The diminishing returns of ‘Deep Blue Sea 2’

No I don’t want to talk about the song at the beginning.

From the shockingly unwatchable to ridiculously good, the Sharkometer series dissects every shark movie according to the GOAT Jaws.

Deep Blue Sea 2 by Darin Scott, 2018
Starring Danielle Savre, Rob Mayes, Michael Beach, Nathan Lynn
Kim Syster, Jeremy Jess Boado, Darron Meyer, Adrian Collins, Cameron Robertson
Budget: Unclear, but compared to Deep Blue Sea, low.
Box office: estimated video sales $1,646,119

Number of times previously watched: 0

Listen to me talk about Deep Blue Sea 2 on the Deep Blue Sea Podcast!

It’s difficult to put yourself in the position of always trying to defend something. Yet, here I stand.

*deep breath* Guys, this movie is fine.

I’m fully aware that it is not great, but it doesn’t deserve the level of vitriol heaved upon it. (Especially when The Meg is sitting right over there.) People want to be edgy in reviews and end up disregarding what’s actually there in favour of snide hot takes. It’s perhaps easy to tear down a movie like Deep Blue Sea 2, but is it accurate or even necessary? Lacking genuineness in your snark is just as palpable as lacking genuineness in your praise. So let’s chill plz.

I’m of the opinion that Deep Blue Sea 2 is not the garbage facsimile people are claiming it to be. While it does lack some stuff — budget! Actual sharks! Cohesive story! — it also has some stuff — the arm scene! Danielle Savre! babies! Those moments maybe don’t make up for the whole, but they’re still parts and they’re memorable. (The Meg where you at?)

And yes, I am fully aware how truly ridiculous it is to reconcile the thought that a movie about a pharmaceutical billionaire, Carl Durant, inviting two scientists and a shark conservationist, Dr. Misty Calhoun, to his offshore facility Akhelios to consult on a project to create a potent nootropic tested on genetically enhanced bull sharks, and inexplicably himself, that then goes awry when the sharks damage the facility and alpha shark Bella gives birth to super aggressive shark pups that are then trapped within the sinking facility and attacking the humans… has some stuff. But, here I am. Just a girl, sitting alone in a room, asking you to consider that this movie has some stuff.

Congratulations everyone! We made it to our first sequel. Let’s put Deep Blue Sea 2 through the Sharkometer.

Divine Intervention: The art of the sequel

The sequel: it’s a loaded concept. We’ve all heard the defiant interjections:
“The Godfather Part II is better than The Godfather!” (Wrong)
“Empire Strikes Back is far superior!” (Correct)
Jurassic Park III is good!” (Duh!)

But the broader consensus seems to be that a good sequel is the exception, not the rule. And that’s a real bummer because these days it feels like we’re trapped in an endless cycle of sequels of movies of other remade movies based on other movies or mediums. It’s a lot. But, the sequel is by no means a new phenomenon, perhaps just a recently accelerated one, whose legitimacy and longevity have always been questionable.

Movie sequels go all the way back to the beginning of, well, movies. Georges Méliès’ classic A Trip To The Moon was followed up by The Impossible Voyage, both of which were loosely based on novels by Jules Verne. Sequels really got going in the 1920s and then in full swing in the 1930s with the introduction of, you guessed it, the horror genre, spawning sequels to Frankenstein and Dracula to name a couple.

However, as Ryan Lambie points out, it wasn’t until the 1970s that sequels began to numerically refer back to the original film, as opposed to individually naming them like Bride of Frankenstein, and the pattern of sequels riding in the wake of success of the original emerged with movies like The Godfather Part II (1974) and French Connection II (1975). This brings us to Jaws. Everyone knows that Jaws marked the creation of the summer blockbuster back in 1975, but what they probably don’t know is that it also ushered in the era of the landfill sequel, as Lambie dubbed it. “To qualify for this ignominious title,” writes Lambie “a movie series passes through several phases, from critical praise (Jaws) to critical indifference (Jaws 2) via critical mauling (Jaws 3) to complete self-parody and series meltdown (Jaws 4).”

