The Meg (2018) Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Starring Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson. The staff of a futuristic oceanic research station off the coast of China reaches out to a troubled deep sea rescue expert after they come under attack by a 75-foot long prehistoric species of shark called a Megalodon.
At the outset of Jon Turteltaub’s “The Meg,” a B-movie poorly disguised as an A-movie that’s embarrassed to revel in its own absurdity and fully cut loose, we meet undersea rescue expert Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) and his team as they save the battered crew of a nuclear submarine that is being smashed to pieces by an unseen menace. Taylor is forced to make a difficult choice during the mission that ends his career and leaves him haunted.
Well, as haunted as Jason Statham and the script can manage to convey. Even as an apparently raging alcoholic who sucks down Thai beers, he’s still pretty upbeat and capable.
Meanwhile, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), of the sprawling multinational oceanic research station Mana One, invites billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) to witness a submersible dive into an unexplored abyss. Morris paid for the construction of the lovely floating laboratory, which has a submerged section that allows for the viewing of marine life in their natural element.
On board, we meet the staff: Zhang’s scientist daughter Suyin (popular Chinese actress Li Bingbing) and her young daughter Meiying; quirky engineer Jaxx Herd (Ruby Rose); Jonas’s submersible pilot ex-wife Celeste and more.
A three-man crew, led by Celeste, take a small submersible into a mysterious sub-layer environment with a much warmer climate at the bottom of a trench.
They discover new aquatic life forms and are almost immediately attacked by a massive unseen creature.
With the sub losing power and damaged, Zhang takes Celeste’s advice and tracks down drunkard Jonas. Our hero, who puts forth the notion that he absolutely will not help them, immediately helps them. He and Suyin descend to the trench floor and encounter the massive titular shark during a struggle with a giant squid. They escape with Celeste, accidentally paving the way for the Meg to follow them to the surface by warming the water above the sublayer.
Like any capable stalker, the shark tracks the submersibles back to Mana One after escaping the hidden environs of the trench floor. Upon discovering its presence, the team sets out to capture or kill it before the creature makes it to a popular resort area and swallows unfortunate swimmers. Chaos, shattered boats, and very unwise decisions follow.
I went into the film having already read a host of scathing reviews damning “The Meg” for taking itself too seriously, an uninspired script, the awkward lack of chemistry between the Chinese and American actors, and the fact that the flick doesn’t go full tilt crazy into its premise.
We want a guilty pleasure cheese smorgasbord. We want Statham riding a jet ski down the shark’s cavernous throat while firing twin Uzis. We want bloodsoaked carnage as the monster fish turns humans into gruesome chum.
Although there are several good points made by The Meg’s detractors, I enjoyed it. Not a single one of the intentional comic relief moments work, particularly between Jonas and the matchmaking Meiying, but there IS comedy to be had in some of the more ridiculous SyFy Channel-esque situations that unfold.
And…well…giant sharks, man!
You get the sense that the filmmakers wanted their project to be taken seriously as a top-tier science fiction drama-slash-thriller, and that we are meant to thrill to Jonas Taylor’s heroic journey to redemption. Turns out there’s zero reasons for redemption in the first place because the decision Taylor made during his fateful rescue was completely sane and logical. And yet, folks keep yelling at him about it.
If you’re going for the romance angle, there’s a super weird scene where Suyin walks in on Jonas getting out of the shower and Turteltaub attempts to convince us that some erotic heat could fog over the porthole windows. Nope. The chemistry is dead on arrival, although Li Bingbing is an interesting performer and capably sells the action scenes later on.
Many people are eaten, sometimes solo and sometimes in large groups, but there is virtually no gore to appease the horror hounds. So what’s good?
At one point, the heroes travel by boat to the mainland in an attempt to race the monster shark and head it off before it devours Chinese tourists. They uncover a wasteland of ruined pleasure craft and a Chinese illegal shark fishing boat torn to pieces, and then spy the monstrous dorsal fin of the Megalodon as it lazily circles the scene.
Statham’s Taylor is informed that they must get a tracker onto the creature’s body, but they can’t employ a vehicle to get close to it. So Jonas agrees to swim up close to the eternally hungry beast and shoot it with a tiny radio dart, which goes extremely wrong when the monster suddenly descends into the murky depths just as the rescue expert reaches it.
This entire sequence, as Taylor puts on goggles and searches for the shark lurking beneath him, works really well. And it leads to a plot twist that shark film lovers will enjoy.
The special effects and CGI are pretty decent, and the heroes zip around in super maneuverable one-man subs called Gliders. These nifty and speedy vehicles feature in an underwater chase through rock formations, as Suyin and Jonas attempt to destroy the feasting Meg with incredibly ineffective experimental missiles. There’s a whole lot of slick looking technology on display, and these particular heroes are better prepared than most in these situations. They’re armed with specially built unbreakable and completely transparent shark cages, lethal dart guns designed to deliver huge doses of poison into a target, an array of small submarines, etc.
They have the power of science!
The Meg’s very seriousness and obvious desire to be seen as an aquatic version of a more prestigious summer blockbuster like “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” fails to entirely subdue the much more entertaining and looser flick locked inside this sanitized one.
While both Turteltaub (the director of the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy “While You Were Sleeping”) and Statham have given recent interviews in which they implied that the original script was much more of a bloody horror film filled with outlandish deaths, it’s still a kick to see a gigantic shark cause destruction and death. I didn’t come away from the film with that hollow feeling of disappointment that accompanies a bad flick that had generated excitement with a fantastic trailer.
“The Meg” is not in my Top 5 Greatest Shark Movies, and may not even be remembered next year, but it does have a bit of fun with its premise and some sweet visuals.
You either get off at the sight of a huge monster eating smaller things, or you probably have no soul.
Next time, let’s hope they bite down harder on the cheese. Here’s my sequel pitch: Jonas is eaten by a new Meg while diving in the Bahamas, and the authorities call in eccentric shark expert Nicolas Cage. They discover that the only way to stop the beast is to have Cage skydive onto its back from thousands of feet above and attach a nuclear bomb to its fin. You’re welcome.