When making a killer shark movie there is one thing a filmmaker must first come to grips with — that you will not be making a film better than Spielberg’s Jaws; it’s just not going to happen, and with the release of Warner Brothers summer flick The Meg, it’s clear that director Jon Turteltaub understands this completely. The key decision-making process here basically comes down to, “If you can’t make a shark movie better than Jaws, how about a bigger one?”
Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is the classic hero with a dark past – a deep-sea rescue went badly resulting in the death of two of his colleagues – and with a new threat on the horizon, he is forced out of his self-imposed retirement to save the day. This time, it has to do with an emergency aboard an undersea research laboratory – a place where they plan to discover a hidden sea below the Marianas Trench – and it’s Jonas’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) being trapped inside a damaged sub, that brings him running. To say that The Meg lacks plot or character development would be unfair – it does lack both of these elements, but one really doesn’t expect to find any in this type of movie – and what the film lacks in these areas, it makes up for in having tons of cliché action sequences and stereotyped characters.
The Meg is an adaptation of Steve Alten’s book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror – though loosely based as it is, it kind of grabs moments and characters from the book’s many sequels – and unlike the book, it never takes itself too seriously. In the book, Jonas is a man tortured by his personal demons – having lost two crewmembers on a past dive – but with Statham, you know you’re not just going to get the standard square jawed and stoic hero, he’s going to nod and wink at the camera any chance he can get.
Jonas is pulled from his drunken hang-out – somewhere in Thailand – to rescue his ex-wife and her crewmates, and he is teamed up with Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), head of the research facility, and his gorgeous daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li), who could offer some possible romantic entanglements. Then there is Jaxx (Ruby Rose), the young genius that designed the facility – though this attribute is never really utilized, she’s just another person who gets to fall in the water – and to bring an added wrinkle to the proceedings, it turns out that the ships doctor (Robert Taylor) is the man who accused Jonas of being a coward – and delusional after claiming to see a Megalodon – following the tragic rescue mission, the one that drove him into drunken retirement.
For added comedy relief – which you almost don’t need with the increasingly funny Statham on board – there is DJ (Page Kennedy), who is here to provide the proper amount of ethnic humor, and billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), the money man behind the facility, who dances back and forth between comic relief and film’s villain, because a movie about a giant prehistoric shark needs a human villain, right? As mentioned before, there really isn’t much of a plot to be found here – just your standard man against nature story – as Jonas soon finds himself facing his old adversary, the Meg. What the film does bring to the table is a sense of carefree exorbitance that carries through the film’s 113 minute running time — and it really does fly by — but sadly, there isn’t much gore for a shark film, much to the distress of both Statham and the director who both wanted a Rated “R” movie. If the film is guilty of anything, it’s in not going far enough with the pure silliness of it all.
When the massive Megalodon follows our heroes to the surface, the movie switches fully into the “Everyone is a moron” mode. They all agree they need to kill this prehistoric monster… well there is a moment of “We should capture it alive because it is a previously believed extinct species,” but that idea is quickly shot down. Yet their first plan is for Jonas to jump off the boat, swim over to the behemoth, and stick it with a tracking device. Does anyone else think this is the dumbest plan in the history of dumb plans? Suyin explains that he is too small for the Meg to consider him a threat – though him being considered the right size to be a snack is never addressed – and so we get one of the craziest scenes in the movie, with Statham being dragged behind a boat, while a giant shark tries to eat him. The rest of the movie is pretty much like this – with so many people falling into the water, to be threatened by the Meg, that the movie should have been titled The Meg: People Falling Out of Boats – and when we finally get to promised carnage, with the Meg reaching an overpopulated beach, the film strangely reigns itself in.
As PG13 summer films go, there are a lot worse ways to spend your time — and the theaters are air conditioned — but there was certainly a loss of potential here, and that saddens me, as the marketing team certainly sold us the idea that this was an over-the-top fun shark movie, with ads that made the film look like a cross between Deep Blue Sea and Sharknado, but I guess that movie was lost somewhere in the editing room. That all said, I’ll admit to being entertained – though if you put a shark in your movie I’m already halfway yours – and Statham and company all seem to be enjoying themselves, and that really helps sell the film. Do I wish it could have been a bit sillier, say in the vein of Shark Attack 3: Megalodon, sure, who wouldn’t? But the film still had me laughing enough, and the shark certainly looked damn cool, thus it will find its way onto my Blu-ray shelf the minute it’s available on video.
• The “Estranged couple get back together during adversity” trope is not used here, which is nice.
• Our heroes continue to chase after a giant fucking shark, in what looks to be a glorified yacht, even after finding the wreckage of a fishing boat.
• The film has one of the best “Hero takes off his shirt” scenes ever.
• Hats off to the writer who came up with the nice Finding Nemo moment.
• There is a cute dog named after the poor dog eaten by Spielberg’s shark.
• Suyin has an adorable little girl, who they strangely don’t have immediately evacuated when they learn about the prehistoric shark.