Director: Jon Turteltaub
Starring: Jason Statham, Ruby Rose, Li Bingbing
Length: 1hr 52m
Despite The Meg’s twenty year production cycle and its featuring enough shark to rival the upstart Sharknados, Euan Brook finds this prehistoric beast to be pretty toothless.
The trailer for this movie was amazing. A self-serious horror show featuring a giant shark suddenly turning into trashy Jaws-like fun halfway through to the tune of Beyond The Sea. It was indicative of a movie that didn’t know what it wanted to be, and it looked like there was fun to be had in seeing how this dramatic shift in tone was going to play out. Instead the result was a fairly competent action movie that featured cool effects but lacked personality.
The Meg, starring Jason Statham, Li Bingbing and Rainn Wilson, follows a hapless team of scientists as they enter the Mariana Trench and encounter a Megalodon; a gigantic, prehistoric shark trapped in the deep by a gaseous ice sheet. When a submarine is sunk below with the ‘Meg’, cantankerous rescue expert Jonas (Jonah-s, get it?) Taylor, played by Statham, is called in to save the stranded scientists and, on a more personal note, to redeem himself after a botched rescue mission five years before.
Things start off promising enough. The Meg initially manages to find a fun balance between the self-seriousness of the story and its silly premise with a pulpy, sci-fi tone. The kind you’d see in old B-movies where a cast will be discussing the Creature from the Black Lagoon with utter seriousness. Statham is charismatic as rogue element Jonas, and the rest of the cast are, while lacking in characterisation, likeable enough while never becoming annoying in a corny, overacty way (a danger in a lot of these genre films). Things begin to fizzle out on thrills as we leave the Trench depths and underwater station and play out the rest of the action surface-level (like almost every other shark movie) but the effects are cool and there’s plenty of techy submarine and shark cage action to keep you interested.
Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing) is a breath of fresh air where action movie female lead are concerned, in that she’s actually given some cool, brave things to do to match Statham’s antics, instead of just being relegated to, “I’m a strong, independent woman who does nothing throughout the film except shoot a gun then fall in love with the male lead.” She doesn’t quite live up to the cool, tough guy adventurer they play her up to be personality-wise, but Bingbing does a good job with what little characterisation she is given. The romantic subplot between her and Statham is a little frustrating though, as there’s no resolution to it, and you can’t help wondering if the lack of an interracial kiss is the result of pandering to a Chinese market.
And that’s the biggest problem with The Meg. It’s a fun enough giant shark movie, but it’s inoffensive. It lacks enough bite to make it engaging. One issue is the family-friendly age rating, preventing any of the megalodon attacks from being truly satisfying, lacking the visceral violence of Jaws or the goofy fun of Sharknado. What kind of megalodon movie is this when you have a monster that can swallow people whole and you never actually show that?
Then there’s the social commentary of the film, and yes there is some. The underwater station, Mana One, is funded by a benevolent billionaire played by Rainn Wilson, and at first you think, is this movie pro-billionaire with this chummy Elon Musk-type funding scientific research? Then when the megalodon is discovered, Wilson wonders out loud if they can profit off it, which would’ve given an extra antagonistic edge to the movie besides the shark (that being a powerful individual serving his own interests to protect the megalodon at the expense of human life) except that this is never actually followed through with. Later in the film the science team comes across the remains of a shark-poaching ship that had been attacked by the megalodon, nature taking revenge as it were. Except again, the commentary lacks impact when the film refuses to identify the main consumer of shark fins (that being China), and as the consumption of shark fin meat has dropped significantly in China anyway, it’s yet another inoffensive detail. At least show the poaching ship getting attacked so we can root for the megalodon for a change.
Shark movies are dumb fun. Even Jaws, considered a masterpiece, is still built around the dumb concept of a monster shark vindictively murdering holidaymakers. But that doesn’t mean that they are, or should be, entirely brainless. It’s appreciated that The Meg does stand opposed to the anti-environmentalism of Jaws, but it’s frustrating that it’s neither dumb enough or smart enough to be the satisfying summer blockbuster hoped for. Things begin to fall apart when the film becomes less Meg and more Jaws, which really puts things in perspective. The Meg may have a size and magnitude that only 2018 computer graphics can produce, but that robot rubber shark from the ‘70s still proves to be far more iconic and intimidating.