★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★ It’s a big dumb shark movie. And, if you’re like me, and you like a good creature feature, it’s a fun film.
Directed by Jon Turtletaub
OK, for starters… this ain’t Jaws. And not even close. But, I think it bears a striking resemblance to something like Deep Blue Sea. Another fairly campy movie, with a capable cast and a big studio budget backing it. Is it hampered by its PG-13 rating? My colleague Robert linked a great Bloody Disgusting interview with director Well, for the true horror fan in us, yes, it would have been nice to see the shark just maul some people, so it turns the dial from horror to action/adventure. I think a good comparison would be last year’s Kong Skull Island. No doubt about it… people get eaten. The other large marine life also can’t run away from the monstrous prehistoric shark. But have no fear, no digital squid were actually hurt in the creation of this movie. (Though the squid was pretty awesome.).
I found that the premise for the movie was actually fairly sound. Unlike the crazier fare like Deep Blue Sea (smart sharks) and Sharknado (uhhh… yeah), the foundation for this movie is that a deepwater research lab that is funded by an eccentric billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) is traveling to the bottom of the Marianas Trench to prove that there is a false floor made up of a thermal inversion at the bottom of the trench and that there is life below that layer, where Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) are heading up the scientific effort in a lab that looks more like a high-end aquarium. Now, for those of you up on your Planet Earth watching or Blue Planet, you will know that recent discoveries have uncovered new ecosystems of non-photosynthesis dependent life in the deepest parts of our oceans. Of course, what happens to be looming in the depths as well as strange jellyfish, anglerfish, and tube worms, is the ancient shark Megalodon, extinct since the Pliocene epoch (they outlived the dinosaurs). Fun fact, I happen to have a Megalodon tooth, as I am a fossil collector! So, forgive me if I have a tiny bias to wanting to have this movie be good. The science here breaks down a little, as a top end predator like a Megalodon would probably stay near the surface where the larger supply of food is, but if what its preferred meals were the giant squid, then OK maybe. MAYBE. Possible but at the very extreme limits of probability. The abyss can be a curious thing, though.
When the research team descends down into the trench, the shark comes and attacks the submersible, rendering it damaged and stuck on the bottom of the world. Enter Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a discredited deep-sea rescue diver whose last mission was almost certainly interrupted by a megalodon, costing the lives of two of his closest mates. And, to make things worse, nobody believes his stories that they were attacked by something down in the depths. That part, felt a bit odd to me, since there were multiple survivors and witnesses to that incident, but only Taylor paid the political price for the far-fetched story.
Taylor and Suyin descend down to make the rescue attempt and are almost immediately set-upon by THE MEG… still unseen to everyone down in the trench. That is until Suyin’s craft gets attacked by a Giant Squid, Captain Nemo style, and then the squid gets promptly turned into jumbo calamari by the big sharkie. The rescue is a partial success, and the survivors flee to the surface and try to make sense of what just happened. And what has just happened included the Meg following the craft through the temperature inversion to the surface. Happy to find the warmer surface waters teeming with unprepared creatures, the Meg proceeds to turn the surface water into a buffet.
Several curious, courageous, and counter-intuitive plans are made to kill, trap, or scare off the shark. I would NOT want to be in the water with one of these creatures. I would not even trust a boat with that thing unless it was a military vessel. But, where would the adventure be, then? Eventually, having tagged the shark, they realize that it is heading for the popular tourist beaches of China’s Sanya Bay, where the swimmers all bob along at the surface like so many Froot Loops, and the film has a lot of fun juxtaposing the sheer mass of the Meg compared to all the unsuspecting tourists. It reminds me of the aerial photos of Australian and South African beaches, where you can clearly see surfers and swimmers, and the sharks patrolling just a few yards away. But, I digress.
The movie unfolds like you would expect. Lots of people getting knocked into the water for one reason or another, and the big dorsal fin turning its way to face the new water-bound floating survivors. There are attempts with poison, explosives, machine guns, and of course, the most deadly weapon of all… the raw fighting power of Jason Statham. Punch that shark! Ludicrous? Yep. Fun? Yep yep. You do have to turn your brain off. Something that is eminently clear is that this is part of the new joint-venture production between an American film company, Warner Brothers, and a Chinese production company, Flagship Productions, and it certainly has been tailored to cater to fans on both sides of the Pacific, with China now being a huge influence on the box office bottom dollar. We’ll see this story again in the Mark Wahlberg action film Mile 22 coming up in a couple weeks.
The Meg, therefore, features a very international cast. And it’s a big one, featuring significant speaking roles from:
Statham, from Great Britain.
Li, Chao, and young actress Shuya Sophia Cai from China,
Wilson, Masi Oka, and Page Kennedy from the US,
Olafur Darri Olafsson from Iceland,
Robert Taylor, Ruby Rose and Jessica MacNamee from Austrailia
Cliff Curtis from New Zealand
This big cast packs a lot of charisma, if not a lot of serious thespian gravitas. Statham is at his most Stathamy. He glowers and growls and proves out that he’s one of the few remaining action heroes who can still carry a spotlight. Wilson is a good match for the snarky billionaire, and he gets some fine moments, but some of his one-liners are a bit leaden. Li and Chao, who I’m thrilled to see in an American production… both looking fabulous… sometimes muddle through their dialogue. Always intelligible, but combined with a stiff script, they sometimes feels like there is a touch of English as a second language going on. They’re game, and nothing gets lost in translation, but they both come off a bit wooden. I do enjoy Li’s interaction with Statham though… its very playful, and though the romantic subplot seems forced at times, the actors do seem to have some chemistry.
The movie looks fantastic. They spent a ton of money on the sets, and they used Grant Major, of The Lord of the Rings to do the physical sets, and it shows. The sets look real. the subs look functional. The Meg was impressive looking. The abyssal trench looked fantastic! Oddly enough, it was the normal-sized sharks that looked rather off in CG. Also, I will admit to gasping at least twice during the movie… if gasping is saying “Whoa!” Shark movie scares are always predicated on not knowing where the shark is… and panning around looking for it. Always a good way to get good scares, and fortunately they don’t do the overt jump-scare sound blast when the shark shows up. Here’s the thing, though… it cost $130,000,000. It will need to make serious bank overseas in order to turn a profit. Let’s see if the gamble to go with the big action fare that so many Chinese theatergoers will want to see pays off. I’m guessing that it will break even.
Turtletaub knew what he had. A giant shark movie that was built to appeal to a mass audience, and I think he’s done it. It is not a great movie. But it’s a pleaser. Also, this is not one of those “so bad it’s good” movies, as it actually is a pretty entertaining ride without poking fun at it. Though, there are some fairly massive plot holes that get ignored for the sake of action. Good comparable movie experiences for me would be: The Fast and Furious franchise, Pacific Rim, Kong Skull Island, Piranha (any of them), Ghost Ship, Leviathan, Deep Star Six (Underrated!), and mid-90’s John Carpenter films.
For what it is worth my ranking for shark movies:
Jaws. Really, in a class all by itself. One of the best movies ever made.