The Dark Knight Rises (2012)

Disappointing conclusion to Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy.

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Okay, seriously, what happened? I’ll ask it again. WHAT HAPPENED???? I would never have thought I’d be overwhelmingly disappointed by this final chapter in Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, but it’s true, I really didn’t like it. I was expecting greatness. Nearly all of the reviews that I glimpsed at were giving this top marks. Sure, there was the odd three star rating, and then there were those two reviewers whose bad reviews of the movie inspired death threats from people who seriously need to get their priorities readjusted. Overall though, this was all set to be the ultimate final chapter, the one that would end it all in grand style.

Now, Batman Begins was a very impressive movie – it salvaged the Caped Crusader’s dignity after those two terrible Joel Schumacher disasters and boasted a fine balance between gritty darkness and soap opera comic book entertainment. There were clichés here and there – ‘Why do we fall down? So we can pick ourselves up’ is almost as banal a message as ‘with great power comes great responsibility’ and the villains were slightly underused, but overall it was an exciting, refreshing and effectively dramatic ride. Christian Bale made for the best Bruce Wayne to date, and we could forgive his preposterously gruff Batman voice, because hey, almost everything else here was making us forget Batman Forever ever happened. However, follow-up The Dark Knight was something else altogether. The world of Batman had become something darker, more morally complex and unpredictable than we could have possibly imagined. The film was impossibly brilliant, exciting, spectacular and with Heath Ledger’s remarkable Joker, surprisingly edgy. The downbeat ending, where Batman sacrifices himself to become a figure of hatred in order to preserve the people’s faith in the white knight (but secret fallen angel) that was District Attorney Harvey Dent (who becomes Two-Face), left us in a devastatingly bleak place, though with the hint of light at the end of the tunnel.

The Dark Knight Rises picks up eight years after The Dark Knight, and Batman has fled the city, while Bruce Wayne is an outcast, all alone in his manor with only his faithful butler Alfred (Michael Caine) to keep him company. The legend of Harvey Dent has kept the people’s spirits high in what appears to be a mostly crime-free period. However, there’s a new guy in town, and his name is Bane. Bane is played by the terrific Tom Hardy, one of my favourite actors, and he’s bulked himself up to an even greater level than he had for Bronson. Nolan’s love for James Bond films becomes evident once more as Bane is rescued from imprisonment thanks to a spectacular plane stunt that recalls the pre-credits sequence to Licence to Kill. It’s always a pleasure to be reminded of the most underrated Bond film ever, so thank you for that, Nolan! Bane is a monstrous, ruthless monster who wishes to turn Gotham into ashes, and indeed, he more or less lays waste to the city, wiping the police out of the equation and demolishing the recently out-of-retirement Batman in a punishing smackdown.

Catwoman (though she’s not referred to as such, and is played by Anne Hathaway) is also in on the scene, as a sly thief who despises Bruce Wayne and his social sphere’s entitlement and wealth, and who warns of a ‘storm coming’ that will destroy Gotham’s complacency forever. She has a friend/possible lover (Juno Temple, so good in Killer Joe, completely wasted here) who shows up for a few scenes and then disappears from the story entirely. There’s some corporate back-stabbery going on at Wayne Enterprises and everything is tied to seizing a machine that should be used for sustaining energy but which also has the unfortunate side-effect of being able to be used as a nuclear device. Batman is out of action whilst Bane takes over the town and holds the city to ransom with said device, so we join a wounded Commissioner Gordon (Gary Oldman), rookie detective Joseph Gordon-Levitt, tech expert Morgan Freeman and Wayne’s business partner/lover Marion Cotillard as they try to save the day.

