Synopsis – After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible.
My Take – Ever since the Steven Spielberg directed 1975 film ‘Jaws’ made a splash at the box office, filmmakers and studios have been clamoring around to make the next best shark based film. While we did come across some decent films over the years, the general interest of the theater going public eventually died down, only to revived by the surprise success of the ingenious thriller, The Shallows, starring Blake Lively and the Johannes Roberts directed 47 Meters Down, which ended up earning $61 million worldwide against its budget of $5 million. Therefore it came as no surprise when Warner Bros. picked this Jon Turteltaub directed feature to be the perfect end to summer blockbuster season of 2018.
What may actually surprise you is that this film is actually based on author Steve Alten‘s science-fiction horror novel called Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, and a big screen adaption has been stuck in development hell since 1997, with filmmakers like Jan de Bont (Speed), Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy), and Eli Roth (Hostel) all attached to the film at one point or another. And while you might be amazed by the shark appeal and the presence of an international cast, the utter ridiculousness of its own marketing with taglines such as ‘Opening Wide’, ‘Chomp On This’ and ‘Pleased To Eat You’ is what caught my eye.
In short, this film is basically what Jason Statham vs a prehistoric shark would look like, and if that doesn’t sound like your idea of an exciting late-summer film, then this slab of B-film cheese is clearly not for you. From the very opening scene of the film right through to its freeze-frame laugh of an ending, there is no denying by anyone involved that this film is what it is, a broad, crowd-pleasing summer shark film. Despite how ridiculous it all sounds, director Turteltaub has given us a film that is balanced squarely between self-awareness and self-seriousness, that doesn’t take itself too seriously, and has a lot of fun with its intense action sequences.
The story follows Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a deep-sea rescue diver, who in order to save a crew of a nuclear submarine trapped at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, ended up sacrificing two of his own men, after the submarine is purportedly attacked by a giant creature. As his version of the story ends up being disputed by Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), his own team member, he retires and retreats to seclusion on a rustic island in Thailand. However five years later, Jonas is approached by an old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis) and Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), a Chinese oceanographer, who seek his help in rescuing an underwater team lying stranded on the floor of the Pacific Ocean, which consists of his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) and her two other crew mates The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka).
Dr. Zhang, Mac and Lori are part of a larger team on a modern research facility called Mana One, an oceanic research institute off the coast of China, whose main aim is to explore if there is life beneath the depths of the ocean as we know it, and their first successful so-called attempt brings them face to face with a 75-foot shark known as the Megalodon, which was thought to have been extinct for centuries. As the Megalodon begins to head towards the ocean shores, Jonas enlists the help of the Mana One team which includes Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), the billionaire entrepreneur who funded the expensive facility, Dr. Zhang’s daughter, marine biologist Suyin (Li Bingbing), her eight-year-old daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), lead engineer Jaxx Herd (Ruby Rose), and rover operator DJ (Page Kennedy) to put a stop to this leviathan once and for all.
Without a doubt, the film comes nowhere close to equaling the genius of Jaws (not it’s sequels) and cannot be even considered on a par with The Shallows, but when all is said and done, it is little more than a fun cheesy thriller in which a jumbo-sized shark wreaks havoc on the cast until Jason Statham arrives to save the day. It’s propelled with start-to-finish action that drives the plot forwards and makes a real splash. Does it know it’s silly? 100%. And yet, it isn’t deliberately dimwitted like SyFy‘s Sharknado series. Yes, there is a lot that goes unexplained, and you could spend a lot of time poking holes in the plot, that frenetically speeds along. Of course, the science is rubbish, but you had to know that going in, right? There’s humor and a bit of tragedy, but overall, you don’t get terribly invested, and that’s OK! Because not every single film has to be so serious.
While it does get bothersome when the film goes through some exposition before we see the great big beast, but it is certainly worth the wait, as an unforeseen event inadvertently releases the giant shark into the waters of the 21st century. Trouble naturally ensues, the station the team occupies (which we never do see enough of) coming under attack. Naturally, the bulk of the heroics fall squarely on Statham‘s shoulders, who’s even asked to swim out and stick a tracker on the mammoth flesh tank with only the aid of a spear gun.
The film is also a little bit suspenseful, especially, as it uses jump scare tactics to keep you engaged. You can have the camera zooming in a character in the water. Or a character sticking their head in a dead shark’s mouth and something happening that puts you on the edge of your seat. Also, there is a twist that is surprising and predictable but still builds the suspenseful moment. It should come as no surprise that the film is built on a number of elaborate action-driven set-pieces mostly executed by Statham, but it is also worthwhile acknowledging that director Turteltaub and his screenwriters Dean Georgaris, Jon and Erich Hoeber, do give the other characters just enough texture to craft some memorable scenes within these set-pieces.
Indeed, there’s not a lot of common sense involved, though nothing so exaggerated as to qualify irrevocably as parody. The operative word here is fun, and on that account, the film definitely scores. On his part, director Turteltaub gleefully seizes every opportunity to emphasize the relative size of the competition between Statham and the Megalodon, and patiently waits till the climax to unleash all restraint and let the campiness overflow. But for some reason, the quality of the CGI and animation varies, and the film does not carry the cleanest or most impressive work of editing, but it makes do and fulfills its purpose. Still, it’s as close as the film can get to sell the idea of having a monstrous shark terrorizing those who sought her.
As for the titular star, the Megalodon is appropriately menacing, but the monster is mostly restrained by the film’s PG-13 rating. That’s what holds The Meg back from being an all-time trash classic — it’s just too damn conservative. For example, there’s a brief scene in which the shark makes quick work of a giant squid. Why not give us an underwater Kaiju battle between these two behemoths? Hell, throw some other prehistoric beasts in there to illustrate how the Megalodon is the apex predator. In another scene, the shark heads toward Sanya Bay — one of China’s most densely populated beaches and sadly, we never get the money shot of the shark opening its maw and mowing through the crowded coastline, devouring hundreds of swimmers and colorful floats in one giant gulp. For a film about a shark the size of a ship, you’d think the body count would be higher.
Yet the film works in large part because of Jason Statham, who carries each one of these outlandish scenes with a knowing wink, and his ability to deliver the intentionally corny one-liners is matchless. Here, Statham was a charismatic badass and stole every scene in which he was physically present, and without him, the film would have failed. If you’re honest with yourself, the likelihood is you’re going to see this one is just to see Jason Statham being himself, and those fans will not be disappointed, even if there’s less of the swears, geezer, car-chase action than Statham fans might be used to.
Rainn Wilson too gets to mouth some hilarious lines, while Li Bingbing was good always. However despite being an integral part of the marketing Ruby Rose doesn’t get to do much here, while in supporting roles, Cliff Curtis, Jessica McNamee, Winston Chao, Sophia Shuya Cai, Olafur Darris Olafsson and Masi Oka play their parts well. Page Kennedy was over the top, unbelievable and unnecessary drivel. On the whole, ‘The Meg’ is exciting and exhilarating science fiction horror film which despite its predictability and basic narrative manages to be enjoyable and thrilling.
Directed – Jon Turteltaub
Rated – PG13
Run Time – 113 minutes