Is it possible that a movie like The Meg isn’t dumb enough to be fun? Is it better to aim lower, to throw in tornadoes or genetically modified beasts or other ridiculousness to amplify the stupidity and thus, hypothetically, also amplify one’s enjoyment of dreck? Whatever it needed to be, this giant monster flick never quite comes into its own. The movie flails around trying to appease audiences but never gets the hook firmly planted.
This is no direct fault of the film’s star and lead wisecracker, one Mr. Jason Statham. Let’s accept it as read that heroic and well-appointed heroes benefit immensely from such a regal name as Jason (Momoa, Bourne, that guy that hung out at that lake and liked hockey masks), and go further and say that Statham remains one of the few actors in the world who can convincingly go mano-a-sharko in the open ocean.
The storyline involves a bunch of guys on a research mission funded by an insouciant billionaire (Rainn Wilson) who have made their own Sealab 2021 off the Asian coast. Diving to the depths of the Philippine trench, they uncover a lost world masked by a thermocline, below which a myriad of creatures survive in a microclimate.
Among these is a long thought extinct megalodon (which, it should be pointed out, my word processor wished to autocorrect to “megacolon,” and that would make for a very different movie). Anyone who has watched Shark Week knows about this big beastie, a megashark that ran some 80 feet long and is essentially the greatest of great white sharks that ever was. For movie purposes, it practically writes itself: People liked Jaws, so what if we made an even bigger version shark?
Well, this is far more Jaws: The Revenge than anything approximating Spielberg’s perfection. Cheap scares and risible dialogue feel throughout as if the Google translation was never quite up to the task. Pithy statements about science, sacrifice and comaraderie are peppered between the pedestrian action sequences, and they’re all as uninspiring as they are implausible.
Yet somehow the movie almost seems restrained, as if the filmmakers stopped short of full-crazy and just went for generic mayhem instead. Maybe the slaughter of 200 people on a densely populated beach might have been a neat if sadistic twist? Or how about if the shark started singing showtunes while coming in for another attack? I don’t get the big bucks to come up with such script ideas, but those who were paid seem to have done little more than spend a few hours brainstorming silly shark stuff and then had assistants type it all up and call it a day.
Director Jon Turteltaub has an appropriately aquatic sounding name to pull of this madness, and his résumé that includes such highbrow arthouse fare as Cool Runnings and National Treasure gives some sense of what to expect. Still, since the film never goes to the true depths of stupidity, it typically feels more boring than bombastic, a sad little soap opera where the shark seemingly just keeps interrupting turgid dialogue.
While refusing to nitpick all the inane lunacy, I will take exception to one moment when Statham is out to swim after one shark. He’s not wearing fins, which is just ridiculous, and later in the scene pulls out a mask from what I assume was his posterior. This is a principal metaphor for the whole film. It feels very much like it’s pulling everything out of its ass, having been given a subject (big shark!), a concise title (The Meg!) and a few gazillion dollars to make something out of them. It’s as aimless as the research going on at the sealab that Wilson’s character seemed to give little damn about before arriving. In the end, I’m not sure that anyone on either side of the camera cares whether it really amounts to much.
Li Bingbing does provide a bit of both maternal and scientific prowess, even if her decision making is often strangely flawed, but young Shuya Sophia Cai really steals the show. Her sardonic wit and playful manner is at least in keeping with the rest of the general childishness on display.
The Meg is big and splashy like its big and splashy title character. For some, turning off their brains for a few moments and watching mindless B-movie sharkness will be enough. For this reviewer, the film was far too middling to be either a surprise classic (looking at you, Deep Blue Sea) or a truly reprehensible slice of drivel like the Sharknado series. Stuck awkwardly in between, The Meg makes an eminently forgettable trip to the deep.