As you might have noticed, there are plenty of characters in on the action, and to be honest, none of them get anything really interesting to do. Freeman’s Lucius Fox sits around for most of the time, Oldman spends most of his time in a hospital bed or barking orders (though he and Levitt get a good confrontation), while new recruits Cotillard, Gordon-Levitt and Matthew Modine are stuck with stock characters – solid but unmemorable. Hathaway gives a playfully seductive performance but her character is underwritten – she’s meant to be this self-interested rebel, but she has a change of heart near the end for no other reason than that the plot requires Batman to have some extra help in taking down the enemy. Even Tom Hardy fails to leave much of an impression as Bane. He’s certainly physically imposing, and his delectably cruel manner does provide plenty of amusement (check out his appreciation of a singing voice before he delivers the pain), but after the complex Joker and Two-Face, this guy’s strictly one-dimensional. He’s built up as an unstoppable foe, and certainly his destruction of Batman is gruellingly brutal, but his final moments are almost laughably throwaway, especially since a surprise mystery villain takes the focus away from him. After the Joker and Two-Face, the likes of Ra’s Ah Ghul and the Scarecrow in the first film just seemed like…well, comic book characters, and disappointingly, we’ve gone back to this approach. Then there’s the issue of Bane’s voice. He wears a mask throughout the film and his voice is projected through the mask, but he sounds so muffled that I didn’t catch half of what he was saying! It was difficult to get too scared of this man when I couldn’t understand many of the threatening things he was supposedly coming out with. It’s not just Bane – I felt the soundtrack was far too loud, obscuring some of the actors almost as much. Then of course there’s Michael Caine, who is of course Michael Caine, and sometimes I find this a problem. I can never forget that I’m watching Michael Caine, no matter what he’s in, especially when he’s being so Michael Caine-y, if that makes sense. He’s rudely ejected from the story after a key scene and is only brought back after such a long absence that the would-be emotional kick of the moment feels rushed in a mass of loose-end tying. Finally, there’s Christian Bale, who does his best to hold it all together, even if he’s forced to spend most of the time withdrawn, crippled or going through the motions during the fight scenes.

The film disappointingly retreats to the comic-book mythology of Batman Begins, which was fun first time round, but this time it feels like a serious come-down after the grand heights and ambitions of The Dark Knight. The second film was even compared to The Wire by many critics – I doubt any similar comparisons will be made this time round. The thing is, despite the emphasis on more fantastic thrills, the action in this film is strangely muted, even drab – expensive and explosive, but lacking in thrills. We get a flying bat vehicle ducking and diving in-between skyscrapers, and it does look very impressive, but in the end it’s just another Hollywood action sequence. The big dramatic hooks that were introduced in the second film – Harvey Dent’s true actions in his final hours, Alfred sparing Wayne the truth about the love of his life are brought up again here. Alfred and Wayne’s big dramatic face-off is one of the best moments of the film, a moment where the risky actions of the past and brought to task, but after that Alfred’s ejected from the plot and we forget all of that happened. As for the revelation to the public that Dent was a killer – well, at the end of The Dark Knight, we really understood the decision from Batman and Gordon to tell a lie – so much was at stake, but here, the truth is finally revealed and we never get underneath the city’s skin as to how much they feel betrayed. There’s no real consequence. It’s a major let-down. It’s like having Luke Skywalker treat the revelation at the end of Empire throughout Jedi with a mere, ‘he’s my dad? Oh fuck it, we were never that close anyway’. Only Gordon-Levitt and Oldman share a scene that deals with any of this, where the latter is taken to task for his actions, but it’s just one little scene in a film that feels rushed with all these characters doing their thing, with none of them really proving to be more interesting than Wayne/Batman, who should have been concentrated on more exclusively.

The first half is sort-of just good enough – I couldn’t quite shake off the awareness that this was not as good as its predecessor, but it was still pretty entertaining. Still, ‘pretty entertaining’ isn’t good enough. We want more. So then there was Bane’s initial takeover of Gotham – the destruction on show here was frighteningly impressive, and it was here that I hoped the film was going to take things to the edge, but instead we get a lot of hackneyed self-recovery platitudes for Batman/Wayne’s plot (including the wise old man who offers sage advice about confronting your demons) and a lot of faffing around from the supporting good guys as they go on about how time is running out before the bomb goes off. Unfortunately there’s no suspense because we don’t get an appreciation of a proper countdown. One minute we’re weeks away from detonation, then all of a sudden it’s a few days, and oh, here we go, there’s eleven minutes before boom-boom time. The dialogue is serviceable but lacks spark (Bane: ‘So you came back to burn with Gotham’/Batman: ‘No. I came here to stop you’. Well, duh.).  There are clichés aplenty: attempts to scale an impossible wall will always be nailed on the third try – it’s a cinematic rule. A cop actually throws his badge into the river. A major death is followed by an unfunny one-liner. The world has seconds to live and two characters actually waste precious time going in for a playful smooch. There are some great little moments here and there – Hathaway’s cruel dispatching of Bale whilst he’s using a walking stick, the wickedly nasty ‘Death or Exile’ judgement as Gotham gives its victims the ‘freedom’ to leave the city but only by traversing over a frozen river, and, delightfully, Batman finally realising what it feels like to have someone vanish on you mid-conversation.

