Is it truly summer without a killer shark movie? If that question was up to Hollywood, the answer would certainly be no, as there can’t seem to be a year that goes by without some sort of regurgitation of Spielberg’s terrifying classic tearing into theaters. This year’s toothy fish of focus surfaces in The Meg, short for megalodon, a prehistoric species of shark that finds its way up from deep in the Mariana Trench to cause some trouble. If you’re a devotee of the predator you’ll get some bang for your buck, but you probably won’t be surprised to hear The Meg is thoroughly mediocre.
The history of sharks on film can be traced back to as early as the nature documentary White Death back in 1936, and two commercial failures: The Sharkfighters in 1956 and Shark! in 1969, but it wasn’t until 1975 that film audiences fell in love with the aquatic predator in Steven Spielberg’s earth-shattering bombshell Jaws. Often credited with laying the groundwork for the modern summer blockbuster, the movie was a box office phenomenon, and fleshed out the concept so wholly that every shark thriller to follow has elements that trace back to that brilliant film.
And that includes 2018’s The Meg. It’s clear that director Jon Turteltaub knows he’s not dealing with anything new here, and rather than trying to obscure the imitation, Turteltaub takes the homage route and dives in head-first. In The Meg, Jaws references abound: whether it’s as obvious as the re-staging of the infamous beach attack, or as subtle as a dog’s name, Jaws makes up the very essence of The Meg’s DNA. And while the tributes are fun to spot for film fans, the references simply coincide with inferior material, and only serve to underscore a searing lack of originality.
And yet, even with the plethora of shark content already out there (remember last summer’s 47 Meters Down?) The Meg still managed to devour $45 million over the weekend, proving audiences still have an insatiable appetite for the underwater beasts. Without question, The Meg faces an uphill battle as far as proving itself to be very unique (there’s even an obscure horror film from 2004 called Megalodon), but one thing it has going for it is a more stunning exhibition of the titular prehistoric shark than ever before, even if the storyline surrounding it is utterly silly.
In The Meg, enterprising billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) arrives at the multi-million underwater research facility Mana One, which he financed mostly himself. Here he meets Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), who is overseeing a mission exploring a deeper section of the Mariana Trench for the first time, an exclusive eco-system cut off from the rest of the ocean by a layer of hydrogen sulfide. Once down there, the sub team discovers an abundance of stupefying new wonders, but also a host of horrifying predators, and lose contact with Mana One.
To the objection of some of the personnel, James Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) insists on recruiting Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a seasoned rescue diver who once failed to save several nuclear scientists from a sinking submarine after witnessing a massive shark, a claim that was dismissed as a psychotic break. He reluctantly agrees to help, but once the rescue is complete, the breaking of the hydrogen sulfide layer allows a terror of the deep to escape to the surface: a 75-foot gargantuan species of shark that has until now been considered extinct, the megalodon.
Jason Statham appears as his smoldering and rugged usual self, but his involvement in material such as this borders on self-parody, as The Meg certainly knows how to be playful with its premise, but still takes more seriously than it should. Rainn Wilson is a dependable pleasure as the offbeat and sarcastic millionaire Morris, but the remaining cast fails to add much color to a script full of kooky dialogue by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber; which you might be surprised to learn is based on a novel that Hollywood as been struggling to adapt since 1997.
As the plot treads along, there are countless instances of leaps in logic that raise questions and emphasize the inanity of the whole affair. First off, if a submarine is trapped tens of thousands of feet below the ocean’s surface, how is there enough time, and why is it necessary to recruit a man in Thailand for a rescue? Also, why does the crew insist on trying so hard to fight The Meg themselves? The military is relied upon far less than makes any reasonable sense, and a final confrontation with The Meg on a Chinese beach drives the absurdist heights to ironic hilarity.
Which is exactly where most of the fun in The Meg is derived from: good old-fashioned B-movie cheese. The action sequences are hit-or-miss with the megalodon spending an excessive amount of time obscured by water, but an embarrassingly over-the-top climactic showdown between Statham and The Meg packs all the cinematic glory you could ask for. And before things get too ridiculous, a preliminary sequence exploring the unseen depths of the Mariana Trench is a dazzling CGI feast to behold, a ravishing aquatic landscape replete with exotic undersea life.
But while The Meg does have its moments, the perils are noticeably tame for a movie focused on a 75-foot deadly carnivore, and quite mild in comparison to Jaws, the film’s unmistakable inspiration. This is a fact that Turteltaub is well aware of, as in the press rollout for The Meg, both he and Statham have been bemoaning Warner Bros.’ restrictions on the violence. Given The Meg’s insipid plotting, however, as while as Turteltaub’s record helming films such as National Treasure and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, I can’t imagine an R rating helping his case much here.