By Preston Wilder
Right at the end of The Meg – a film about a giant sea monster – survivors are on deck exchanging the usual end-of-movie platitudes and the camera pans away, down into the murky ocean depths. It looks like the cue for a second monster to appear, whooshing up from below, the better to set up a sequel – but no monsters whoosh, and the mind goes to other possibilities. Maybe a caption will come up reading ‘The End’ – and a caption does indeed come up but it doesn’t read ‘The End’, it reads ‘Fin’, which of course means ‘The End’ in French. But also ‘Fin’ as in ‘fin’, because sharks have fins, right? Shark’s fin, do you get it? This is the level we’re dealing with here.
To be honest, it’s not the worst level. You have to like a $150 million movie that concludes with a bad joke as opposed to a carefully-engineered, Marvel-type teaser. And yeah, we might as well reveal (though it’s not exactly a secret) that the monster is a shark, ‘Meg’ standing for ‘Megalodon’ – a giant prehistoric shark, accidentally brought up from the depths by the usual careless scientists – though the film plays coy for a long time, preferring not to say what exactly is “out there”. The predator finally appears, and it’s a doozy: a giant squid, like in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, enfolding our heroes’ sub in its cylindrical embrace – but alas, the real monster turns out to be the Meg, the squid being just a red herring (though of course it’s a squid as well). I’d have preferred the squid, to be honest. I’d even have preferred a red herring, like a giant mutant one with big gills. Sharks are so 20th-century.
Also in the mix is Jason Statham, bidding to join fellow slapheads Diesel and Johnson in the ranks of bona fide Hollywood action stars – though he seems to think that a bigger budget calls for bigger acting, which is unfortunate; Statham is among the coolest men on the planet, but the pained expression on Jonas’ (his character’s) face when he realises he can’t save his buddies isn’t among his finest moments. That’s in the prologue, explaining why Jonas is now Out of the Game and knocking back beers in a bar in Thailand – because he experienced the Meg, it killed eight of his friends, though everyone thinks it was Jonas’ fault. That said, the whole premise of the film is that Meg only appears in the ocean because a research sub briefly opened a pathway connecting its world to ours, so it’s unclear how it previously managed to attack Jonas and his crew – but whatever, making sense is an optional extra in this kind of movie.
Making sense slowly flies out the window, replaced by tedium and silliness. Structurally speaking, the basic Jaws-type plot is over in about 90 minutes – but ending there would expose The Meg as a blatant B-movie so instead it keeps going, adding stale banter between Jonas and Chinese scientist Suyin (Li Bingbing) and a few noble deaths for minor characters. The silliness reaches a peak when Meg heads for Sanya Bay, a beach in southern China that’s absolutely crawling with swimmers – ‘crowded’ is putting it mildly; you’ll never say a bad word about Fig Tree Bay again – yet our heroes don’t call in a warning, even when the monster is only 20 minutes away, because “‘prehistoric shark’ would sound like a prank call”. Guys, YOU DON’T HAVE TO SAY ‘PREHISTORIC SHARK’! Just call in a shark warning, they’ll still evacuate the beach and save all those people. Good grief.
Is The Meg worth your money? Overall, I’d say no, though it does have some fleeting excitements (shark jaws snapping mere inches away from our fleeing hero, that kind of thing). The supporting characters are wildly clichéd, including a couple of sweaty-geek techies (they giggle over the word ‘insertion’), a precocious eight-year-old girl – “Eight-year-olds hear everything,” she explains adorably – and Jonas’ ex-wife, whose role is weirdly truncated; she seems to be there as a device to tempt him out of exile – but in fact, once reunited, they barely even talk and it’s briskly explained that their marriage was a fiasco, leaving our hero free to exchange suggestive looks with Suyin. (Blame the all-important China market, I guess.) The whole film seems secondhand, from the sub-John Williams music when the lab is revealed to the rather unimaginative action; I’m not expecting splatter, a la Piranha and its sequel, but (for instance) a shot of the mega-shark leaping out of the water to chomp on a nearby chopper might’ve been nice. Bottom line? This is not Sharknado, and in fact it’s quite watchable – but The Meg lacks the chops to be a really great monster movie, and lacks the imagination to be anything else. Fin.
DIRECTED BY Jon Turteltaub
STARRING Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson
SCI FI ACTION
US/China 2018 113 mins