As for the ending….by this time, I just wanted the film to be over, but I can see how fans could get emotional over what happens. There’s a sense of unavoidable inevitability as to what’s going to happen – Batman make a point of not having quite sacrificed everything for Gotham, but any sense of tragedy or pathos is totally compromised by a corny last-minute revelation. There’s also a groan-inducing hint that there will be more to this series’ universe beyond this ‘final’ chapter, and this blatant teaser for a new franchise just felt cheap and tacky. It sounds ridiculous, but The Dark Knight really was on the cusp of achieving grand tragedy, classic drama, timeless cinema, the works. This film is just another slightly lethargic, unfocused, scattershot threequel, and how many of those have we had to suffer? Indeed, I felt this was another case of Spiderman 3 all over again. Two mighty fine first chapters, the second of which was amazing, and then a muddled, tired final chapter which ends proceedings on a limp note. I have to say that TDKR is even more disappointing than Spiderman 3, because at least the so-so reviews for Sam Raimi’s film geared me up for a let-down, whereas the ecstatic write-ups for this have left me high and dry.

The Dark Knight Rises is easily the biggest disappointment of the year so far. Even more so than Prometheus. Such a shame.

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The Nation’s Favourite Number One Single 60-51

I don’t even think I could name a single that got to #1 this year. Obviously, I’m getting old, I’m too busy listening to the music I actually like, and Top of the Pops is no more. I don’t listen to the radio, so any word on what’s #1 passes me by. So, it’ll be interesting to see what shows up in this list, I may be hearing some of these songs for the first time ever. Some of these songs I’ll be actually purposefully listening to for once – it’s funny how I have listened to some songs a hundred times without actually wanting to.

60. Dizzee Rascal/Armand van Helden: ‘Bonkers’

I knew I was getting old when the Best New Sound was too much for me. I’m talking about Dizzee Rascal’s debut Boy in Da Corner album and its grime/garage sound. Jesus, not for me. I didn’t want to appear cool or hip, or whatever. Let the kids have their sound. My time was over. Did I even have a time? I was listening to the bleedin’ Stones back in the late nineties when I should have been listening to what was actually new. Oh well, I don’t regret any of it. However, the time of Rascal’s fourth album Tongue ‘n’ Cheek, his sound has becomes more immersed in the mainstream, far more palatable to those who found Rascal too rough around the edges – now he’s got kaleidoscopic videos, wearing a shark costume and making his voice sound, well…bonkers, thanks to some wacky sonic manipulation. This is proper catchy, really infectious too. There’s a hilarious ‘bonkers’ bit when the music warps for a second, plus a low, low, LOW enunciation of the word bonkers that is now the only way I ever say the word. It also lingers on the ‘there’s nothing crazy about me-e-e-e-e-e-e’ to get you well in the mood, and there’s even a less than ten seconds long dreamy ambient bit halfway through. It’s three minutes long (officially the perfect single length), and is appropriately P-H-A-T on the bass front, Rascal telling us how he ‘wakes up just to go to sleep’ and how he acts real shallow but he’s in too deep. Desperate times, but he’s having too much fun on this track for us to get too worried about him.

59. Ian Dury and the Blockheads: ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’

‘It’s nice to be a lunatic’. So far, so bonkers. Delightfully nonsense lyric where Dury just reels off places and exhortations to get done over with the rhythm stick in different languages in his unpretentious, flat London style over a catchy funk beat. The message of the song is – ‘dance, don’t fight’. Nothing wrong with that. Pity about the squealing sax bit in the middle-eight, apart from that, very nice indeed. Two fat persons, click, click, click.

A monochrome photograph of four young men, with a white border, set almost centrally in a red square. The words "SLADE" dominate the cover, underneath which is written "MERRY X'MAS EVERYBODY". Underneath the photograph are the words "DONT BLAME ME". White stars border the left and right sides of the photograph.

