The Meg (2018)
Chomp on this.
Those wanting to see action star Jason Statham smack an enormous dinosaur shark square in the jaw might be mildly disappointed with The Meg, as the latest shark-themed creature-feature is not as crazy or self-mocking as its razor-sharp marketing would have you believe. You see, The Meg, directed by the capable Jon Turteltaub, National Treasure (2004), only half commits to its deliciously goofy premise; it’s not as gory or over-the-top as Alexandre Aja’s debaucherous Piranha 3D (2010) nor is it as ludicrous as Renny Harlin’s under-rated sci-fi thriller Deep Blue Sea (1999). Part of the problem is the film’s lifeless script, penned by mediocre scribe Dean Georgaris, Paycheck (2003), along with brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber, who wrote the so-so screenplay to the critically mauled Battleship (2012). Coupled with a sheer lack of blood and carnage, and a dead-serious tone, The Meg just isn’t as fun as it should or could have been. Look, it’s not a bad film, just not an overly memorable one either.
Loosely based on the science-fiction horror novel written by Steve Alten titled MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror, which, since being published in 1997, has spawned several sequels, The Meg follows Navy deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor, played by a very game Jason Statham — a character that fronts all of Alten’s MEG stories. The flick opens with a flashback that details Taylor’s initial run-in with the prehistoric predator, our protagonist first butting heads with the oceanic behemoth in the midst of a rescue operation in the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench — this subaquatic trough currently standing as the deepest known point in the world’s ocean. When a sizable unknown creature rams a damaged, sunken nuclear sub, Taylor, who’s heading the salvage mission, is forced to abandon half the crew. Our hero and a handful of others, however, get out just in the nick of time, the vessel detonating right as they make their escape, the explosion killing all of the remaining persons still trapped inside.
Of course, this tragic episode earns Statham’s Naval Captain a dishonorable discharge, the submarine’s medic, Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), although being one of the few people saved from the wreckage, dismissing Taylor’s tall tale of ‘mammoth monsters,’ blaming his questionable actions on pressure-induced psychosis. Cut to five years later, where we track a group of deep-sea biologists working in a cutting-edge underwater research facility named Mana One, located some 200 miles off the Chinese coast. It turns out that the scientist heading the undersea observation program, Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li), who works as an oceanographer, are planning an expedition to investigate a possibly deeper, uncharted section of the Mariana Trench, one that’s been masked (up until now) by a cloud of hydrogen sulfide, having formed a thermal layer which has sealed the region off to whatever is lurking underneath — if there is, in fact, anything there at all.
When a small three-man piloted submersible enters the previously concealed area, the team discovers a thriving undersea paradise complete with bizarre glowing jellyfish, colorful coral reefs and an array of hybridized deep-sea critters. Oh, there’s also a big-ass angry squid floating around in there, too. This sequence is, without a doubt, one of the best in the entire picture; the visuals here are quite breathtaking, the fantastical CGI marine life (dreamt up by the film’s VFX artists) and underwater landscape beautifully rendered and realized — I just wish the photography weren’t so murky. Anyhow, when the sub gets struck by a large, unidentified force, losing contact with the outside world, James ‘Mac’ Mackreides (Cliff Curtis), a former colleague/ friend of Taylor’s, requests that his old pal be brought in to save the stranded researchers, despite strong objection from Dr. Heller, who’s now a crewmember on Mana One. Convincing the others to bring Taylor aboard, Mac knows full well that Statham is the only person skilled and capable enough to orchestrate such a risky rescue mission in this particular, rather perilous undersea stretch. Problem is, he’s out of reach, MIA on a self-imposed exile.
And so, Dr. Zhang and Mac travel to Thailand, where they find the gruff Taylor hiding out in a small rural settlement, spending his days pissing off boat owners (by failing to repair their shoddy crafts) and drowning his sorrows at the local dive, the disgraced pro diver refusing to help the men out, no matter how much money they throw at him. But there’s a kicker, one of the three trapped researchers happens to be his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), this new revelation pushing Taylor to (reluctantly) get back into the water. Needless to say, the dude soon comes face-to-face with the elusive gargantuan entity that haunted him for half a decade, Taylor unearthing a living fossil thought to be extinct long ago: a Megalodon.
Given its $130 million price tag, Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg is a technical triumph, the action and colossal CGI sea beast both fairly decent. There’s a killer sequence involving a cage dive and a tracking device that’ll surely have viewers on the edge of their seats, while the climactic clash between Statham’s baled-headed badass and the supersized Jaws is just as weird, wild and wonderful as one would hope, this scene even featuring those far-fetched ultra-zippy mini mobile ‘gliders’ from Alten’s book series. Heck, the flick even gives Statham a chance to finally show off his swimming skills, the 51-year-old movie star originally rising to fame as a diver representing England in the 1990 Commonwealth Games.
Regrettably, these blood-pumping highs are few and far between, the flick holding back on sequences that could’ve truly brought down the house, the script itself, which is brimming of shark movie tropes and clichés, lacking serious bite. For one, moviemakers never really utilize our toothy antagonist’s outrageous size; it never swallows up a raft whole or does anything a regular-sized shark couldn’t do, i.e. bite a helicopter in two. Moreover, scenes that show promise, like those that see the 75-foot-long leviathan stalk a crowd of hapless beachgoers on the densely populated Sanya Bay waters or hunt a tourist in a zorb, are just plain shrug-worthy, the bloodless violence robbing these moments of sheer thrill, shock and fear.
Outside of Jason Statham, who dishes out a bucketload of furious and dramatic stares, the cast isn’t given a lot to do, most mere shark fodder, ready to be swallowed up; Ruby Rose, xXx: Return of Xander Cage (2017), does nada as computer expert Jaxx, either does Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, The BFG (2016), who plays a scientist nicknamed ‘The Wall.’ Page Kennedy, S.W.A.T. (2003), on the other hand, scores a couple of laughs as the group’s token African-American guy, DJ. New Zealand-born Cliff Curtis, Whale Rider (2002), gets to pilot a boat and chopper as Taylor’s baseball-cap-wearing friend Mac (heart-stopping stuff), whilst Rainn Wilson, from television’s The Office (2005-13), confusingly toggles between goofball comic relief and corporate creep as billionaire Jack Morris, the guy funding Mana One, Wilson seemingly unsure of the role he’s playing and what type of movie he’s in — talk about a character with little direction.
Being another American-Chinese co-production (just like this year’s Skyscraper), a bunch of Asian stars have been cast to pander to the foreign market, most of who struggle to impress. Winston Chao, 1911 (2011), and Bingbing Li, Transformers: Age of Extinction (2014), do the best they can given the subpar material, whereas child-actor Shuya Sophia Cai, Somewhere Only We Know (2015), is particularly cringey as Meiying, Suyin’s young daughter, Cai’s substandard performance pulling me out of the drama. But I guess I should cut the kid some slack, seeing as she’s probably about 10 years of age and (I’m assuming) unable to speak fluent English.
Although somewhat of a wasted opportunity, The Meg is still a good enough entertainer, even if it’s missing that wacky self-awareness that makes these ‘knowing’ type pictures so darn enjoyable. If anything, the Jason-Statham-versus-giant-shark scenes are pretty jawsome, and are more than worth the price of a standard movie ticket. Given all its winks and nods to Spielberg’s Jaws (1975), though, it seems that filmmakers forgot to drop the most fitting reference of all, Roy Scheider’s ‘You’re gonna need a bigger boat’ line!
3 / 5 – Good
Reviewed by S-Littner