★★ OUT NOW CERT 12A / 113 MINS
DIRECTOR Jon Turteltaub
CAST Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Jessica Mcnamee
PLOT When a deep-sea research team discovers the existence of a megalodon — a 70-foot, supposedly extinct shark — they face a desperate race against time to stop it from eating everything.
IT MAY NOT shock you to hear this, but The Meg — a movie that apparently exists just so people can make jokes about Jason Statham punching a giant shark — is a bad film.
What’s important, though, is to discern the level of intent from director Jon Turteltaub and his team. Have they genuinely stunk the joint out despite their best efforts? Or are they trying to have their cake and eat it too by making a knowingly awful film, a so-bad-it’s good, ready-made cult classic? In short, are they in on the joke?
Worryingly, apart from a couple of moments — one involving a very small dog and a very big fish, and the very last shot — the answer seems to be, “No.” If Turteltaub had gone all-in on making this an oversized, toothy takedown of shark movies, The Meg could have been a winner. As it is, he’s made a film about a shark as big as a football pitch that still somehow commits the cardinal sin of being boring. It’s merely a compendium of leaden action sequences and terrible dialogue that could have been elevated to kitsch (“That living fossil ate my friend!”) had it been delivered by actors who were up to the task. Sadly, it’s not. While Rainn Wilson at least seems to be having fun as the billionaire benefactor behind the project, he’s the only one. Most of the cast, from Cliff Curtis to Li Bingbing, are saddled with roles that can barely be described as archetypes. Not even The Stath, the patron saint of pulp, growling his way through proceedings as rescuediving ace Jonas Taylor like he’s playing some weird combo of Quint, Brody and Hooper, makes much of a dent.
Speaking of Jaws, Turteltaub knows that comparisons are inevitable so wisely, one shark-cage moment aside, largely gives Spielberg’s classic a swerve. Rightly so, as it’s not fit to splash around in the same water. Instead, the shark movie to which this owes the biggest debt, right down to certain character types and the odd death scene, is Renny Harlin’s schlockbuster Deep Blue Sea. But that was a knowingly awful film that effortlessly nailed the entertaining edge-of-insanity tone. Instead, The Meg trails lazily in its wake, constantly reminding you — just as Skyscraper did with The Towering Inferno and Die Hard — that there are better films of its ilk that you could be watching instead.
It’s not all bad. Turteltaub and his writers, who surprisingly appear to be real human beings called Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, and not Siri and Final Draft Autowrite, at least try to keep things moving at a fair old lick, shifting the action from a claustrophobic base to the open sea and throwing in telegraphed twists every now and again just to keep things vaguely interesting. Statham also has some lovely scenes with young Chinese actress Shuya Sophia Cai, as the daughter of Bingbing Li’s ace scientist. But you don’t come to a movie like this for character
development. Movies like this laugh in the face of character development and nibble the legs of arcs. Movies like
The Meg exist to deliver never-beforeseen spectacle.
And the idea of a massive shark chomping down on boats, holiday makers, buildings, anything it can get its teeth on, is a tempting one. It maybe also explains why Hollywood has been so keen to adapt Steve Alten’s novel for over 20 years, with various filmmakers having a go before moving on to less choppy waters. But when it comes to the title star, The Meg disappoints. Turteltaub has worked with Nicolas Cage three times, so knows a thing or two about not holding back your star when they want to get their teeth into the scenery, so shows the shark in all its glory fairly early on. Sadly, the effects rarely rise above Sharknado level, and the megalodon is so big, it actually proves difficult to get The Stath and his co-stars into situations where they can interact with it, and impose themselves upon it, in a meaningful way. Like Godzilla and
Rampage before it, you get the sense the human characters are just insignificant specks to the monster. They’re gonna need an even bigger boat.
Does that mean that Jason Statham doesn’t punch a giant shark? We wouldn’t dream of spoiling it, but let’s just say if
The Meg’s giant tongue had been lodged in its gargantuan cheek a touch more, this could have been this year’s greatest guilty pleasure.
Still, despite its huge flaws, it’s been one of the bigger hits of a relatively lukewarm summer, and with several more novels in the series by Alten to adapt, with titles such as Hell’s Aquarium and Night Stalkers, Team Meg will surely have another big bite at nailing that tricksy, elusive tone. On its own terms, though, The Meg is further proof of that old adage: you can’t make a silk purse out of a shark’s fin.
VERDICT Shark. Weak.
It’s behind you! The Stath dices with a dumb death.