Nasty, big, pointy teeth
The Meg is directed by Jon Turteltaub and stars Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, and Cliff Curtis. It is loosely based on the 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten.
Only two things were necessary to make a movie like The Meg and release it in theaters worldwide: have a super-sized shark and have an actor capable of fighting said super-sized shark. Dwayne Johnson was busy tending to an albino gorilla and fighting other giant monsters in 2018, so Jason Statham was the obvious second choice. Big shocker: the shark and Jason Statham are the best things in a movie that offers nothing else worthy of praise, but that's not the most disappointing thing about The Meg. No, The Meg is a movie that takes itself way way way too seriously, being stuck in some awkward middle ground where it neither embraces its potential of being total sci-fi cheese, nor makes a good enough effort to be one of the better shark movies in recent memory. At least Rampage was exactly what I thought it would be going in. How awesome would that have been had we gotten not one, but two awesomely dumb sci-fi monster movies in 2018? These things don't just come out on the fly, y'know.
The story of The Meg concerns the discovery of a 75-foot-long megalodon shark, thought to have been extinct. The underwater research facility Mana One sends a crew out on a mission to explore what is thought to be a deeper section of the Mariana trench. The mission proves successful, but while exploring the deeper part of the trench, the crew is attacked by an unseen creature and lose contact with Mana One. A crew member at the station recommends bringing in former rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham), who claims to have been attacked by an unknown creature during a rescue mission on a nuclear submarine five years ago. Taylor is brought in, being accompanied down into the trench by oceanographer Suyin Zhang (Bingbing). They encounter a massive shark during the rescue, but are able to escape after one of the crew members sacrifices himself by drawing the shark away and driving it into a thermal vent. However, it is discovered that the thermal vent sent the shark out of the hidden part of the trench and up to where it can attack the Mana One and all the other sea creatures swimming nearby. Realizing that the shark is a Megalodon, Taylor and the rest of the Mana One must work to stop the shark before it reaches any populated areas.
- Although it takes a little while for the shark to make his presence felt, the movie takes off once he escapes the trench and begins chomping on the Mana One crew. The Megalodon looks pretty good effects-wise, with fluid movements that represent the way any shark would move in open water. The physical features of the shark like his gills and sand paper-like skin are also shown in fairly prominent detail, looking very much like a shark that's been sleeping for hundreds of years and not some adolescent shark that went through a time machine from the BC area to the present day. As for the action: also pretty good. Turteltaub and cinematographer Tom Stern throw in a wide shot after a string of close-ups when the shark is attacking one of the subs and when Statham finds himself in direct contact with the shark. Scenes of the shark attacking beach-goers are also pretty amusing, even though similarities to Jaws can't be ignored (can we please stop with those shark POV shots?), and it takes the swimmers far too long to notice the massive grey figure moving right underneath their feet. All in all, there is enough entertainment value to make The Meg pass for a fairly decent shark movie, but again, this is not the kind of movie that should try to be decent with its greatest assets.
- The decision by Turteltaub to let The Meg be overly-serious is a fatal one. The surviving characters treat the ongoing encounter with the megalodon like they're in the middle of a natural disaster, with nearly every character death being presented like a soul-crushing game-changer that causes everyone to lose hope. One of the crew members that goes down in the trench writes a goodbye letter to his wife, in case he doesn't make it out alive. There's also a scene where Rainn Wilson's character goes on about how instead of celebrating with the crew, he's mourning with them. All of these scenes feel like forced melancholy, because Turteltaub and the producers seem to believe that attacks from a megalodon are serious business, even though it's a movie starring freaking Jason Statham, who is a death warrant for anything potentially sad in a film. If emotion is really what Turteltaub was wanting to go for, he should have told screenwriters Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber to write better characters that we could actually care about.
- The screenplay has several other faults aside from allowing the movie to be more serious than it has any right to be. Jason Statham being straight-up invincible is one fault. It's another that he has to play the hero rescuer during every single scene when the shark attacks. Like, is no other character capable of protecting themselves at least a little bit against the shark? The movie builds up Suyin Zhang like she could be Statham's sidekick (more so his love interest, but side kick works too), only to constantly turn her into a damsel in distress that is incapable of saving herself, such as the scene when she goes down in a shark cage and Statham has to go set her free when the shark traps her inside. There's no suspense whatsoever when Statham is around, making the movie much less enthralling.
I'd also like to comment on how picky an eater the megalodon is. I lost count as to how many times he gives up chasing one tasty meal to go after another meal that would be as equally tasty. Whatever happened to the idea that a shark is a mindless, eating machine that will attack and devour without logic? Being a mindless eating machine is part of what makes a shark so terrifying. The decisions to have the megalodon pick and choose what he wants to eat ruins the idea that this is an animal swimming free in his natural habitat, killing off more potential for suspense and destroying any hope The Meg might have had for being a horror movie.
What annoys me the most about The Meg is not its subpar screenplay nor its way-too-serious tone. The thing that truly irritated me about The Meg was that the movie was decent. Decent is not okay for a movie starring Jason Statham and centering on stopping a giant, prehistoric shark. This is a movie that should either be so bad it's good, or do what has not been done in any shark movie since Jaws: be pretty darn good. The Meg is neither so bad it's good nor pretty darn good; it's a middle of the road shark movie that is the film equivalent of a lazy beach read, providing only enough entertainment value to get you through a rainy afternoon and be completely forgotten by bedtime that same day. It's a Syfy Shark Movie of the Week, only with better actors and better production value. I don't want that, and neither should you. Next time, bring in the twisters so we can get a Megalodonado.
Recommend? It will pass for something to watch during a boring afternoon/evening. I wouldn't recommend it outside of that.
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