Not silly or gory enough to please genre or B-movie aficionados and too stupid to appeal to pretty much anyone else, aquatic monster movie The Meg fails to clear a low set bar. Creature features pitched at such a level should be ludicrous fun or tension packed nightmares. Instead of embracing terror, humour, or any attempt to hit a fun and campy sweet spot, director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, Phenomenon) settles for cobbling a bunch of clichés together, never caring to do anything original or amusing with them. It’s a disaster movie made for less discerning, entertainment hungry foreign markets that’s firmly on autopilot.
At a remote aquatic research facility 200 miles off the coast of Shanghai – funded by an Elon Musk-y billionaire (Rainn Wilson) – scientists are attempting to prove that there’s a portion of the ocean that’s deeper than the Marianas Trench. A research sub punches through a layer of gaseous fog to prove their hypothesis, but are stranded six miles below the ocean surface when a mammoth creature begins attacking their craft. With only eighteen hours left before the submerged crew perishes (assuming the monster doesn’t get them first), project head Zhang (Winston Chao) and his skeptical marine biologist daughter (Bingbing Li) turn to washed-up, burnt-out, and disgraced deep sea rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to help attempt a dangerous extraction. Jonas, whose ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) is the head of the doomed expedition, has insisted for years that his last botched rescue was the result of a dangerous sea beast, and his long derided presumptions are about to be proven right, as the crew of the facility are about to come face to face with a megalodon: a once thought extinct mega-shark that can grow up to seventy-five feet long.
The Meg (based on a novel by Steve Alten that’s kicked around Hollywood development hell for the past several years) has a decent enough premise for some fun shark movie thrills, but Turteltaub and his team of screenwriters never elevate or enhance the material, giving viewers nothing in return for suspending their disbelief at the outlandish, scientifically dodgy plot mechanics. The Meg is the kind of film that thinks just the mere sight of a giant shark is enough to dazzle people, and that once the creature is first glimpsed in all its glory around the halfway point, viewers will be sufficiently frightened. It’s not enough, and it takes far more ingredients for The Meg to ever reach a degree of “guilty pleasure” respectability. A film like this should be crazy and chaotic. Instead, it’s a rote, dull, bloodless, and toothless.
There are three stages to The Meg: the rescue, an attempt to capture or kill the beast, and a final showdown where the megalodon will come dangerously close to wiping out a beach full of unsuspecting swimmers, frolickers, and wave riders. Of these three stitched together segments, only the middle portion offers any sort of enjoyment. The opening rescue portion is a tiresome cat and mouse game where the cat is barely seen, and the viewer knows there’s no danger since there’s over an hour of movie left by the time it’s all wrapped up. The finale suffers horribly thanks to herky-jerky editing, bizarre continuity errors, and a steadfast desire to erase even a drop of human blood from the film. The Meg’s violence is so maddeningly sanitized that I started to think this megalodon was the neatest eater in the world, and every shot of him dabbing his gaping maw with a napkin was erased in post along with the blood. To put it another way, someone brought a two year old child to the screening of The Meg that I saw, and this little girl didn’t flinch a single time at what she saw. It’s that lacklustre.
Things do pick up in the middle, however, with some clever set pieces (especially one where Statham is yanked by a wench away from the megaladon in open water at a high rate of speed) and the film’s eclectic hit-or-miss ensemble cast making the most of their threadbare, stock roles. Statham’s always good for a smirk and a glower, and Jonas is the type of character the actor could sleepwalk his way through and no one would be able to tell the difference. Wilson’s having a blast playing a duplicitous corporate goon. There’s also some nice work here from Chao, Ruby Rose (as the facility’s chief designer), and Cliff Curtis (as Jonas’ best friend and the craft’s chief grunt worker), all of whom steal whatever scenes they’re in.
On the other hand, Li (whose appearance here is 10,000% an effort to cater to the film’s Chinese producers) is a soul sucking embarrassment. Instead of coming across as a capable, skeptical scientific genius, she just seems like an abhorrent, catty, idiotic know-it-all with a precocious young daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai, really great in a role that could have been just as irksome) that’s vastly more interesting and likable than she is. It might be because of a language barrier that makes all of her English dialogue sound a bit off, but there’s no getting around the fact that she’s playing character that’s supposed to be likable and is instead coming across as coming across as being this obnoxiously incompetent. See also, Page Kennedy’s dreadful performance as the ship’s black, nerdy, skittish tech nerd, a role that tap dances dangerously close to being outright racist. The moments involving these two characters are the only times that The Meg becomes truly terrifying.
There are a few laughs to be had and a couple of effective jumps scares, but The Meg is nowhere close to equalling the sum of its parts. Instead of being a great bit of entertainment or a bad movie that’s somehow entertaining, The Meg is just a movie that sits there, waiting for moviegoers to plunk down some cash for mediocre product. Try as it might with its large budget and international box office goals, it’s hard to imagine anyone getting whipped up into a frenzy over The Meg.
The Meg opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, August 10, 2018.
Check out the trailer for The Meg: