There’s a big underwater research facility in the middle of one of the oceans and they accidentally unleash a massive shark called a Megalodon that was previously trapped behind a barrier of implausibility. Now it’s out, but Jason Statham and his friends are going to try and stop it, eventually succeeding.
The sense that none of this is original is palpable throughout. It’s a half-baked highlight reel of Jaws, Deep Blue Sea and even the asylum shark movies. Around halfway through the movie the shark is supposedly killed, but anyone who’s paid any attention to the marketing for the past three months will know that the big beach set piece hasn’t happened yet. The twist that there are actually two Megalodons is telegraphed early and the wait for the reveal is exhausting. The plot is uninteresting and meandering.
Jason Statham is reliably charming as the smirking tough guy, Jonas Taylor, but the script doesn’t have the wit to make him funny, or the patience to make him interesting. Rainn Wilson does some mustache twirling as the comedy relief villain but his motives are inconsistent. The humour of the film is often cringe-inducing with lots of eye-rolling and knowing smiles that are insufferable to anyone who has not climbed on board.
The real problem with the film though is that there is no sense of peril. The terrible special effects certainly don’t help with this, but the main problem is the film’s lack of nerve. Monster movies must have some grisliness to them. Look to Alexandre Aja’s much sillier Piranha 3D. The sins of the film are far worse than The Meg and include gratuitous objectification, plot threads that go nowhere and most unforgivably, wasting Elizabeth Shue and Adam Scott. However that film is so terrifically violent, it’s main set piece so decadently horrible, that so much is forgiven. The Meg doesn’t even have the guts to kill the dog. Even Deep Blue Sea killed the dog (technically it was a parrot). This is a teen friendly monster movie that teens will have no interest in.
There are some effective moments of tension. The Film makers have the restraint to avoid showing the shark for the entire first act, allowing the beast to grow in menace. Subsequently there are some fairly unnerving sequences where the shark is suggested to be near, or manifests merely as a dark shape in the water. There are some very interesting shots many of which have frankly been lifted from Gareth Edwards Godzilla movie, but are striking never-the-less.
The film has a Chinese financier, and so very much like Skyscraper we have a Chinese setting and several Chinese cast members with varying levels of talent. Lee Binbing makes for an awkward leading character but Winston Chao is the salt and pepper dad of all our dreams. His gravitas lends much needed weight to the ridiculous narrative. Setting the final scene in China means we can have a visually striking establishing shot of a giant statue, but the beach itself is doing its very best impression of Miami. There’s no unique character to it. I am very happy to see Asian actors being given work in western movies and to see China being used as a setting, but when it’s as perfunctory as this, the pandering to the financiers is very distracting. If the money for mid-budget blockbusters really is only coming from China (or Netflix) these days, then let’s get together and make something new and special for the West and East!
Although it offers the odd laugh or moment of surprise, The Meg is ultimately disappointing. Neither decent enough to be entertaining nor silly enough to be interesting, it’s a toothless monster movie that squanders its potential for fun.