It goes without saying that sequels are almost never on par with their source material. Continuity isn’t always maintained, actors get replaced, and more often than not they exist to capitalize on the success of the original. If history has taught us anything, it’s that quality fades over time, and any series has difficulty sustaining momentum with multiple entries. That’s certainly the case with the Jaws franchise. When Spielberg’s film hit theatres in 1975, it was an overnight sensation, ushering in the tradition of the summer blockbuster, and making millions afraid of the ocean in the process. Jaws (1975) spawned follow-ups, with Jaws 2 (1989) and Jaws 3D (1983) being the first. The quality of story and revenue gradually declined with each entry, and twelve years after the release of the original came the fourth and final instalment, Jaws: The Revenge (1987).
Joseph Sargent, best known for The Taking of Pelham One Two Three (1974), was brought on to produce and direct with Michael De Guzman penning the screenplay. The pair’s efforts haven’t been looked upon favorably over the years. Jaws: The Revenge possesses notoriety like the original, but mostly for being known as one of the worst sequels of all time. Panned unmercifully by critics and audiences, it’s seen more than its fair share of negative criticism over the years.
Much like Jaws 3D, Roy Schneider didn’t return to reprise his role as Martin Brody. His absence is explained away in the first act as a heart attack, and he makes an “appearance” later on in the film through lifted stock footage. The main focal point of the movie focuses on Martin’s widow Ellen (Lorraine Gary) and their son Michael (Lance Guest). Once again we find ourselves back in the town of Amity, where it doesn’t take long for a shark attack to occur. This time, it’s the youngest Brody, Shawn, who meets his end when his police boat is attacked in the town harbor. His death sets the wheels in motion for the main premise of the film, which is the shark’s alleged vendetta to carry out vengeance upon the Brody family. Ellen, convinced that Shawn’s death was premeditated, believes it’s returned to even the score once and for all.
As the Brody’s lament his passing, Michael convinces his mother to spend the holidays with him and his family in the Bahamas. En route to the island paradise, we’re introduced to a cockney pilot named Hoagie, played by the always-incomparable Michael Caine. As usual, he turns out a charming performance and lights up every scene he’s a part of. While the family gets settled, we’re also introduced to Michael’s research assistant, Jake, (Mario Van Peebles) who more or less fills the role of Hooper from the first movie. The pair spends their time studying crustaceans that reside on the ocean floor.
The setting of the Bahamas sets up two of the movie’s major plot devices; the shark inexplicably following the family to their new location, and a psychic sixth sense that alerts Ellen whenever it’s in the general area. If there’s something that has to be said about Jaws: The Revenge, it’s that it takes place in an alternate reality not present in the previous instalments. There are certainly two ways to examine this. First, in being completely objective, it’s utterly ridiculous. A story involving a revenge-seeking animal that has a psychic link with its prey ceases to be a marine based thriller and ultimately becomes science fiction. The very fact that a shark would relocate from New England to the tropical climate of the Bahamas is completely laughable. Looking past this notion requires considerable suspension of disbelief.
That’s certainly one way of looking at it. However, there are always two sides to every story. If there’s one thing to remember about the other sequels, it’s that they’re largely forgettable. Jaws 2 was largely a re-hashing of many elements from the first instalment, and Jaws 3D had two memorable things about it: being a part of the short-lived 3D craze and having a tie-in with Sea World. Jaws: The Revenge may be hair brained, but it’s certainly not forgettable by any means. As a matter of fact, that’s where a great deal of the film’s charm comes from. Because of its implausibility, it becomes wildly entertaining. With any franchise, things run the risk of becoming stale, formulaic, and predictable. For all intents and purposes, this entry takes things in a direction that no one would have expected. Beneath its absurdity, however, is an underlying theme that’s relatable to almost any member of the audience.
This is found within the character of Ellen Brody. When you take the psychic link with the shark away, she’s actually a very relatable character. She’s the matriarch of a family who’s recovering from recent trauma. She struggles to maintain composure in her role among the family and even remarks to Michael that she’s never stopped being a mother despite the fact that her children are grown. One of the main subplots with her character is the budding romance she has with Hoagie. It illustrates her desire to move forward and not be brought down with the recent tragedies that have occurred. The relationship she has with the shark takes on a whole new meaning when one takes a closer look. I’d go so far as to venture that it becomes a metaphor for the trauma she’s dealing with. Although the shark following the family such a great distance is implausible, it’s easy to see it as the emotional baggage that someone carries with them when they attempt to run away from their problems. Ellen’s final confrontation with the shark feels like someone dealing an obstacle rather than avoiding it.
It would be impossible to discuss a Jaws movie without critiquing the shark, and the one featured is the farthest thing from impressive. It’s certainly the most mechanical of the franchise, in both its look and movement. (At one point it even appears to glide on water like a boat.) Attempting to make it seem like a destructive force of nature, it emits a roar that one might expect to hear from a lion. It’s true; the sharks have never been known for their realistic attributes. Attention has always focused on suspense as to where it might strike next, and the incompetence some people have with the situation at hand. If you can look past the fact that it swam over 1,200 miles to exact vengeance, then you can certainly overlook its shoddy workmanship.
Production designs aside, one of the biggest complaints many have are the massive inconsistencies within the narrative. (The most notable of which made it into the title of this essay.) There’s no denying that Sargent’s take on the shark movie is FULL of them. However, at this point, I’ve come to enjoy them in all their absurdity, as opposed to deriding them for their shortcomings. It’s important to know that every film is bound to have a few flaws. Just remember that no one’s in the room when Charles Foster Kane says “Rosebud.” While Hoagie’s infamous shirt incident is certainly the most discussed, it’s only the tip of the iceberg. If there’s one thing I take away from some of them it’s this; they’re almost in on the joke. At one moment the movie goes completely meta, with Jake humming John Williams’ iconic theme over an intercom while Michael dives underwater. Personally, my favorite flub is found in a scene during Jake and Michael’s hunt for the shark. Jake holds up a pair of binoculars to his eyes, which are shielded by a pair of sunglasses. What follows is a point of view shot, which is shown through a perspective not obstructed by anything.
In regards to its visual presentation, it isn’t poorly shot. The cinematography by John McPherson, especially the underwater footage is decently executed. One of its few flaws is the close-up shots of the shark, which reveal its poor design. If there’s one thing that impossible to overlook it’s the flashback scenes that occur throughout the film. The sequences consist of stock footage from the first movie that are tinted in a sepia tone. Their purpose is to link the similarities with Martin Brody to both Michael and Ellen. The main issue surrounding them is that Ellen is the one having them, and they’re all scenes that her character had absolutely no involvement with. It’s a vain attempt to create continuity between the two movies, but it falls short at accomplishing this task. Whether someone holds this against the film or not is up to the viewer.
While Jaws: The Revenge isn’t a groundbreaking cinematic achievement; it’s also not the worst thing to be released. It’s ridiculously entertaining because of its flaws and not in spite of them. If Manos: The Hands of Fate (1966) and Troll 2 (1988) can garner a cult following and be adored by millions, then so can Joseph Sargent’s shark sequel with a self-drying shirt. Besides, if you’re looking for a sequel (though unofficial) that rivals this one in absurdity, you can always track down Bruno Mattei’s Cruel Jaws (1995) aka Jaws 5.