J is for Jaws: The Revenge: say something nice about this infamously fishy sequel

In monthly column The A-to-Z of Trash, bad movie lover Eliza Janssen takes us on an alphabetically-ordered trip through the best bits of the worst films ever. This month, Jaws 4 sinks the legacy of Spielberg’s phenomenal aquatic thriller, and Eliza goes diving for forced compliments.

The fourth film in the Jaws franchise is the first movie I’ve covered in this column with a perfectly shitty 0% critical consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. Adam Sandler’s Jack and Jill, which I’ve covered for Flicks before, managed a Rotten 36%—but this infamously awful sequel has seemingly no fans.

Shall we try and change that here, together? Shall we aim to say some nice things about Jaws: The Revenge? Let’s begin with the very funny and thought-provoking tagline on the film’s poster: “this time it’s personal”, suggesting that the man-eating Great White Shark in this movie is not driven by simple hunger but by wrath. It cannot, of course, be the same shark that Roy Scheider faced off against in Steven Spielberg’s groundbreaking 1975 blockbuster, because we very much saw that shark explode all over the place. But it is a determinedly evil, mean fish this time, with a psychic connection to the widow of Scheider’s character.

Yes: Martin Brody is dead, and now his wife Ellen (Lorraine Gary, in her final film role) is our badass shark-hating hero. When her youngest son Sean gets gobbled in The Revenge’s opening scene, Ellen tremblingly tells her older son Michael (Lance Guest) that “it came for him. It waited all this time and it came for him.” All this time since when? What do you mean, Ellen? She may be getting confused and wrongfully thinking Sean’s killer is the same petty bitch who menaced Michael in the original Jaws, but we can forgive her as she’s been through a lot. Another cute touch? Sean’s death happens while merry Amity Island carollers are hollering a Christmas tune, technically making this a forgotten Yuletide classic.

Michael Caine gets the dubious honour of an “and Michael Caine as” opening credit, playing pilot and Nancy Meyers-esque love interest Hoagie. Caine missed out on receiving his Oscar for Hannah and Her Sisters (another holiday movie!) since The Revenge’s shooting schedule was so tight, but he’s also infamously thanked this film for funding his mother’s house, so that’s neat too. Yay! He woos a grieving Ellen as she heads to the Bahamas with Michael and his family. Gotta say the sunny, postcard-perfect landscape and crystal waters are a novel change from the stuffy New England coastlines of the original movies.

In the novelisation of The Revenge, Hoagie is a government agent trafficking laundered money, which rocks, and the shark is such a bastard because of a voodoo curse placed upon it by witch doctor “Papa Jacques”. Academic I.Q. Hunter says the “revenge” of the film’s title belongs to this spooky bloke who didn’t even make it into the film, marking his aquatic golem as “an instrument of post-colonial revenge.” Ain’t that something!

As the shark that killed Michael swims more than 1000 miles from Amity Island to the Bahamas to continue bullying the Brody family, we’re treated to a long middle act of Ellen and Hoagie dating, Michael’s wife making cool industrial art, Michael and his mate cataloguing sea snails. See, the movie is being so respectful of our time here; giving us ample space to go to the bathroom, heat up a movie snack, watch some TikToks of people cutting kinetic sand or playing Subway Surfer while a Reddit post about infidelity is narrated aloud. The Revenge also smartly reminds us of the best bits from Spielberg’s masterpiece of suspense, dropping in sepia-toned flashbacks of previous shark attacks. We get one of the fallen Brody interacting with a then-toddler Michael, which Ellen smiles at warmly even though she wasn’t present in the original scene.

And then there’s the shark. Although plagued with plenty of the same boondoggles that Spielberg faced in working with diva mechanical sharks, director Joseph Sargent gives us plenty of good looks at his fibreglass beastie. Spielberg, the big hack, concealed the dang thing right up until the end of his movie! Coward. This shark has moves: it floats on the surface of the ocean and moans like a mammal in heat when it’s angry. It’s tough to even comprehend what happens to this asshole shark at the end of Jaws: The Revenge—it, like, rams its body onto the sharpened prow of Ellen’s boat? And explodes in a hydraulic burst of blood and gristle? Trying to remain positive, I’ll admit it’s an entirely unpredictable villainous defeat, and it’s inspiring to imagine that one’s personal demons could fly apart in a cloud of red mist if you barely grazed them with your vehicle.

I’m going to add this vindication to Rotten Tomatoes and see if we can’t bump up that brutal rating at all. This is a Christmas film; a film about grief and Papa Jacques’ psychic voodoo violence, and about the importance of tracking snail migration; a clipshow of one of the greatest films of all time. For all those glimmering facets of Jaws: The Revenge, I say it deserves better than a hard zero.