Shark tale lacks the bite of Jaws classic
THE MEG (12A)
JAWS is the film generally regarded as the first summer blockbuster. Back in 1975 people queued around the block to see Steven Spielberg’s adventure about a shark terrorising a New England summer resort. One of those was 15-year-old Steve Alten who, years later, was inspired to write his own shark story, The Meg.
And now the adaptation of Alten’s book is swimming towards the summer schedules. Unlike Jaws, it’s no classic; there is nothing enduring in the way it’s shot, or written, or acted; and unlike Jaws, its tale is too preposterous to keep people out of the water for real.
But it is very, very entertaining. While most shark films focus on fear (47 Metres Down, The Shallows) and some on surreal laughs (Sharkanado), The Meg paddles somewhere in between and rather surprisingly gets away with it.
When a marine research team discovers a hidden layer of the world’s deepest ocean trench, they also encounter the 70-foot prehistoric shark that still lives down there, the Megalodon.
Most of the team survives the encounter, courtesy of deep sea rescue expert Jonas Taylor, played by action star Jason Statham.
But the monster has followed them towards the surface and a whole new world of all-youcan-eat human buffet. “Man versus Meg isn’t a fight,” growls Statham sagely. “It’s a slaughter.”
So the scientists set out to find and kill the shark. And some things never change: they just need to get close enough to fire a poison dart.
The film takes a while to get going. There’s none of the suspense that usually leads to the discovery of a monster, and the initial CGI effects of the deep are murky and alienating. But once Statham has his first face-to-face, in the water encounter with the Meg, the adventure goes up several gears at once.
The script offers the usual band of stock characters, including the billionaire patron of the high-tech research centre who likes to hug but isn’t to be trusted, the motormouth coward, the ageing leader of the team and the assorted band of assistants who offer the viewer the customary challenge of guessing the order in which they’ll get munched.
The exception is Chinese star Li Bingbing, who plays Suyin, a marine biologist, single mother (of a very cute kid) and unlikely love interest for the beefcake star.
Li adds some emotional depth to proceedings, and her character is an equal to Jonas in the decision-making and much of the action, particularly at the controls of the film’s fun, futuristic one-person submersible, the Glider.
Statham has been lightening his image lately, most notably sending himself up something rotten in the comedy Spy.
And he continues in comic vein here, while also exercising his old skills as a championship diver. One thing about Statham is that when his character declares, deadpan, “I’m proceeding to the enormous killer shark”, you’d actually trust the actor himself to exercise the same bravado, and to make it back in one piece.
With the emphasis on humour-based thrills, there’s little of the terror and trepidation that came when Spielberg’s three men went fishing for the Great White 40odd years ago.
As the Meg approaches a Chinese beach resort, spectacle takes precedence over horror. The nods to Jaws – including the lad who persuades his mother to let him go for another swim – won’t lead to tragedy.
At the same time, director Jon Turteltaub has fun with things that Spielberg just couldn’t do in the Seventies.
And with shark on squid, shark on shark, shark on nuclear submarine and shark on Yorkshire terrier, there’s something here for everyone.
Lil Bingbing and Jason Statham take the plunge in this underwater thriller