The Meg Review: When Jason Statham Fights a Giant Shark, Everyone Wins
The Meg is an entertaining underwater monster movie and summer thrill ride that wholeheartedly embraces its inherent cheesiness without overdoing it.
The time has finally come for Jason Statham to duke it out with a gigantic shark, and the results (thankfully) do not disappoint. Based on Steve Alten's 1997 book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, The Meg has been in development for over 20 years and caught the eyes of directors like Jan de Bont (Twister), Guillermo del Toro (Pacific Rim), and Eli Roth (Hostel) during that time, before Jon Turteltaub stepped in to call the shots. It's easy to understand why the retro B-movie premise of Alten's source material would attract this particular set of storytellers, going by their collective interests. Fortunately, the concept ultimately landed in the right hands with Turteltaub, judging by the final film result. The Meg is an entertaining underwater monster movie and summer thrill ride that wholeheartedly embraces its inherent cheesiness without overdoing it.
The Meg follows a group of scientists working at a state of the art underwater research facility - known as Mana One - that lies 200 miles off the coast of China and was funded by the eccentric billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). Led by the oceanographer Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), a marine biologist, the Mana One team aspires to prove Dr. Zhang's hypothesis that there are unexplored depths to the Mariana Trench (the deepest known part of the ocean). An exploration crew captained by Celeste (Jessica McNamee) is able to do just that when they enter a long-hidden region of the Trench separated from the rest of the Pacific Ocean by a "cold layer". However, while down there, something enormous attacks their submersible and leaves the team stranded.
Racing against the clock to save their comrades, the Mana One crew reaches out to Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham): a deep sea rescue expert who has been out of the game for five years, ever since he claimed a humongous shark-like creature was responsible for a submarine rescue mission gone wrong. Jonas, by no coincidence, is also Celeste's ex-husband and quickly agrees to attempt to rescue her and her team, even knowing that a similar underwater "monster" could be responsible for their predicament. It turns out that Jonas was correct and Celeste's team was attacked by a Megalodon: a colossal species of shark that was previously believed to have gone extinct millions of years before... and has now been inadvertently unleashed into the ocean at large.
Dean Georgaris (Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life) and Erich and Jon Hoeber (Battleship, RED 1 & 2) share credit for adapting Alten' first Meg novel to the big screen. On the whole, their script does a good job of plowing through the exposition needed to set up the movie's sci-fi/horror premise and establish different characters' motivations, without getting bogged down in over-explaining things along the way. Both The Meg's screenplay and the film as a whole blatantly, yet lovingly, crib elements from genre classics Jaws and Jurassic Park, and even include a few direct references to the former, as a way of tipping their hat. However, as was indicated earlier, it's The Meg's willingness to embrace its own campiness (without reaching Sharknado levels of self-parody) that allows the whole thing to come to across more like a good-natured homage than an uninspired commercial knockoff.
Turteltaub's past experience crafting playful action/adventures like the National Treasure movies serves him well on The Meg, when it comes to both maintaining a consistent tone and handling the spectacle. The director leans heavily into the film's B-movie aspects, yet uses its big-budget to craft a proper blockbuster experience. IMAX is recommended in this case and not only benefits The Meg's visuals (especially the wide-angle underwater shots by frequent Clint Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern), but also its sound design and score by Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian) - which, like the rest of the movie, borrows from Jurassic Park for its own story about humans meeting and having to battle prehistoric creatures. The film also takes some tricks from the Jaws playbook in this regard - like, not fully revealing The Meg right away - but combines them with some clever techniques of its own to further generate suspense and tension (see the POV shots from the perspective of characters trying to spot The Meg in the murky depths of the ocean).
Statham, on his end, knows exactly what his fans want from him and he delivers it in troves here, whether it's him going Mano a Shark with The Meg (several times, at that) or strutting around in nothing but a post-shower towel for a scene. He even has good screen chemistry with a delightful Shuya Sophia Cai as Suyin's daughter Meiyang, making their interactions all the funnier and unexpectedly sweet. The film's other humans are pretty flat on the whole (Page Kennedy plays the comic relief, Ruby Rose is the "edgy" loner, and so on), but The Meg spends enough time fleshing them out for viewers to become invested in their fates. Even Wilson as Mana One's cartoonish investor (think Elon Musk if he fancied himself as being more of a bro) is afforded a moment of humanity in The Meg. It helps that the supporting cast is very self-aware and play everything tongue in cheek, giving off the impression that they're very much enjoying themselves in the process.
The Meg is also surprisingly progressive in certain respects - like how it doesn't rush or overplay the romantic tension between Sunyin and Jonas and then makes Meiyang a key part of their budding relationship. The film even takes the time to acknowledge and mourn the deaths of its main characters' friends and peers, affording the sci-fi/horror proceedings some welcome heart in doing so. Of course, the movie doesn't explore the scientific and ethical quandaries that it raises (like, whether the Mana One team should really try to stop the Megalodon via non-lethal means, or just kill it) to the degree that, say, Jurassic Park does. As such, The Meg delivers on its promise of cheeky entertainment, but without the intelligence and narrative substance that makes Steve Spielberg's landmark "prehistoric monster film" a classic.
All in all, The Meg is very much the delicious slice of August cheese that audiences have been hoping it would be. The film by and large realizes the potential of its goofy B-movie premise (derivative elements and all), delivering two hours of no-holds-barred enjoyable popcorn movie storytelling in the process. As unabashedly ridiculous as the movie is, one imagines that anyone who's been sold on The Meg since they first learned what it's about - namely, a throw-down between the star of The Transporter trilogy and a 75-foot + long ancient shark - should walk away with a big grin on their face, after seeing it.
The Meg is now playing in U.S. theaters nationwide. It is 113 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language.
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