s nothing particularly great about the writing of Scheider’s character in this, but you feel the weight of his experience from the first film in basically every scene and his performance does a pretty great job of selling it. But it also has virtues that are wholly its own. The crowd-pleasing shark attacks might not have the same craft as the suspense of Jaws, but they totally work in their own way.

If you’re not trying to directly compare Jaws 2 to its predecessor, I think you have to admit that this film is basically a best-case scenario for its followup. Don’t try to catch lightning in a bottle twice, figure out something else that’ll work, and then make it as awesome as possible. The upshot of this is that the audience ends up with a totally unique experience, and we also don’t have to sit through an inevitably inferior retread of a masterpiece.



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