Movie Review: "The Meg" (2018)
I'm just going to go ahead and say it: there may not be a trickier sub-genre to navigate than the killer shark / giant shark movie. When you start the trend off with an utter classic like Jaws, it makes literally any movie that comes after start off in the hole. So, you have to find a way around the expectations and do something different in tone, visual style, gore level, et cetera. Pick a differentiating trait and focus on it with gusto.
I'll also go ahead and say that I am a fan of how they did that in this movie. It's not something that I'm going to go back to theaters and see again or revisit regularly at home, but I'll be damned if I wasn't entertained. It was fun.
Director John Turtletaub (National Treasure / National Treasure: Book of Secrets) is the man at the helm, and that should tell you all that you need to know about what to expect. The Meg tells the story of Jonas Taylor (action superstar Jason Statham, Crank series), a "retired" deep sea dive rescuer who left the gig and went on a years long bender in Thailand after a rescue gone wrong where he was forced to make tough life or death decisions. He was labeled as crazy and responsible due to pressure-induced psychosis after raving about a massive, unseen creature taking out the nuclear sub he was rescuing from. Unfortunately for everyone involved he wasn't crazy, and a new mission to the sub-depths of the world's deepest trench will unleash The Meg a.k.a. Megalodon, the extinct super-massive shark of prehistoric times.
The new team is a cavalcade of stereotypes. There's love interest (and sexy lure for the Chinese audience) Bingbing Li (The Forbidden Kingdom) as Suyin, the hyper smart love interest for Statham. Her father, Zhang (Chinese TV vet Winston Chao) is the research guru with all the answers. Her daughter is the precocious and adorable Meiying, played with real aplomb by Shuya Sophia Cai. The operation is bankrolled by sleazy billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson, The Office), who provides the comic relief and the death you cheer at. There's the doctor with the troubled history with the lead man in Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor, Longmire). The tech team has a gothy hacker in Jaxx (Ruby Rose, Netflix's Orange is the New Black), a fat "Mr. Fix-It" in The Wall (Olafur Darri Olafsson, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them), a sacrificial lamb geek in Toshi (Masi Oka, NBC's Heroes), & the inevitable uber stereotypical black dude yelling about how he "didn't sign up for this shit" in DJ (Page Kennedy, Showtime's Weeds). There's even an old buddy named Mac, for God's sake (Cliff Curtis, Fear the Walking Dead)!
It may sound like I'm taking The Meg to task for hitting all of those notes, but I'm really not. It's not trying to be anything other than an action movie involving a fucking huge shark. The stereotypes are embraced, and you can clearly see that it's a conscious decision. I appreciate that. They're not trying to reinvent the wheel; they're simply trying to spin the holy hell out of it for the sake of summer entertainment.
And you know what? They succeed. The cast plays their parts well without devolving into outright, Sharknado-style campiness. The violence is well within the bounds of PG-13, but it's got the budget to be well done and enough directorial skill to be well timed. The sillier it gets, the more you're asked to suspend that disbelief for the sake of a good time. It just works, plain and simple (if not a little unremarkably).
It is visually fantastic and not without some merit for cleverness in the writing. I like the idea of the deepest trench in the ocean being just a little bit deeper, with the bottom actually being a gas layer that separates the arctic cold water from a thermal layer teeming with crazy, unseen life. Does the science work? I have no idea. I'm not Sheldon Cooper. The tech is nice and shiny. The nod to Jaws 3 with the underwater hallways was a nice touch, too.
It's not Jaws by any stretch. If that is what you are expecting going into it then you will absolutely hate it. It's a by the numbers action movie with a cool villain. If you take it for what it is without excessive criticism you just might find yourself with a goofy grin.