When Steven Spielberg directed a film about a shark based on a best-selling Peter Benchley book of the same name, he had no way of knowing that it was going to not only be one of the first true cinematic blockbusters, but would influence a generation of swimmers too. The 1975 film Jaws turned sharks into toothy celebrities that are now memorialized in our culture through media events like Shark Week. With three increasingly weak sequels and a whole lot of other killer shark movies – Deep Blue Sea, anyone? Open Water? Or (gasp) Sharknado? – is there any space left for another killer fish film?
There is if the shark is big. Like, really big. 75-feet-long big. And actually a dinosaur known as a Megalodon. Toss in some celebrities that are going to appeal both to the American audience (Jason Statham) and the Chinese audience (Li Bingbing) and excellent special effects, and this “B” monster movie offers up just the right set of thrills and chuckles for a new summer blockbuster.
Which isn’t to say that it’s without its flaws, because let’s be candid, there are more problems with The Meg than there are, well, teeth in the beast’s gaping maw. There’s a solid cast, but the acting is mostly awful. The dialog is best forgotten. The storyline and logic of the entire film? Well, I did say it’s a “B” movie, right?
Here’s the setup: Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is a rescue diver who specializes in deep sea rescues. As the film opens, he is presented with a dilemma; does he abandon two of his friends to rescue a mini-sub full of survivors? Seems there’s a mysterious and unseen beast trying to crush the submarine. Five years later Taylor’s a wreck, in a perpetual alcoholic fog and seemingly retired. Meanwhile, billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has funded a massive underwater research facility off the coast of China called Mana One. Staffed by Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) and Suyin’s cute little tyke Meiying (Sophia Cai), they aim to prove that the floor of the Mariana Trench is a layer of thermocline and that there is a hidden level of the ocean underneath what’s believed to be the lowest point in the ocean.
Surprise, they’re right. But there are strange and unseen new beasties in this deep undersea world, including a malevolent and wicked smart monster shark. Which attacks the ultra-deep-sea research vessel exploring the new region of the depths. Now, who do you call when a vessel is trapped over 11,000 feet underwater? You guessed it, Jonas Taylor. If he can just sober up enough to do the job.
Let’s be candid about it: If you go to see The Meg assuming it’s going to be a hard science oceanography movie with a thoughtful storyline about long-hidden jurassic-era monsters, you’ll be highly disappointed. This is not Arrival. This is not Contact. The Meg owes much more to Godzilla than either of those cerebral sci-fi thrillers. On the other hand (other fin?), if you walk into the theater expecting a glossy, well assembled but fundamentally goofy creature feature, you’ll really have a lot of fun with the film.
Yes, there’s generally poor acting throughout, from Statham, who remarkably keeps a straight face during the worst of the banal dialog to Bingbing, whose emotional range on camera amounts to almost zero. There are also huge scientific questions that are just glossed over entirely (at 11,000 feet, the ocean pressure is 324 atmospheres. At sea level it’s 0 atmospheres. Why doesn’t The Meg just explode?). There are shallow and highly predictable characterizations (surprise, the rich guy isn’t a philanthropist after all). But to compensate there are gorgeous visual effects and the sheer b-movie delight of a surfline full of swimmers and the dark, ominous shadow of a beast heading to eat ’em all.
I had a lot of fun watching The Meg. I expected it to be daft and knew it wouldn’t make much sense, but there’s just something inherently entertaining about a man vs. beast story on the big screen, whether it’s a big ape, prehistoric lizard, swarm of killer bees, genetically engineered piranha or massive shark. If you can also appreciate this particular sub-genre you too will have a great time watching The Meg and probably cheering the beast on!