Most sequels tend to go this landfill route at some point as ingenuity, interest and/or capital, run dry. How to circumvent this destination is not so crystal clear as what marks a “good sequel” versus a “bad sequel” is, obviously, up for debate. Some say the best sequels don’t pick up where the story left off, but that would negate the entire Evil Dead franchise, the aforementioned Bride of Frankenstein and Quantum of Solace (which…fair point). Others set some pretty stone cold rules that most good sequels do abide by like “Don’t Remake the Original” “Make Sure the Original Warrants a Sequel” and “Move the Original Characters Forward.”

Which leads us to Deep Blue Sea and Deep Blue Sea 2.

Deep Blue Sea, original flavour, was a success in 1999 and arguably paved the way for the bevy of shark and creature feature films that followed. Sequel talks began back in 2008, with one slated for release on Warner Bros’ now defunct direct-to-video label Warner Premiere, when Warner Bros tapped Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus director Jack Perez. Perez imagined a more conceptual sequel that included an intricate pipe maze filled with surgically altered sharks with machine guns and rocket launchers atop their heads onboard a scientific research ship seized by Somali pirates. Unfortunately, during pre-production, this version was yanked due to a few nebulous reasons, the primary being DVDs weren’t making money at the time. (I think we can all agree though — we’d like to see that movie.)

Enter Darin Scott in 2017. Scott’s vision was much more of a true sequel, opting to keep the themes of the original (shark experimentation), add unique elements (baby sharks) and “just have fun with it” (Michael Beach). His Deep Blue Sea 2 is a curious case. It breaks most of the “good sequel” rules — bringing in an entire new cast, “homaging” classic scenes from the original and casting into doubt whether a sequel was needed at all — yet, still manages to do… something more and not be completely derivative.

In the wake of the weird phenomenon where movie studios are throwing more money at sequels than the original, Deep Blue Sea 2 exists on the peripheries, as Lambie would say. Together with fellow shark-spawning sequel 47 Meters Down (and apparently The Reef), they are reimagining a new subgenre of shark movie franchises on smaller budgets. They reinvent parts and build off of their predecessors rather than tapping every facet of the well dry. We see new casts move in, the spirit of the original maintained and some new flavour added. They’re more like a Compost Bin sequel — there’s something good in there.

It’s a more inventive and fresh approach to shark movie sequels than what we’ve seen before (Jaws 2) or that has been gently flirted with (Jaws 3, Jaws: The Revenge). However, this too, like all franchises, will wane at some point as the energy and hope we invest as the audience hits its limit and either the franchise concludes, pivots or endlessly reboots. But, it’s nice to see some damn effort and intention instead of delivering straight facsimiles of things we barely liked in the first place until we all die (Sharknado).

So with all that, to answer the question threading throughout this: No, I don’t think Deep Blue Sea 2 is better than the original. How could it be? The Big Flashy Movie studio gave Renny Harlin millions of dollars and jet-engine-powered sharks to make Deep Blue Sea and the Direct-to-TV studio gave Scott a couple bucks, a 20-year-delayed project of a beloved film and a “good luck.”

Deep Blue Sea 2 is probably the least successful of the new sequel attempts, but I still think Scott did pretty good with what he had and for his efforts, Deep Blue Sea 2 may have even ushered in our new era of shark sequels or at least created a bridge to the next. Guys, it has stuff.

Divine Intervention rating: 1/1 Waterfalls

Hitchcockian Flare: Mama said knock you out

Much like the Jurassic Park franchise, the Deep Blue Sea franchise keeps its central meaning crystal freaking clear: please stop fucking with sharks. Not only does it not end well for the people doing it, the sharks deserve better. Scott wanted to be explicit in both his interviews and Deep Blue Sea 2 that sharks are in fact the real victims in shark movies.

Upfront, Deep Blue Sea 2 plays out in a similar Frankenstein narrative as the original, this time sprinkled with a little bit more 2010s-era obsession with ThE sInGuLaRiTy, a little less Jesus confusion, and an actual acknowledgement of who the villain is (It’s Carl Durant!) and who the hero is (It’s Misty Calhoun!). Calhoun, played oh so well by Danielle Savre, is a shark conservationist and the moral centre of this movie, implicitly outlining the “No, sharks are good” theme. She gives passionate speeches about sharks maligned as vicious killing machines and makes sure to quip back “Or monsters” when Durant posits “We can all be gods.” Shark finners are killed, so is Durant. It’s all… fine, if not a bit on the nose, and definitely doesn’t stop Calhoun from trying to mow down baby sharks with a blowtorch.

