You don’t really need to know much about The Meg aside from that it is entertaining enough to justify it’s spot on the box office. That’s the most we could ask from a movie about a gigantic prehistoric shark unwittingly released from the depths of the ocean by hapless scientists who are stationed over the Mariana Trench in an expensive – and strangely underpopulated – underwater research facility called Mana One. That’s all we can expect when that giant shark then has to fight Jason Statham.
The Meg doesn’t disappoint for those heading along to see Statham (who is very much Statham in this film) do battle with this giant beast through a series of genuinely thrilling action sequences. It’s got the appropriate tone that carefully squeezes between the seriousness of masterpiece Jaws and the ridiculousness of disasterpiece Sharknado, and it admirably sees it through while giving the audience some good popcorn entertainment. Thankfully, this is more Jaws then Sharknado, with the kind of “this is fucking ridiculous but let’s take it at least a bit serious” vibe of Deep Blue Sea. It’s not as entertaining as it’s closest comparison (they really needed an LL Cool J and a line as immortal as “you ate my bird”), but that doesn’t stop director Jon Turteltaub (whose best film is still Cool Runnings) from throwing us head-first into a terrifying creature feature that’s helped by the shark’s muscular design and Statham’s decent performance as fix-it man Jonas Taylor.
The main storyline is prefaced by a little primer on Jonas’ arc, starting with his attempted rescue and necessary abandon of a submarine crew. He has to leave some of the ill-fated behind because “something big” was going to tear the submarine apart (no prizes for guessing what that is); Taylor escapes with sharp and painful survivors guilt. It’s what causes him to initially resist when approached by those aforementioned scientists for a rescue mission, one which takes him to the Meg’s playground in order to fish his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) and scientist Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing) out of a bad situation. Of course he eventually accepts, plunging into the trench and rescuing both while also inspiring big ol’ Meg to follow them back up and start wrecking havoc on its way to mainland China.
A film like this isn’t even half effective if it doesn’t fully commit to the horror aspect of a creature feature. And this is the biggest point against The Meg. It was an expensive movie to make, and in order to reach a wider audience and make the kind of profit studio execs are happy with, it needed to be snipped down to a PG-13 rating. There’s not a lot you can do with a horror theme and a rating like that, and so instead of upping the stakes with violence and mayhem, The Meg’s more thrilling scenes fizzle with the knowledge that they can’t exactly go there. Even the deaths that do occur play on the biggest issue with the shark’s design; that being the super size – people are swallowed, not chewed.
Although the actual shark is truly terrifying when it’s on-screen, and there’s plenty of camera time for it to chew through with Turteltaub knowingly showing off the creature in all it’s glory through various action sequences and close-calls, particularly when it does make its way to a Chinese beach and the sense of scale is contrasted with the throngs of swimmers. That kind of excitement certainly makes up for the woeful script, which even has the better half of the cast (Statham, Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, and Cliff Curtis) struggling to look serious while searching for any semblance of character.
THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The Meg is out in Australian cinemas from Thursday 16th August.