There are times when you go to the movies to find inspiration. And then there are the times you go to see pure, unadulterated schlock. Going to see The Meg definitely fell under the latter category, and yet, I was still disappointed.
Directed by John Turteltaub (National Treasure: Book of Secrets, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice), The Meg stars Jason Statham as rescue diver Jonas Taylor, who is recruited by Chinese oceanographer, Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), to rescue a group of scientists (which coincidentally includes Jonas’ ex-wife), trapped at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific. Little do they know though, that by venturing into this uncharted territory, they have disturbed a creature long since thought extinct – the mighty Megalodon shark (imagine a shark, except really, really big)!
As you’ve probably guessed by now, this film did not wow me, and the most joy I took from this was the sound of my own manic laughter after yet another predictable death-by-shark. Full disclosure, I went into this wanting it to be bad. Not just bad though, I wanted it to drunkenly stumble into that most sacred of categories, of so-bad-it’s-good. And yet, here I am, denied this simple pleasure because, put simply, this film was competently made. And that’s not necessarily a good thing.
The story moves through all the beats you would expect; the action is decent, although Statham’s plot shield was showing at certain points. Throughout the film, characters seem to thrive on contradicting their own logic, such as when they declare the Meg is attracted to vibrations and movement in the water, and the next shot is them hurtling along in their ship towards the Meg. Likewise, a romantic subplot between Statham and the oceanographer’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) is present, patiently forced along by both Suyin’s daughter (played with delightful charm by Shuya Sophia Cai) and Statham’s BFF, Mac (Cliff Curtis). Characters are often predictable in both personality and actions, and insist that they’re friends, despite little to no supporting evidence. Yet, despite the flatness of their roles, the cast all make the best with what they’ve got, lodging their tongues firmly in their cheeks, and making us care ever so slightly about their fate.
Likewise, Turteltaub handles the spectacle of this film with skill, managing to build tension effectively. Of particular note was his use of POV shots during the underwater scenes, as characters try to spot the Meg before it’s too late. Furthermore, unlike other entries into the genre, Turteltaub avoids blowing his monstrous (I will not apologise) load too soon, keeping the XXL shark off screen for a good portion of the film. This gives some much-needed time to flesh out his paper-thin characters, giving them moments to mourn one another and even, briefly, touch on the ethics of how to handle such a rare creature (spoiler: they go with “kill it”), whilst sparing the effects department from being overworked (more than usual, anyway).
Speaking of effects, I was expecting something out of Justice League, but instead they had to go and do a good job. By its very nature the shark is CG-heavy, but I was pleasantly surprised by the scenes at the bottom of the Marina Trench, with this untouched portion of the ocean demonstrating nature’s potential for beauty, right before it shows off its wrath. In addition, the score’s nothing to report home about, and despite my silent pleas for a major-key Jaws theme, it’s only effective when forcing yet another jump scare from the audience.
Overall, The Meg is one of those films that knows what it is; not just a monster film, but a shark film, with a bigger everything, and self-awareness to match. I only wish that they’d leaned harder into the B-movie nature inherent to this sort of film, but regardless, this is a competently made, cheesy action film that does what it says on the tin.