It’s also nice to see that comeuppance time came via Mom Revenge. It’s surprising the whole Bella the alpha shark being pregnant, giving birth to supercharged demon babies and leading a revolt to get her children back because they are trapped within the complex and her crew outside (which is different than the first!) wasn’t made more explicit. Especially when you consider that shark pups cannibalize all but two embryos in the womb, apparently due to paternity battles and this time the pack of shark pups have turned that cannibalism on the humans.

Seems like a rich text to explore to me, no?

Hitchcockian Flare rating: 6/10 gold medals

Filmin’: The Ingenuity of Darin Scott

The thing about a shark movie sequel is that it doesn’t take its main cues from den mother Jaws, but from its predecessor, in this case Deep Blue Sea. Deep Blue Sea, directed through the “action film” style of Harlin, has quite a few distinctive shots:

Scott, arguably most known for co-writing Tales from the Hood and producing Menace II Society, has a less distinctive directorial style, but manages to use Harlin’s moments as a jumping off point, while sort of creating his own. Basically, everything you need to know about this movie is summed up by two things: (1) Scott saying “[We] knew no matter what we’d never match the Sam Jackson moment” and (2) when Scott shows Bella the shark literally eavesdropping and plotting revenge. It’s this mixture of pure self awareness and straight up obliviousness that informs Deep Blue Sea 2.

Some would say that’s a pretty confusing mess, and in many respects, they’re right. To categorically state you can’t top something and then just kind of do it anyway feels a little like you’re being gaslit. Or to literally illustrate the subtext of a scene feels like Scott doesn’t quite trust his audience. Or to cut scenes with Misty and Trent getting all flirty seems like Scott is out of his damn mind! Their chemistry was fantastic! None of this Carter/Susan bullshit! *insert Nicole Buyer yelling “when they gonna fuck” in a theatre!* And to top it off, it feels like there really isn’t a lot of shark action in this movie for a franchise kinda known for shark action.

But, even with that, to cast this entire movie off as a facsimile of the first ignores some great moments Scott does create. “Death by shower and baby sharks” and “whoops your arm’s in a shark mouth” stand out as the best and most successful moments in the movie that create real, memorable tension. I also felt and cared more for these characters and their plights, then say the original (that’s a low bar). Sure you’re sad when a Scoggins dies and you want LL (and maybe Thomas Jane) to get to the end, but the rest you either don’t super care about or you outwardly despise. Scott’s version does a better job pairing people up and ripping them apart, sometimes literally. Like when Leslie dies right in front of her husband? Or when Aaron hears Josh die? C’mon, that was sad. Not quite Steven in Bait 3D level sad, but sad.

For me though, the challenges of this movie boil down to budget. Yes, you can make a great shark movie on a small budget, but you can’t make a great follow up to Deep Blue Sea with a small budget. Deep Blue Sea thrived off the maximalist approach: make big explosions bigger, have big enough star power, with the biggest sharks and do it more! You can’t throw a wad of 10s at the sequel and think you can create the same effect. That’s not how math or sharks work.

Scott had to use some serious ingenuity, like the old “change the light colour in the same room” trick, and work with what he had and other times… things just unfortunately fell away.

So, while there are some good and bad things, the effort and intention Scott puts into crafting a standalone sequel with roots in the first was a Sisyphean task that will never get its due despite what is there. We just aren’t on board because we’re too amped up to compare it to the original and tear it down when it fails. And that’s the double-edged sword of a sequel.

Filmin’ rating: 2.5/4 video cameras

Editing: We need to get top side

A beefy man, a shark conservationist, a computer nerd, half a neurologist and pure evil get top side. Who will survive?

Short answer: the likeable ones. Long answer: Editing continues to be a struggle in the Sharkometer. Deep Blue Sea 2, like its Sharkomter pal Red Water, struggles with p.a.c.i.n.g. and a multitude of disconnected plots:

  • The adult pack of bull sharks are implanted with microchips so their behaviour can be remote controlled or existence completely destroyed by a clicker thing
  • Carl Durant creates a powerful nootropic to battle the oncoming robot apocalypse and is inexplicably taking the drug himself and losing his mind
  • Alpha shark Bella gives birth to multiple shark pups that are extra smart and aggressive, most likely due to the potent drug
  • Bella leads a revolt among the adult sharks to destroy the compound and get the babies back
  • Carl Durant literally tries to kill Misty Calhoun
  • Most importantly, the remaining human crew tries to get top side.

