A sprawling, artistically assembled cross-breed of high-class creature-feature and huge scale war-time drama. Must be seen to be believed - a triumph of 2015 technology.
Following a slew of pretty on-the-nose sequels championing everything from robot sharks to inter-species BDSM, the Jaws franchise has become arguably one of the most profitable in movie history. Little did young Steven Spielberg know when he took that first dip into the waters of Amity that here we’d be, 40 years on, 18 sequels and several billion dollars in box-office returns later, still very much in love with that shark that started it all.
Pretty much completely ignoring last year’s somewhat shaky Jaws: Origins, Jaws 19 returns to the original timeline of terror, picking up from where we left Brody Jr. Jr. (Taylor Swift), tattered and alone on the now deserted isles of good ol’ Amity. Having now exorcised the wandering spirits of her dead father and grandfather, Brody III returns to civilisation, occupying a small apartment in New York City where she attempts to once again, finally overcome the events of her previous adventures. But of course, all is not quite as it seems, and soon enough the waterborne terrors return to plague the city, and as now the world’s leading expert in shark attacks, it’s up to Brody III to stand up to the invading army once and for all, to finally at long last fully avenge the death of her father, her grandfather and basically everyone she has ever loved, or who has ever loved her, or who has ever even really been in the vicinity of her.
It’s a bold premise, but one that the young Max Spielberg (yes, son of Steven) handles with total, honest care – successfully wrestling the franchise back from the realms of George Lucas’s frankly silly middle-outing, and Tina Fey’s considerably weirder (although, admittedly, rather funny) high-school set prequel. Because as random and wacky as the series has often been, it all began as a simple creature-feature gone awry, and now, hoping to return to his father’s roots, Spielberg takes Jaws 19 in a similar direction. Obviously, this isn’t just a basic rehash (we’ve had at least four of those already). No, this one’s a war movie through and through, and Spielberg never lets you forget it.
We’ve seen gigantic cities come under fire plenty of times in Hollywood, but never quite to this scale. Despite this being his debut feature, the young Spielberg never holds back, pulling on his experience as an assistant on the set of The Rage: Carrie 2 to craft an incredibly tense and really quite horrifying war-time epic.
There may be plenty of gun-battles and sharks commandeering tanks, but the true terror from this instalment comes from what Spielberg doesn’t show you. Entire sequences take place without images, with nothing but the screaming of tortured civilians occupying the frame. It’s an incredibly gutsy move, and one that some critics have been debating (one even questioned if it was intentional or if Spielberg just forgot to turn the camera on), but it’s certainly one that has a profound effect over the picture as a whole.
In fact, visually, there’s no escaping the striking nature of Jaws 19. Not only does Spielberg break the obvious boundaries of cinema with his frequent blank images and scenes cropped to show nothing but people’s feet and the underside of what is possibly his own fingertips, he also triumphs the latest Holomax technology, trumping both 3D and IMAX at every turn with an experience so real and invasive, many have already begun to seek mental counselling following the film’s finale.
Whether or not you enjoy it, it’s clear that this is very much a new dawn for cinema, and such advancements don’t just end with the film’s visuals. Acting-wise, Jaws 19 looks to transcend its competition with performances so raw and native that the whole experience very much feels genuinely real throughout. The boldly recast Swift, taking on the famous mantle previously championed by the likes of Roy Scheider, Thomas Jane, Denzel Washington and, most recently, Adam Sandler, makes it clear that, despite her non-acting background, she’s very much gunning for the Oscar, with an incredibly detailed and emotional portrayal of the classic hero at odds with the universe. Her rousing Sorkin-esque speech at the film’s climax – although largely stolen from the likes of Independence Day and Pacific Rim – is a truly epic moment in cinema, made even more so by a sharp, and tantalising blood-moon-style pink tint.
The supporting players, from the likes of Bill Murray to Werner Herzog as the voice of the shark(s) certainly pull their respective weights, but it is really Swift who has the upper-hand here, considering she is the only human character to really have any significant screen-time at all beyond a briefly glimpsed reaction shot.
Ultimately, Jaws 19 is a bold and beautifully daring new take on the ageing Jaws legend that’s certain to turn heads and hopefully seize victory for another year at the box-office. For those not squeamish, the Holomax experience is greatly encouraged to appreciate the full-force of Spielberg’s fiercely contemporary war epic, whilst those left confused by Swift’s left-field casting should feel safe in the knowledge that she only breaks out into song on three occasions, and only one of those is sponsored by, and entirely about, Pepsi. After all, the new dawn of cinema is here, and it’s more explosive than ever.
Jaws 19 (2015), directed by Max Spielberg, is distributed in the UK by 20th Century Universal Warnermount Pictures. Certificate PG.