Director: Jon Turteltaub
Stars: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Bingbing Li
So The Meg already looks like it might be the biggest non-franchised hit of the summer. That such a thing exists would ordinarily be heartening as our cinemas are saturated with relentless serials and reboots… but did it have to be this?
Who am I kidding? It’s impossible to be genuinely put out by a film this pointedly dumb. A blockbuster version of one of those terrible sea monster movies that air on the Sci-Fi channel, The Meg is critic-proof and there’s really nothing wrong with that. But just because a film is knowingly daft doesn’t make it good, as anyone who’s spent any time near the Sci-Fi channel should know.
Jason Statham has crested fifty and he knows what he’s good at. He’s spent recent years sending up his own persona, particularly in popcorn fodder like Spy or Fast & Furious 8, and his appearance here feels like an extension of that affable side he’s been cultivating. He’s as good as you’d expect starring as Jonas Taylor, a deep-sea rescue operative who has turned to drink in Thailand following a tragic turn at the bottom of the sea (naturally, this incident opens the movie).
He’s called back into action when a deep dive winds up in dire straits on an unexplored seabed, situated right underneath a state-of-the-art marine biology facility 200 miles off of the Chinese coast. The expedition has breached a wibbly-wobbly false floor in the ocean, and stumbled upon some nasty things lurking in the deeper depths.
A lot of broadly painted but enjoyable characters are quickly established. The script – bolted together by Dean Geogaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber and based on a novel – enjoys filling the mouths of these characters with choice cuts of hammy dialogue (“That living fossil ate my best friend!”), while also pandering to stereotypes like a love letter to 90’s trash.
When you’re making a flick about Jason Statham battling a motor-mouthed Megalodon, you’ve already given up on taking things seriously, but still The Meg works best when it strives for actual dramatic heft. The opening act is by far the most absorbing. With a small circle of characters and a defined claustrophobic environment, the film actually storms out of the gate with a great deal of confidence, and its both easy and fun to get swept along.
Things shift gears for the second act once the film’s gigantic shark rises to the surface, and this section is nearly as much fun. The Meg saunters into Jaws territory with a spirited fishing trip out across the open seas, and while nowhere near as well crafted or inventive as Spielberg’s classic, it remains amiable.
By the time the third act rolls around, however, the novelty’s worn off. A mid-film ‘surprise’ pleases (though its cued up thanks to some playful and knowing editing), but The Meg never quite rises to the challenge of following it. Things get sillier (in theory any flick in which Statham takes on a giant shark with his bare hands ought to be a masterpiece), but this closing act also feels rushed, unable to capitalise on the monster threat that the first two-thirds has unleashed.
As tipped in the movie’s well-circulated trailer, there’s a sequence in which the Megalodon rushes for a densely populated Chinese beach. Without the gravitas of Jaws or the balls to go all-out a la Alexandre Aja’s giddy gorefest Piranha 3D, the resulting sequence barely makes it out of the shallows.
It doesn’t help that the titular CGI menace is rarely glimpsed in focus. Either in an effort to disguise the quality or in an attempt to eke some suspense, ol’ sharky often gets lost in a blur of scrappy editing and digital bubbles. Despite its size and strength, there’s very little menace to the creature. This sounds ridiculous, but it lacks… personality. Even the shark in The Shallows managed to be, well, a bit of a dick. This meg is more… meh.
Still, there’s plenty to chuckle at in some of the character interactions and Statham even manages some semblance of chemistry with potential love interest Bingbing Li. The supporting cast features a few familiar faces (Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose) and their affable and goofy exchanges provide just enough entertainment between scenes of intensive fishing.
Director Jon Turteltaub is one of Hollywood’s go-to men for the daft and disposable (his credits include 3 Ninjas and the National Treasure movies), so in a sense he was absolutely the man for the job. What he’s accomplished is wholly without ambition beyond adding another silly summer movie to his list. One wonders,however, if someone like the aforementioned Aja or Jaume Collet-Serra might’ve brought a little more bite to the project. As it is, this one’s sprightly fun in the moment, but likely to sink from memory in an instant.