58. Slade: ‘Merry Xmas Everyone’

‘It’s CHRIIIIISSSSSSSTMAAAAAAS!’. Yeah, we’ve heard it too many times, it’s annoying, it’s potentially very depressing and all that. It’s also the best Christmas song ever. Today’s pop stars would kill to write a Xmas pop tune this classic these days. Worryingly, it was still number one well into January. What the hell is wrong with some people?

57. Fugees: ‘Killing Me Softly’

Gentle soul classic from Roberta Flack gets a makeover – this one’s not as intimate, but the sparser beat, the funny sitar break after the choruses, Lauryn Hill’s smooth vocals are all highlights. True, yeah, some of the rap bits have dated (one-time….two-time, indeed), but you also get the bit when the beat holds back in-between ‘killing me softly’ and ‘with his song’ and then comes back in oh-so beautifully. Thing is, this song got played a hundred billion times back in 1996, so for a long time, I couldn’t bear to hear it.

56. The Streets: ‘Dry Your Eyes’

From the Streets’ massively entertaining second album, this break-up song is quite affecting in regards to the sober delivery of the lyrics during the verses, though the mopey beat of the music is dull, and the chorus vocals/rent-a-string orchestra sections are banal and maudlin. This song works better in the context of the album. Pop song equivalent of that Wall’s sausages advert where the talking dog has to stand in for the emotionally stunted bloke.

55. The Prodigy: ‘Firestarter’

Despite all the complaints about how scary the video was, this was when the Prodigy went from underground to overground by ways of cartoon punk hilarity. Listen to those lyrics! It’s like ‘Anarchy in the UK’ to the power of a kabillion. They’re so outrageously confrontational-sounding that they’re really funny when you get down to it. Remember the words to ‘Mindfields’ from the same album? Maxim going on about how ‘THIS IS DANGEROUS!’, but only managing to sound like a case of protesting a little too much at the same time. The lyrics to same-era single ‘Smack by Bitch Up’ on the other hand weren’t so funny and proof that the band hadn’t gone completely safe, but overall, the Prodigy had turned into respectable rebels. Still, this is bloody fantastic – turned up loud, it blends dance and metal into one absolutely thrilling rush of sound. The beat is head-bangingly brilliant. Top-quality Art of Noise sample too, you know, the bit when it goes ‘Hey! Hey! Hey!’ As for the video, where did Keith get that funny spiderweb thing he flails around in? I got to get me one of those.

54. 10cc: ‘I’m Not in Love’

This should be much higher. Yeah, it’s guilty of all the signs of smooth, radio-friendly 1970’s soft-pop/rock, but it’s also a masterpiece of sound, atmosphere, lyrics, production and straight-up unforgettable hooks. One of the loveliest melodies imaginable, backed with utterly dreamy, beautiful backing vocals, and the ultimate phoney-denial love lyric ever…. it’s 10cc’s crowning moment. Eric Stewart’s singing is just perfect – broken, wounded, defensive yet we all know what he’s really feeling. The ‘you wait a long time for me’ section appears to drift off into another ethereal plane altogether. The twinkle and tinkle of piano during this moment is just so exquisitely pretty I can’t bear it. Just so lovely. This song sounds so much like the 1970’s, yet there’s still something of the future about it. It belongs on your ‘Classic Hits of the 1970s’ compilations just as much it belongs on a list of the most unearthly, alien smash pop songs ever.

53. Coolio/LV: ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’

Hey, I love Stevie Wonder. But this reworking of his 1975 ‘Pastime Paradise’ made the original sound like a demo or something. Coolio ended up becoming an ex-rapper turned TV reality star, second only to Flavor Flav in the silly stakes and LV vanished from the public consciousness, but for a while, they were the shit, and this song was everywhere. The rap verses ended up becoming parodied (see Weird al Yankovic’s ‘Amish Paradise’) and it’s difficult to listen to now without smirking (fool!), but the chorus was and still is a beauty, LV’s vocals (plus the backing) on the chorus still send a surprising shiver down the ol’ spine. Additionally, Michelle Pfieffer’s ‘don’t fuck with me’ attitude looked ridiculous in the video, and lest we forget, the film that this song soundtracked, Dangerous Minds, was piffle.

