Shark tale lacks the bite of Jaws clas­sic

THE MEG (12A)

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Film Review - By Demetrios Matheou

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

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