Film Review: The Meg

Wait 20 Minutes After Eating To View This Movie

Devin D. O'Leary
5 min read
The Meg
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Back in the ’70s, Hollywood’s first-ever summer blockbuster, Jaws, spawned dozens of waterlogged knockoffs (Orca, Great White, Tintorera: Killer Shark, Mako: The Jaws of Death, Up From the Depths, Piranha, Barracuda, Tentacles, to name a few). Since Discovery Channel started broadcasting its annual Shark Week promotion back in 1988, however, ordinary sharks have lost some of their terrifying luster. If you wanna make a shark-based horror movie these days, you’ve got to amp it up. Syfy, for example, responded to Discovery’s cable bonanza with its annual string of Sharknado films (the sixth and allegedly final one will air on Aug. 19). Now comes Hollywood’s latest attempt to one-up Jaws. The Meg is as much a by-the-numbers Jaws knockoff as any of those cheapjack Italian Xerox copies listed above. But at least it’s got the world’s biggest shark!

The Meg is based on Steve Alten’s preposterous page-turner MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror from 1997. Despite the fact that Alten’s book spawned six sequels, the film version only uses the barest outline sketch of the novel—which would be great if the film swam in new and interesting waters. But it doesn’t. This is nature disaster monster movie fare at its biggest, loudest and silliest.

In the film’s standard-issue flashback intro, we meet our main character, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham from some great Guy Ritchie films and a bunch of interchangeable
Transporter/Expendables/Fast and Furious films). Taylor is the world’s greatest deep sea rescue pilot. While trying to rescue the crew of a nuclear sub stuck at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, he saves all but two sailors under death-defying conditions. For screenplay-based reasons, Taylor is blamed for these deaths and drummed out of business. Taylor also faults himself for failing to save everyone and spends the next five years getting drunk on a beach in Thailand.

Cut to the current-day underwater research facility “Mana One.” This “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine”-looking facility has been built off the coast of China to explore the Mariana Trench. (The film was largely financed by China, and much of the book’s action has been transplanted from San Diego to China.) Lead scientist Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao from
Eat Drink Man Woman) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing from The Forbidden Kingdom) believe that the bottom of the Trench is not actually the bottom, but an ice-cold layer of frozen chemicals that hides a deeper more ancient world. Thanks to an investment from flippant, jeans-wearing tech billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson, “The Office”), the Mana One team is ready to send a fancy submarine to the bottom of the ocean. Immediately after penetrating the thermocline, the crew is attacked by a mysteriously unseen creature. Anyone looking at the poster or reading the title knows exactly what this creature is. It’s an 80-foot prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon.

With the Mana’s research sub out of power and stranded more than 10,000 meters under the sea, who can our panicked oceanographers possibly turn to for help? … You guessed it: Jonas Taylor. Of course, the shell-shocked submarine jockey wants nothing to do with deep sea rescue anymore. He was quit when he left, and he’s twice as quit now. Conveniently—in one of many overly familiar screenwriting contrivances—one of the scientists trapped on the bottom of the ocean just
happens to be Taylor’s ex-wife (Australian actress Jessica McNamee). So, of course, Taylor plunges down into the Trench and saves the scientists. He also ends up doing battle with the giant toothy Megalodon that calls the trench beneath the Trench home.

Back on the Mana One, a veritable U.N. conference of stereotypes—serious leader type (Cliff Curtis), fat nerd (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), tough chick (Ruby Rose), wisecracking black guy (Page Kennedy), cute li’l moppet (Sophia Cai)—figure the danger is passed. After all, there’s no chance the giant shark will swim up out of the Mariana Trench and start attacking the underwater research station, right? Right?

The Meg’s predictability shines through, however. Pretty soon the scientists are doing anything and everything they can come up with to fight this marine monster—other than, you know, alerting the government or the military or something. The characters vacillate between semi-likable (survivors) and semi-dislikable (sharkbait). Our billionaire financier argues against killing the Meg because it’s “a gold mine.” (Uh, how exactly?) People fall off the back of speeding boats and flounder in the open ocean with the regularity of church bells. Nearly as often Statham strips off his shirt, revealing the sort of abs you aren’t likely to possess following a five-year bender. Countless shots and plot twists are borrowed directly from Jaws and its spawn.

At least
The Meg has the benefit of volume and velocity. Huge sonic bangs punctuate the soundtrack, telling viewers when to jump out of their seats. And, silly as it is, the story races forward with barely a breath to spare. Director Jon Turteltaub delivers speed and efficiency, continuing his unbroken string of popular-yet-forgettable offerings (3 Ninjas, Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon, Instinct, The Kid, National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). The Meg lacks the campy thrill of Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea or the outright dread of Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallows. As a lumbering beast of a late-summer monster movie, however, it delivers on the promise of moderate action, credible special effects and one big-ass shark.
The Meg

“Shark? What shark?”

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