52. The Clash: ‘Should I Stay or Should I Go?’

A number one years after it was actually released, thanks to its use in a Levi jeans ad (that fact is too depressing to think about for too long) – this was one half of a phenomenal double A-side, the other being Joe Strummer’s atmospheric, beautiful ‘Straight to Hell’. This was more of a straight-up punk-strut with a killer riff and a greasy, grubby vocal, proof that The Clash could have been superstars if they didn’t split straight after. After all, the lyric is all about wondering whether or not to get the hell out, something Mick Jones knew all about given the band’s internal conflict at the time. I can think of about twenty, maybe thirty more Clash songs I love more than this, but that’s the snob talking in me. The fact is, this is a perfect bit of disposable/indispensable rock, simple as that.

51. The Verve: ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’

I remember hearing about Richard Ashcroft proclaiming at a Verve gig around the time of their commercial breakthrough Urban Hymns that the song they were about to play was for all the real fans who bought their stuff around the time of their fan favourite LP A Northern Soul, and that the rest could ‘fuck off’. Hmm, a bit unfair on those who had never even heard of the band when their singles were getting to #67 or whatever, but you could also say it was a slight at potentially cruising fans who only bought Urban Hymns because it was the flavour of the month. Or maybe they bought it because there was some really good hit singles on it, though nothing as wonderful as ‘On Your Own’ from An Northern Soul. Oh yeah, I’m meant to be talking about ‘The Drugs Don’t Work’, the one with the ‘like a cat in a bag, waiting to drown’ lyric. This is a downbeat thing of beauty, and its #1 success really surprised me at the time, though in retrospect I can see why it did so well – also, it was released just after Princess Diana died, so I guess everyone was in a bad mood and wanted to mope. This is a lot better than the reworked ‘Candle in the Wind’, by the way. Lovely steel-pedal (I think?) guitar and the dreamy, drowsy production make this a melancholic pleasure.

Jaws 2 (1978)

The only Jaws sequel you’ll ever really need.

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You can’t leave the bloody house these days for sequels, but ‘back in the day’, they were a rarity. Well, actually, they weren’t – what were all those Carry On and James Bond/Dirty Harry films? They were sequels. The thing is, they weren’t tagged as such. You know, they weren’t called Carry On 4 or James Bond 7. You also had The Godfather, Part II, but notice the ‘Part’: not a sequel, you understand, but a continuation. Big difference there. And I suppose the Roman numerals were a sign of respectability and classiness. This approach was mightily abused, as we would later see with Death Wish II, which is about as far from respectable and classy as you could possibly imagine. Jaws 2, the sequel to the most successful film ever (at the time) wore its ‘2’ with pride. Jaws was an absolutely massive success, so from a greedy point of view, Jaws 2 was an inevitability. It was also doomed to ridicule from the start. I mean, seriously? Another shark? The trailer tells us ‘how could there have only been one?’ Well, true, but what were the odds?

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Now, let’s get one thing straight. This is not the equal of the original. Yet, and this is tantamount to sacrilege, when I was younger I found it difficult to tell Jaws and Jaws 2 apart, and even saw them on a kind of equal footing. That’s right, I thought Jaws 2 was one of the best films ever made. I guess it was the teenage element and the fact that it was a bunch of kids in danger that made me relate to it more. Needless to say, I do not rate it as highly these days, but it is a halfway-decent exploitation sequel. Like the best B-movies, it has a KILLER tag line, probably one of the greatest tag lines in cinema history. ‘Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Back in the Water’. I mean, that’s just great, isn’t it? The commonly seen famous cinema poster with the shark illogically shooting out of the water behind a deliriously happy water-skier is great, even if Jaws looks a little more….well, boxy, even cardboard, I suppose? However, it’s the lesser known teaser poster that really works wonders. There’s a vivid, glorious sunset that turns the never-ending ocean blood red, and amongst the waves…. a fin. That’s all we need to see. Plus that tag line. Now that’s a teaser. Speaking of blood-red, Jaws 2 is also the least bloody of the four films, though it’s far more effective and scary than the next two instalments.

