When it comes to sharksploitation, nothing can touch Jaws, not even its own sequels, the lamest of which (Jaws 3D) is sort of referenced in The Meg. A massive summer blockbuster starring Jason Statham that takes place almost entirely on some kind of ridiculous underwater lab, it naturally bears little resemblance to that film outside of its setting. Er, and the massive shark of course.
Statham stars as the ludicrously monikered Jonas Taylor, some kind of deep sea rescue man (the actor himself actually competed as a diver for England back in the day) who, when we first meet him, is forced to leave a couple guys behind to save a whole group and is then inexplicably guilt tripped over it and cast out of his profession as a result. It’s later explained, via one of several exposition dumps, that Jonas claimed to have seen some kind of massive creature and was denounced as completely insane.
A few years later, none other than his ex-wife gets stranded deep in the depths when a mission to uncover uncharted territory goes predictably wrong (we know she’s his ex-wife because someone refers to her as such in conversation with him). Jonas is coaxed out of his new life of beer-drinking and straw hat-wearing to rescue her. Along the way, he and a crack team including Asian superstar Bingbing Li, The US Office alum Rainn Wilson, and hacker (LOL) Ruby Rose, discover he was right all along. Cor blimey! There’s a bloody great shark down there, there is!
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The Meg makes no bones about the kind of film it is. I mean, casting Statham in this kind of role is a choice so, when he’s tasked with wading out into the water to put a tracking device on the beast, or goes up against it with only a spear to defend himself (as is hinted at by the gnarly poster), it’s kind of hard to hate the thing. Clearly, the audience is meant to laugh along with it. And laugh you shall, at amazingly terrible lines including “If we go back everyone will die. EVERYONE” and “It’s aggressive towards boats!”The flick had a $150 million budget and, although several VFX houses worked on the shark itself, the end result is the usual crappy CGI creation. It’s not Sharknado bad, but it ain’t convincing either. Director Jon Turteltaub, who helmed the National Treasure movies, argued that animatronics don’t do so well in the water, citing Jaws‘ Bruce as the prime example and conveniently forgetting how Deep Blue Sea utilized massive robotic creations, made using 747 engineering, to terrifying effect.
Even if he did wish to turn away from the practical side of things, 2016’s The Shallows boasted some convincingly computer-generated images of a shark that got our blood pumping alongside star Blake Lively’s. Put simply, we can do better than this, demonstrably so. This isn’t SyFy, it’s a Chinese-American co-production with hundreds of millions of Dollars at its disposal and a marketing campaign sold entirely on showing us this damn shark. Why show it at all if you’re not going to bother to make it look real?
The other issue with the representation of the megalodon itself is scale. Again, every poster and trailer for this thing is selling how bleedin’ massive the shark is. On film, it doesn’t really seem that big, at least not consistently so. There are several shots where it looks like a regular Great White, only a bit more weathered — like a Great White that’s been sunbathing nonstop for 20 years, maybe. In others, it looks like the Swamp Shark, which isn’t a compliment by anybody’s standards.
It’s a good 45 minutes before we even get a glimpse of the Meg, which would be fine if she was like the T-rex in Jurassic Park but the reality is far less flattering. The issue, of course, is that it’s much harder to make something look huge underwater rather than towering over a bunch of people standing around on land. To be fair, there are some great shots of the shark swimming underneath unsuspecting humans, or jumping onto a boat in what is easily the movie’s best set-piece. If only it would slowly crawl past the camera and just keep going and going like Godzilla. Maybe then we’d get a sense of how huge it supposedly is.
The human characters don’t fare much better, mainly because there are way too many of them. The desperation to appeal to the lucrative Chinese market means that there are about three more main characters than there needs to be. Wilson does a weird play on his most famous character, and Rose is tasked with delivering far more lines than she’s capable of handling in an accent I couldn’t quite decipher (also her name is Jaxx — don’t any of the three(!) credited screenwriters watch Vanderpump Rules?).
Having this many people onscreen should make for a higher body count, but it’s easy to predict who will live and who will perish and there’s little of the camaraderie that made Jaws and Deep Blue Sea so involving. Hell, even Lively had Steven Seagull to bond with. The PG-13 rating (an even lower 12A in the U.K.) means there’s little bloodshed and just one dismembered body part. All things considered, it’s unclear what the titular creature’s M.O. even is, but maybe she’s just mad at being woken up from a decades-long slumber?
Taken purely for what it is, there’s plenty to enjoy about The Meg, from the sight of Statham in the aforementioned straw hat, to some well-judged jump scares based off humans being flung into the water, a sweet Finding Nemo reference, and the fact it does take quite a bit of effort to actually kill the blasted thing. There’s far too much standing around talking about what’s happening rather than actually doing something about it, and it’s definitely more of a showcase for The Stath than The Shark, but thankfully he’s as warm and likeable a presence here as ever.
Those looking for the next great sharksploitation movie can steer clear. For a fun, silly summer blockbuster that’s light on thrills but heavy on laughs and inexplicable cockney accents (seriously, how can his name be JONAS?), you could do much worse than The Meg.
WICKED RATING: (6 / 10)
Director(s): Jon Turteltaub
Writer(s): Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Eric Hoeber
Stars: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose
Release date: August 10, 2018
Studio/ Production Co: Apelles Entertainment
Length: 117 minutes