On paper, the plots could flow together. In practice, mixed with disruptive cuts and lack of development, the only thing that really lands is the baby sharks… and even they end with a fizzle. We spend too long in the complex with the muttering, bubbling blob of baby sharks, waiting for more shark action and for Bella to enact her revenge. If she would’ve entered the fray earlier, the action would have felt more unrelenting, keeping us interested. Instead, we just kind of wait it out, save for the couple aforementioned moments, until everyone gets top side and the final battle can begin.

In the desire to solve some of the original’s problems, like redeeming Scoggins’ death and making sure we’re fully aware Susan McCallister/Carl Durant is evil, we end up side stepping huge plot points like, again, Durant literally left Misty Calhoun to die and do the baby sharks and the beta sharks even die? Who even really got top side?

Mother Cutter rating: 0.75/2 scissors

Good Humour: Deep Blue Sadness

Unlike Deep Blue Sea with its unintended humour of vagina bites, Michael Rappoport’s everyman’s quips and LL Cool J’s pure gold, Deep Blue Sea 2 is just not that funny. It has some pretty hauntingly sad moments, straight up pure evil and what I imagine is supposed to be funny moments that instead come off stilted and forced.

I mean, that mix never bakes right, but the lack of emotional nuance and range is underscored by the one-note characters that deliver it. Look, Deep Blue Sea has character development issues too, but we do see more gravitas from each (except Saffron Burrows), which makes it feel, you know, fun! In Deep Blue Sea 2 the character’s are only allowed to be one thing — Misty Calhoun is Serious; Carl Durant is Pedantic; Trent is Beefy (okay is an stoic everyman) — so it doesn’t matter how captivating Savre is or how off the rails Beach went: we were never going to get more than what was on the page.

Part of that is some of the actors weren’t great, another is definitely the writing, some budget things probably and a bit of… yeah, the movie is just isn’t that great. It’s far from a surprise to get a humourless shark movie these days, but man, I wish people would try because it makes it that much more endearing and scary when all our emotions are blended up together.

Good humour rating: 0/5 popsicles

Lack of CGI: A tarnished legacy

The legacy of Deep Blue Sea should be frighteningly realistic animatronic sharks that scare the cast and crew, and probably some real sharks inexplicably (“Woo!” — Renny Harlin). It is the central, ya I said it central, reason Deep Blue Sea is so powerful, even if its most pivotal scene came via CGI. You put the fear right in the water and we remember those moments.

It is unsurprising then that Deep Blue Sea 2’s most successful scene comes via animatronic shark (or at least puppet with moving eyes) with the arm in the mouth scene. Like Shark Night 3D, if it could have leveraged more of this type of visceral tension, the movie would have been better for it. But, budgets and time are a hell of a drug.

Instead, the legacy of Deep Blue Sea has been relegated to sharks leaping out of the water to kill people unsuspectingly, which in my books, has diminishing returns. A well-crafted shark animatronic is forever.

No CGIs allowed rating: 1/3 mechanical shark fins

WILDCARD: Baby Sharks do do do do danielle savre!

C’mon, it’s a good twist. And you liked it for at least the first few moments: the lawyer surprise corpse, the I swear they’re baby rubber sharks being thrown at the neurologist and the shower death scene… and then you wanted more.

And then you wondered if the baby sharks were actually killed in the movie.
And then you realized you didn’t actually get to see a lot of shark deaths.
And then you realized there wasn’t a lot of shark action in this movie.
And then you realized you’ve watched this movie 10+ times.
And then you realized it’s taken you months to write this.
And then you realized you gotta get outside.
And then you realized there’s a Deep Blue Sea 3 and you can only watch it after you write this blog.
And then you write this blog.
And then you realized you still thought the baby sharks were a pretty good twist.

Also, we’ve got to give it up for Danielle Savre. She is incredibly likeable and brings a level of seriousness and severity that is totally in line with the tone of the movie. She makes the other actors better (hello chemistry with Trent) and this movie better. This movie would not get top side without her.

