There are three Creature from the Black Lagoon movies, one a year from 1954. This is the middle one. They keep calling him the Gill-Man in this film (and no other), but whoever writes these movies' titles knew better.
I liked the first half. In fact I enjoyed it so much that I might even prefer it to the original film, which is nicely made and looks gorgeous, but isn't exactly giving you much to think about. Here though you've got scientists discussing the question of intelligence in beasts and whether savage behaviour is inherent or can be an animal become civilised. We see a baby chimp responding to spoken commands and a cat that is being trusted not to eat the rats in its cage. (The latter looked dodgy to me, but this is the 1950s.) You can see where they're going with this. Anyway, I approved. The scientists' investigation is slow and occasionally questionable in their safety procedures and methodology, but it's a cool thing to be doing and I was interested in seeing what they'd find out. After all, the Gill-Man is basically King Kong with fins, an amphibious pervert with clear motivations and even some personality, so I was pleased that the film was acknowledging and exploring his inner life instead of just doing a generic monster movie.
I liked the scientists too. They're not particularly deep characters, but they're decent people who know enough about their fields of expertise to be mildly educational and aren't trying to destroy the world. One of them's played by B-movie king John Agar and another's played by Lori Nelson. There's a bit of political incorrectness in the latter's assumption that getting married and having kids will mean giving up her career, but to be fair this is the 1950s and she's every bit as knowledgeable and efficient a scientist as Agar.
Anyway, the film begins with Nestor Paiva returning from the original film to take another bunch of Americans down the Amazon in his boat in search of prehistoric man-monsters. He's not happy about it and he's the most entertaining character in the film, with lots of doom-laden dialogue. Confrontation takes place and the Gill-Man draws first blood, but surprisingly the Americans aren't idiots and soon everyone's heading back to Florida to further the boundaries of science and make everyone a fortune from the TV, radio and exhibition rights.
Look out here for Clint Eastwood's cameo as a lab assistant, by the way. It's his first ever movie role and it only lasts about twenty seconds, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that he gets dialogue.
Anyway, at this point the film stops being a monster movie and becomes more like a scientific documentary. We see them trying to revive their captive with a method that seems reasonable and well thought out until it works and the Gill-Man wakes up, whereupon you realise that they're a bunch of clowns and their security procedures are a joke. However that's about as far as it goes for excitement. They feed the Gill-Man with fish in little wire boxes and teach him the word "stop" by shocking him with a cattle prod. Yes, underwater. In the 1950s they had magical electricity that only went where you wanted it to. This is silly, but it's less of a problem than the more fundamental issue of introducing yourself to a prehistoric killing machine with electric shocks. If that's his idea of animal training, I hope he never buys a dog. It's one of the film's stronger scenes, but in the counter-intuitive way of making me sympathise with the Gill-Man and look forward to seeing him beat John Agar to death with his own cattle prod.
Still, the scene worked. I was engaged. The first film created a lot of empathy for its Gill-Man, so it's nice to see this sequel doing the same, even if it's by accident.
One thing that's obviously missing from the original is the eye candy of the Amazon and the Black Lagoon, but there's still lots of wildlife to admire. It's just that most of it's in captivity. Porpoises, sharks, fish... they're so prominent that Florida Marineworld gets a "with thanks" mention in the opening credits.
I think the fifty-minute mark is where the film started going downhill for me. That's also roughly where the action begins. Gill-Man escapes! This is where the film sets out to disappoint anyone who might have been hoping to find intelligence. Everything the scientists were investigating gets ditched as Lori Nelson turns into a plot token to be dragged around by the Gill-Man. She's unconscious for most of this and doesn't get any dialogue you'd notice even after she wakes up. Meanwhile the Gill-Man himself could be argued to be the nearest thing we have to a character, for instance realising that his captive will drown if he pulls her underwater, even though he himself has to return to the river at regular intervals. He also spares a small child and its mother while on mid-rampage. Unfortunately though he doesn't murder John Agar or even give him a cattle prod suppository, instead wandering around Florida randomly until the police shoot him. The end. This is so anticlimactic that if someone edited out the closing credits, you'd never believe it was the real finale.
In other news, the greatest threat to life and limb in this film is probably a loudspeaker announcement that "The Gill-Man has escaped! Run for your lives!" Finally there's also one of the worst bits of wirework I've ever seen as the Gill-Man throws someone against a tree and his victim perceptibly falls upwards.
I can't not mention the sexual element. Lori Nelson strips down to her 1950s underwear without drawing the curtains, while the Gill-Man is still a stalker pervert. A fish that's in lust with human women. Uh-huh. I bet he's not really the last of his species, you know, but had simply been exiled by the other Gill-Men for zoophilia.
This was quite a good film for most of its length, but then it turned all dull and 1950s. There's nothing interesting about seeing anonymous men on a monster-hunt, especially when the monster in question isn't even being monstrous enough to fight back. That's not a third act. That's a backdrop to a third act. Meanwhile of the human protagonists, one of them gets nothing more to do than deliver motivational speeches to the police and the other is unconscious. Incidentally right now this is apparently the only sequel to a 3D film to have been shot in 3D too, although I bet that doesn't stay true for long. Overall I'd have to call this a bad film, as is suggested by its having been covered by Mystery Science Theater 3000, but it's far from worthless. There's much to enjoy here, from the science documentary visuals to the oddity value of Clint Eastwood's cameo. I'd advise finding something more interesting to do for the last half hour of the film, but until then I'd been thinking it was really rather good.