Let’s get one thing clear right up front: the trailers and TV commercials for The Meg are not misrepresenting this film in any way (as those visual marketing aids are sometimes inclined to do). Anyone who sits down to watch The Meg expecting a sober adventure thriller about the discovery of a long-thought-extinct killer species of fish is bound to be let down. On the other hand, anyone who comes for a silly campfest–Sharknado on steroids–isn’t going to walk away very happy either.
No, what The Meg does surprisingly well is walk the thin line between both. It’s actually a good, old-fashioned monster movie, with laughs and jolts and a few moments of genuine suspense right where it needs them. It’s earnest enough to a degree, but it’s also self-aware: the people in the movie live in a world where movies about monster sharks also exist. Best of all, it’s got Jason Statham to do a lot of the heavy-lifting, keeping the whole thing afloat whenever the titular monster is off-screen.
But make no mistake, director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) is not very interested in hiding the beastie from us. After all, how the hell do you keep a 75-foot-long Megalodon out of sight for very long? The answer is, you don’t, and even if some of the Meg’s CG-generated moves look a little fishy from time to time, that’s almost part of the fun. It would practically be disappointing if the visual FX seams didn’t show in the movie every now and again.
Turteltaub knows his way around an action-adventure scenario well enough and keeps things moving briskly as the plot–a simple this-happened-and-then-this-happened-next construct–unspools. Statham stars as Jason Statham (this time perfunctorily called Jonas Taylor), an expert deep sea rescue diver, whose failure to save two friends during a mission sent him into self-imposed exile at the bottom of a bottle–especially since no one believes his claim that he glimpsed the giant prehistoric shark that was seemingly the cause of their deaths.
Five years later, Statham, we mean Taylor, is called out of retirement by Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) when three members of Zhang’s deep-sea exploration mission are trapped in their submersible–one of which is Taylor’s ex-wife. Taylor reluctantly heads back to work where he clashes with Zhang’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) over the rescue operation. Two of the three trapped researchers are saved, but Taylor’s fears are borne out: there is a Megalodon, long thought dead, lurking in the depths, and it’s on the hunt and hungry as hell.
Go into The Meg with your expectations low and not only won’t you be disappointed, but you may marvel how much you enjoy yourself. The movie and cast realize the ridiculousness of the premise at hand and play it the only way they can: mostly straight, with an occasional knowing wink at the audience. Turteltaub and the screenwriters (Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber, working from the pulpy 1997 Steve Alten novel) even throw in a few mild curveballs, with Turteltaub casting Rainn Wilson as the heavy (he doesn’t quite nail it though), and the writers sidelining Statham’s ex early enough to avoid any underwater domestic turmoil a la The Abyss.
The rest of the cast, including the appealing Li, the charismatic (and future Batwoman) Ruby Rose, wisecracking Page Kennedy, and sturdy Cliff Curtis, are all good enough with the sketched-in characters they have to play, but this show clearly belongs to Statham and the shark. And neither disappoints; Statham is his usual steely yet empathetic self, always ready with a quip in that unmistakable accent and just as eager to jump convincingly into the fray and instigate a punch-up with a giant fish. He may never have the depth of other stars, but he’s watchable as ever when in ordinary person mode and reliably convincing in the action sequences. The Megalodon is like a locomotive with teeth, a thrift-store cross between a kaiju and Jaws’ Bruce the shark that gets the job done.
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The Meg is all about getting the job done. It’s no one’s idea of great filmmaking, except maybe Roger Corman (whose Piranha this resembles from time to time), but you’ll still find yourself on the edge of your seat hoping against hope that a fluffy little dog makes it back to his boat in time during the Meg’s third act siege on a popular Chinese tourist beach. Anyone looking to see Jason Statham go head to head with a massive primeval horror won’t leave unsatisfied either. The Meg is pure dumb fun, and in a year where his Hobbs and Shaw sparring partner Dwayne Johnson has punched both a giant flying wolf and a burning skyscraper with middling results, Statham’s fisticuffs with a dino-shark turn out to be an agreeable send-off to the summer.
The Meg is out in theaters on Friday, Aug. 10.