Review: THE MEG

Too much Stath and not enough Meg. This cheesy shark fantasy is neither scary nor funny enough to join the shark movie canon.

“The Meg” starts with a familiar setup. After making a life or death decision during a terrifying deep sea rescue, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is blamed for leaving team members behind to die in a sunken nuclear submarine. It doesn’t help that he claims that some huge beast is to blame. Of course, this leads him to give up the deep sea rescue business altogether, in favor of running a fishing boat in Thailand with a bottomless beer in his hand. But when a visionary billionaire named Morris (Rainn Wilson) and his talented, specialized team of underwater researchers have a crisis on their hands, they turn to old Jonas for help.

Of course, the crisis involves an encounter with the very same mythical sea creature that Jonas claimed existed years previously. That beast is a megalodon, an enormous 70-foot shark that dwarfs any other fish and happily eats everything in its path. And for Morris and his research team that means they are the Meg’s next meal.

Admittedly, “The Meg” is mildly entertaining, especially early, when we get to see all the cool toys that the research team have at their disposal. This involves subs of all shapes or sizes outfitted with curved video screens and the ability to swiftly navigate underwater byways. The team is an eclectic mix of races and nationalities, led by Zhang (Winston Chao) and his headstrong daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li). And for some ridiculous, but movie reason, Suyin’s 5 or 6 year old daughter, Meiying (Shuna Sophia Cai) also lives on the research platform out in the middle of the dangerous ocean.

Sadly, after the interesting setup, “The Meg” moves into preposterous action mode. This centers mainly on the muscled up Statham, who spends most of his time mugging for the camera in various states of undress. And Stath’s winking and smirking is wince-inducing and distracting, as the story tries to force a relationship between Jonas and Suyin. The film wastes Statham’s storied charisma and balletic fighting style. This may be Statham’s movie, but it isn’t a good fit for his abilities. His performance is really one note, exposing his limited range. He doesn’t even get to fake a proper drunk, because when we meet him he’s supposedly been drinking all day, yet, is immediately sober. It’s a little too much to take.

I was happy to see Rainn Wilson in a somewhat high profile film, in a role that works for him. He’s kinda a cross between Elon Musk and Donald Trump, and I wish they would have pushed him more into the maniacal. The movie’s PG-13 limitations prevent the story from getting too dark. Therefore, any deaths and peril are heavily edited and sanitized. And Wilson’s zany, off-kilter potential is squandered, reducing him to just another cartoon.

Sharks of all shapes, sizes and levels of ferocity have scored at the box office dating back to the summer of 1975, when “Jaws” made the beach a frightening place. But while the mere presence of sharks in a movie has routinely returned solid box office over the years, the formula has become almost too familiar. Hence, in order to up the ante, we get flying sharks in movies like “Sharknado.” The scary shark movie has all but lost its punch. There are exceptions, like when Blake Lively got stranded on a rock in a bay surrounded by a hungry man-eater in 2016’s “The Shallows.” But just how to repeat the magic that made “Jaws” a certified classic has eluded filmmakers for decades.

“The Meg’s” solution to the shark riddle is to just go bigger, literally with the shark itself, and bigger with certain set-pieces. We get the obligatory beach scene with thousands of partying swimmers terrorized by the Meg. It rips off “Jaws” shamelessly, but with an almost parody effect. Nothing about these scenes are the least bit scary, although cheap laughs do come. And that’s the most surprising thing, despite it’s $150 million budget, “The Meg” can’t shake feeling cheap and exploitive. It’s a shame, because the very idea of a giant pre-historic shark should immediately put a shiver up viewer’s spines. Instead, we get a cheeky Jason Statham flirting with Bingbing Li and a cute kid ridiculously put in peril.

The Meg versus the Stath narrative certainly had potential, but so much clutter gets in the way. A brewing romance, a child, a controlling billionaire, and a team of supposed “experts” that deliver one-liners on cue, all this distracts from what the film really should be focused on. Ultimately, the 70-foot sea creature isn’t shown to us with enough detail to really grasp it as a serious threat. And Statham’s battle with it just seems like an inevitably contrived happening.

If only the producers had taken a step back and asked themselves what viewers wanted. I suspect that the shark would have dominated that discussion, but instead we get a little bit of the Meg and way too much watered-down Stath.

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