So, Jaws 2 begins underwater, just like the first one, and John Williams’ very fine score (not just rehashes of the first film’s motifs, but lots of new stuff too) adds greatly to the mood. Two divers check out the sunken Orca boat from the first film but get eaten in no time. Worries are already starting to set in – never mind that it’s a bloodless attack (the first film’s opener was too), but it’s just that it’s so lacking in suspense. It’s just, oh, here we go, another shark.  We skip to the land, where Brody (hooray!) turns up late to some pageant/opening/whatever – his wife’s there (she won’t be doing much in this film), as are his two kids (who will get more screen time), and that rat-git Mayor’s still there, praising the house band for their ‘eloquent’ performance, even though I thought they were off-key. Then, we get these teenagers – a smart-mouthed one, the beauty queen, a couple of nerds, and I’m not fussed whether or not they get eaten or now. Are we supposed to feel this way? I mean, the first Jaws had someone like Ben Gardner, who we didn’t mind getting killed because he was a twat, but overall all of the victims were likeable characters who we didn’t want to see get killed. Jaws 2 is lurking dangerously towards proto-Friday the 13th territory where the teens are so boring you even suspect that Jaws itself might turn them down for tasting so dull.

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Anyway, no one’s interested in these bits, so let’s move on to a cool dusk shot where we follow the sea and an underwater presence which turns out to be Jaws MKII, and it’s weird how the simple trick of showing a fin drifting through the water can always send shivers down me. A few scenes later, Jaws munches on a jet-skier in what is the first really good bit in the film. Before that, he almost gets a skydiver who keeps landing in the water only to get jerked up at the last second. These bits are squirm-inducingly tense, you know, the kind of tension that makes you laugh, because even though you’re dreading the shark attack, what else did you see this film for? The oceanic photography? So, even though skydiver makes it, jetskier doesn’t, and the lady driving the boat stops to investigate. Then we get a rapid point-of-view shot where Jaws essentially goes right for the lady’s bum, misses, but does manage to damage the boat badly. The driver resorts to a last-minute gesture of dousing Jaws in petrol, but because of all the bashing, she gets most of it on herself. She then tries to take out her attacker with a flare gun but only succeeds in blowing herself and the boat (but not Jaws, who gets away with some mere facial damage) to kingdom come. Cue an unintentionally hilarious bit where an elderly bystander talking to Brody says ‘One minute they were having a wonderful time and then…’ I always fill this lamentable silence with ‘KABOOM!!’, and wonder why Brody didn’t do the same. Bit tactless, I suppose.

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Of course, any death in the water is going to send Brody crazy, so he’s instantly suspecting Jaws is out there somewhere, mocking him. He shares his fears of another shark to the Mayor, who is having none of it. Again. There’s a fantastic bit where Brody sees some wreckage floating near the shore and wanders in the water to get it, and he’s all alone, with nobody else at the beach. Now this bit is super-tense – the wreckage is not too far out, but just far enough, enough for a shark to swim up and take Brody away. So we get some great perspective shots as Brody gets closer and closer to this bit chunk of wood, most definitely from the blown-up boat, he turns it over and AAAAGGGHH! There’s the burned and charred corpse of the boat driver still attached to it, and more or less lands on poor Brody, who must have been turning the ocean amber at this point. I suppose this reveal doesn’t prove that any sharks are out there, but it’s a good sequence nonetheless. Later on, Brody’ll find some photos taken by the divers at the start of the film which sort of show Jaws in close-up but the cynical council committee are having none of it. Brody also fires his gun at what he thought was Jaws but merely turns out to be a cluster of little fishies. He does this in front of everybody and scares a lot of people as a result. So everyone thinks he’s losing it, and Brody gets fired as a result. Now, this first half of Jaws 2 is pretty damn good, and to be fair, the second half is too. It’s just that a bunch of teenagers are a lot less interesting than this actual character with whom we’ve been spending so much time.

