THE MEG Review: Shark Fu, Statham Style

The bald British badass is China's only hope against a killer, prehistoric man-eater.

To be honest, it might be easier to just list off all the insane events that occur during The Meg, rather than write a traditional review. Yet to simply catalogue the crazy feels like it'd be doing the potential viewer a complete disservice, as it'd act as little more than a checklist of nonsense for them to look out for (not to mention a lazy excuse for film critique). Regardless, all you should know going in is that Jon Turteltaub's big screen take on Steve Alten's legendary beach read series – which remixes elements from both Meg and The Trench into a too long $150 million B-Movie – packs a metric fuckton of nuttiness into its 110-minute runtime, all while Jason Statham slips on the wetsuit of heroic deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor. Is it any good? Not really, but it's also uncertain if cinematic quality truly matters when you're facing down a motion picture that allows the action icon to literally engage in some mano-a-sharko combat. 

The basic plot set up plays like borderline parody. We meet Taylor as he's heading up a rescue mission on a downed submarine, where he's forced to leave a solid portion of the crew behind due to an unforeseen force attacking and collapsing the submerged vessel's hull. Cut to: five years in the future, where his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) is leading an exploration off the coast of China for hot shot billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). With the aid of two fellow Cousteau-esque adventurers – The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) and Toshi (Masi Oka) – their small sub breaches the bottom of the world's deepest trench, which isn't solid at all, but made of a subzero carbon cloak (or some sci-fi mumbo jumbo) that just appears to be the floor of the Pacific Ocean. Beneath that, they find a world of prehistoric creatures, including the titular 75-foot dinosaur shark, which chomps their vessel like a rabid terrier would a chew toy.

Now, the only person with the balls and expertise to save them is (you guessed it): Jonas Taylor, who must overcome a crippling bout of PTSD that's driven him to do nothing but drink beers on a Thai beach for the last half-decade. Essentially, he's Ted Striker from Airplane!, only underwater instead of up in the clouds. Uncoincidentally, The Meg’s tone isn't too far off from that ZAZ classic. Dean Goergaris – along with Jon & Eric Hoeber – has crafted a script that's self-aware, but never quite winks at you. Every character – from Taylor's best buddy Mac (Cliff Curtis), to Wilson's goofball Steve Jobs clone, to the tough girl computer whiz (Ruby Rose), to the wise-cracking black tech DJ (Page Kennedy) – is basically a cartoon character. There's even a cute, spunky little Chinese girl (Shuya Sophia Cai) for Statham's recovering superhuman to bond with. All that’s missing is a basketball Hall of Famer acting as co-captain of this expedition.

But don't get it twisted: The Meg seems to be adhering to the (slightly revised) Roger Corman Rule of “every ten minutes, somebody gets eaten.” The purposeful campiness helps sell the ever-escalating mayhem that erupts once Taylor is able to bring his ex, (half) her mates, and the Megalodon – which follows through some sort of warm trail he created – back to the observation station. As soon as the “rescue mission” first act of Turtletaub's picture ends, the full-scale disaster spectacle begins, as the titular monster is totally pissed off that it's been arisen from the deepest, darkest depths, and begins destroying everything in its path. No structure or boat is safe, as the surviving team members try to figure out any way to track and hunt the beast. Naturally, the bulk of the heroics fall squarely on Statham's shoulders, who’s even asked to swim out and stick a tracker on the mammoth flesh tank with only the aid of a spear gun. 

It should be noted that The Meg is something of an interesting case: a US (Warner Bros.) / Chinese (Gravity Pictures) co-production crafted by an American filmmaker with an overseas audience as its primary target. From the overly broad tone, bloodless violence, international co-stars –  Taylor's love interest (Bingbing Li) is the daughter of the plant's Taiwan-born operator (Winston Chao) – and even Statham himself (who was cast due to his appeal outside of the States), the movie takes on this carnival ride facade of wanting to globally please everyone. It's the ‘18 equivalent of watching a star-studded Irwin Allen destruct-o-thon, only with a healthy dose of schlocky Hong Kong horror/sci-fi layered onto the surface for good measure. There are even direct references to Jaws made during the film's final reel – amidst a crowded attack sequence at the Sanya beaches – which suddenly morph into a full-blown Chinese rip off of Steven Spielberg's classic, pumped full of steroids. 

Seeing how he was handpicked for his ability to sell Chinese tickets, our favorite former British Olympic diving hopeful plays the entirety of The Meg as if it were a "Jason Statham Movie" that just happens to feature an oversized killer shark in it. It's been a long time since this writer read the book – drunk and stoned at the Delaware Shore in '98 or so – but even an utter illiterate could tell that this version of Jonas Taylor certainly isn't Allen's. Statham is hamming it up before he goes completely HAM, playing the lead as larger than life because that's who he knows he's expected to be. Furthermore, everyone who surrounds him is either in awe, totally terrified, or in love with the hunky, cue-balled face smasher, and Statham totally leans into this Godlike worship, before going dome-to-fin with his bulbous, toothy CGI adversary. 

In fairness, mileage is going to vary for many viewers of The Meg, depending on what they expect when they sit down with this goofy splash of a monster movie. Even if you love the experience (as this writer did), it's impossible to deny Turteltaub's potential blockbuster runs far too long – a ten-minute stretch of sappy melodrama at the end of the second act could’ve been cut without missing a beat. The Meg is swinging so hard for the fences with every single shark set piece in the back half, that it reaches ludicrous levels of boat-capsizing bugnuts nonsense. If that sounds like your bag, then you'll probably have a shitload of fun by the time Statham paddles out into the middle of the ocean to engage the man-eater in literal fisticuffs. In short, this isn’t quite Sharknado, but it’s certainly that Syfy junker’s classier big screen cousin.

The Meg is in theaters now.

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