Wildcard rating: 0.85/1 Spielberg head (he’s not wearing a hat)

Final Thoughts

Ooo, Deep Blue Sea 2 is a tricky one. People are primed to hate it because it’s the low-budget sequel to a beloved movie and that energy and history create a bit a vacuum. And while I still agree with my introduction self that Deep Blue Sea 2 is not that bad, it’s not that great either, which makes it difficult to create a case because every word feels so loaded.

Because of that, this was probably the hardest piece to write yet. It was difficult to find my analytical footing between the actual movie (which again wasn’t that bad) and the need to defend it (it’s not that bad!) and reconcile my excitement to explore juicy tangents with the recognition that this movie fell flat in a lot of ways. Much like Deep Blue Sea 2, I just…couldn’t get there. It all felt so draining, like a slog.

And that feels… a bit gutting, if not entirely appropriate for this movie and this batshit year, ha.

It’s so easy to assume sequels will be trash or cash grabs or the death knell of the shark movie. We’ve seen literally no evidence to the contrary. But… even if some of that is true, it doesn’t negate that this movie had stuff (guys, it has some stuff). It just… wasn’t that great.

As a direct sequel, it’s fine! Deep Blue Sea 2 is predominantly constrained by its budget and a 19-years-later production. With a new cast, and growing legacy of the first, it does an attempt at expanding on the story while probably over-relying on homages back to the first. As a standalone shark movie, based on what I’ve seen (re: a lot), it is not bad! Again, there’s stuff.

What it lacks for me though is the overall magic that Harlin brought to the original, especially with his ability to craft action vignettes into pretty much every part of the movie. Deep Blue Sea explodes along as you watch it, gaining more momentum as you go, while Deep Blue Sea 2 blips along, pulling your attention back just as you’re about to fade away or are already gone.

Yes, I liked things about this movie — Baby sharks! Misty and Trent’s chemistry! Pregnant shark! Shark conservation! — but I wished Deep Blue Sea 2 was better. Not because I wanted it to exist in the first place, but because it exists at all.

If I’m being honest: this movie straight up haunts me. I constantly revisit it and my analysis of it to try to mine out another thought and get closer to what I’m actually trying to say. My overall impression after watching it is always “it’s fine” with a dash of “it’s got stuff.”

There is stuff there but teasing it out from the whole is just such a process that I don’t blame those who didn’t do it and just cast it aside. Or at least I don’t anymore. There’s more to say and there’s more in there, but…

So I guess I’ve relegated myself to my own aquatic compound filled with charts and diagrams where if people want to listen, I’ll gently discuss why Deep Blue Sea 2 wasn’t that bad to me, or continue my aimless pursuit of fulling realizing this blog and why Deep Blue Sea 2 is fine. Guys, it has stuff.

Next up: The ultimate snoozefest: ‘Blue Demon’.

For a complete list of Shark-o-meter movies, swim here.

References and Recommended Readings

References are hyperlinked or below and some choice additional things that helped shape this piece.

The “Chll Plz” licence plate on the car in front of me in traffic one day
The origins and evolution of the movie sequel by Ryan Lambie
The Perfect and Perfectly Awful Movies Lindy West Is Watching in Quarantine by Naomi Elias
The Princess Diana series on You’re Wrong About
Rebecca Is a Hollow, Turgid Retread By Angelica Jade Bastién
A history of Hollywood sequels in 10 influential films by Stuart Henderson
Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby
Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018) — Movie Review by Bloodbath and Beyond
Watching the entire Mission Impossible franchise in two days
DEEP BLUE SEA 2 Review: Sharks Are Never Boring by Jacob Knight
The 100 Scares That Shaped Horror From Frankenstein to Freddy, the movie moments that formed the genre (and our nightmares). By Jordan Crucchiola
The crushing despair of the world around us and people’s continued selfishness and unaccountability
The Hope inspired by firing a fascist during a landscape press conference, Henry Cavill’s chest and the joy dancing around in the streets

Thanks for reading, this is Kaitlin McNabb reminding you to please stop hyphenating your -ly adverbs. (The -ly does the work of clarifying your modifier and you don’t need the hyphen.)

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