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Jaws 2 has a similar two movies in one structure thing going on to the original. The first is mostly on the land and beach, with the odd victim munched up, while the second half is mostly out at sea. The first film’s latter half boasted a mostly thrilling pursuit of the shark, and we had three fantastic characters to enjoy. Unfortunately, we have no Robert Shaw or Richard Dreyfuss this time. The former is perfectly understandable, given how he was eaten in the first film, but nevertheless, he’s missed, and no new characters are nearly as memorable as his or Dreyfuss’s. Of course, the whole three-men-on-a-mission plot is not what Jaws 2 is going for, but what we’ve got instead are a multitude of teenagers who have taken the yachts out for ride and are mostly anonymous and not very memorable. They’re not annoying (except for one very loud exception) as such, but it’s difficult to keep tabs on these kids when you can’t even remember their names. Strangely (and disappointingly), there isn’t nearly as many teenage casualties as you’d think. Now, I’m not asking for Friday the 13th levels of killage, but a few more than two teens in the second half would have been nice. Or nasty, given how brutally effective these are. Seriously, the film goes for it during these two sequences- the first is a brilliantly suspenseful moment where lovebirds Tina and Eddie, who have drifted away from the rest of the gang, are attacked by the shark. Poor Eddie doesn’t make it. We have a suspense bit not dissimilar to the ‘Swim, Charlie!’ bit from the first film where one fisherman desperately calls for his friend to not look back, just swim to safety, fast. The first film’s bit ended happily, and even on a joke, but not this time. There’s a moment where Jaws has Eddie in his grasp and drags him full-pelt towards the boat, which he smacks into sharply. Eddie tries to get up into the boat but Jaws pulls him down once and for all, taking a chunk of boat’s edge along with him. The actor who plays Tina, Ann Dusenberry, is so clearly a better performer than any of her teenage co-stars, because you can tell she’s really super-scared. She’s wishing Jaws to go away, trembling and looking scared out of her wits. She also has a good bit later on where she screams out ‘SHARK!’ through a mouthful of shivers and shakes that’s very effective. Too many of the other teens are just clumsy so-and-sos. Seriously, try a drinking game where you have to do one every time a teen falls off their yacht and into the sea – it happens about a thousand times during a mere one hour’s worth of film.

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The other death is that of Marge, one of the least annoying teens who does the honourable thing in jumping into the water to save the little Brody kid but ends up getting devoured herself as a result. Now this scene is a shocker, mainly because it’s so brutal – Marge more or less gets swallowed whole, just like that – this, together with the fact that the little Brody boy is witnessing the whole thing dead-on, and John Williams’ monstrously evil score, plus Little Miss Screamer (I can’t remember her name, but she breaks decibels throughout the film’s last half) in full effect, and the result is quite distressing. Well, it was for me, especially if you rewind a few seconds to a certain shot. Now, if you don’t have the film to hand, try to think back and you may remember a shot from above with Jaws heading for Marge, and it’s quite plainly clear that the bastard has a massive open-mouthed grin on his face. This fucker isn’t just eating to survive, he’s doing it for FUN. It was this bit that freaked me out the most. Now, sharks don’t smile. In Jaws 2, we are clearly dealing with a not exactly realistic model, plus the waves above his face are kind of distorting what we see, so even if the filmmakers didn’t create a grinning shark, that’s what we are seeing, and it’s this shot that made Jaws MKII ten thousand times more sinister and sadistic than his older brother in the first film.

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Oh yeah, some hilariously bearded helicopter pilot gets eaten, but his death is not quite so horrifying. You just spend most of his death wondering if Jaws is going to choke to death on his beard. We get to see a little more of the pilot’s death on the deleted scenes on the DVD, which I would have liked to have seen re-integrated into the film, proper, because I’m sick like that, you know?

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So, the film’s second half is in top gear, and we’re ready for more death, but oh no, Brody arrives on the scene and thanks to some neat foreshadowing earlier on in the film, he gets an electric cable (which his deputy accidentally yanked out of the sea near the start) and whacks it to death with an oar, which he knows will attract Jaws because he can’t get enough of rhythmic beats that pulsate through the ocean. I’d have chucked on some Public Enemy on a shower radio and threw that in the drink myself, but each to their own. So Jaws shows up, Little Miss Screamer screams and screams again (some people really hate this performance, but I’d probably be the same, albeit more high-pitched on the vocal front) and he heads right for the cable, munches it, and gets electrocuted to death. The teens are over the moon, and it’s easy to say ‘why are they so happy when one of their friends has just been swallowed whole?’ ( I guess they don’t know about Eddie yet), but I guess I would be laughing like a nutter if the monster that just tried to kill me had been toasted.Image

You know, I like Jaws 2. It’s a cash-in, but it’s no disgrace. It’s genuinely tense in places. It’s three hundred times better than the next two films, though that isn’t saying too much, I suppose. Incidentally, the French title for Jaws was La Dents de la Mer, which meant that Jaws 2 read as La Dents de la mer Deux. Now, if you say the last two words quickly enough, they sound like ‘merde’, which is a naughty word in French. The English equivalent would read something along the lines of Jawshit.

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