It’s been a long time coming, but we have finally reached the end of this particular road. This is my review of the last Jaws film: Jaws: The Revenge, a stinker from 1987 that is widely regarded as one of the worst films of that or any year, and a far, far cry from the masterpiece that was Steven Spielberg’s original.
The conventional wisdom regarding sequels is that they are progressively worse the further along you go. Occasionally you encounter an exception like The Godfather, Part II, but for the most part this is completely true. I’m sure if I tried I could come up with a fairly lengthy list of film series that meandered their way into the crapper over the course of their lifetime, but I don’t think any of them would represent the same precipitous drop off in quality that we see in the Jaws movies. Has there ever been a series that started off so well, and yet ended up in such an ignominious place, as these? I honestly can’t think of anything else.
I do have to be somewhat fair to Jaws: The Revenge, and this is pretty much the only time I’ll say something nice about the movie, but the fourth film is actually better than the third. That doesn’t by any means indicate that it’s good, but it does give us some perspective on just how rotten Jaws III really was. There’s nothing in Jaws: The Revenge that can top for sheer badness the special effects of the swimming shark underwater in Jaws III. And despite the fact that Jaws III had arguably better actors than Jaws: The Revenge — minus Michael Caine, who’s good in everything — in the persons of Dennis Quaid and Louis Gossett, Jr., the latter film bests the former in that arena as well.
Even though I have some (highly reserved) praise for Jaws: The Revenge, the fact remains that it’s terrible. It can’t even get its own mythology straight, as it draws a direct line between Jaws 2 and itself, completely skipping over the developments of Jaws III. Now I don’t consider this such a bad thing, considering how atrocious Jaws III is, but the fact remains that the movie exists and if you’re going to do another one you ought to at least take that into account. What is this, the Universal Soldier franchise?
In Jaws III, elder Brody son, Michael (Dennis Quaid), was some kind of engineering/construction guru who had been hired by Sea World to oversee their new expansion. In Jaws: The Revenge all that’s been thrown out the window and Michael, now played by Lance Guest, is a marine biologist working on some sort of research involving conchs or something. His younger brother Sean, who barely registered in Jaws III, is reintroduced as a deputy in Amity (that’s Shark Central to you and me) and is promptly killed by a Great White shark. Oh, did I spoil you? Sorry about that. Really, it’s not that big of deal, as it’s telegraphed well before it actually happens.
Traumatized by the death of her son, Ellen Brody — Lorraine Gary, who came out of retirement to do this picture! — travels down to Bermuda to visit with her living offspring, his wife and their daughter. All the while, though, she remains convinced that the shark that killed Sean is actually out for revenge against the Brody family and will strike again… soon. It’s very strange and doesn’t make a lick of sense, but the movie is called Jaws: The Revenge, so something has to be revenging something.
Of course a Great White shark does show up and it does try to kill Michael and thus begins an investigation into why such an animal would travel into an area it does not traditionally inhabit, since Great Whites dislike warm water, and Michael’s quest to keep the discovery under wraps from everyone, including and especially his mother.
This might be a good time to point out that Michael has a goofy black sidekick with a faux Jamaican accent who lightens the mood with “jokes.” The fact that Jake (that’s his name) is played by writer and director Mario Van Peebles makes it all much sadder, as Van Peebles is really better than this material. Actually, the same can be said of everyone who appears in the movie, including Lorraine Gary, who never had a truly spectacular acting career, but surely deserved a better swan song than this. I won’t even say a word about Michael Caine, who has freely admitted in the years following Jaws: The Revenge‘s release that he did the film specifically so that he could build a new house. You go, Michael.
Jaws: The Revenge does almost everything wrong when it comes to the shark. From Jaws 2 onward, the producers of these sequels have wanted to show more and more of the shark, despite the fact that in each succeeding installment the shark looks progressively more artificial. I know that Spielberg originally planned to show more of his shark until severe mechanical problems forced him to improvise, but the fact remains that he didn’t, and the general lack of visibility makes Jaws a tremendously exciting and nail-biting thriller. As a result, the shark in Jaws: The Revenge is especially disappointing, not only because it continues the wrongheaded trend of showing the shark too much, but because the shark looks like it has skin made out of canvas. And I wish I was kidding about that, but I’m not. This shark doesn’t look even remotely like the real thing, beyond the fact that it has fins and a mouth.
The thing is, Jaws: The Revenge didn’t have to be as bad as it is. There’s some mileage to be gotten from a storyline in which Michael Brody encounters a Great White shark and has to deal with his traumatic past while also investigating the animal and there’s even room for Lorraine Gary in the proceedings, but the way it’s handled is extremely inept. But, while I wouldn’t inflict Jaws III on my worst enemy, Jaws: The Revenge has enough morsels of competence that it remains watchable even in its sad state.
Occasionally there are murmurs about doing a Jaws remake. Words cannot describe what an awful idea that is. But if the powers that be actually did go forward with such a thing, at least there would be something worse than the sequels.