FIN OF THE MONSTERS
THE MEG (12A)
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenplay: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber
Starring: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson
Review: David Stephens
Sharks. They’ve never been hotter in genre cinema. Well, that’s lie really. Like plenty of other subjects in horror, fads come and go. Of course, the phenomenal success of “Jaws” in 1975 paved the way for fun rip-offs like Joe Dante’s “Piranha” in 1978 and plenty of other animal attacks and aquatic blood-letting. Since then other films like “Deep Blue Sea” and “Open Water” spike interest in shark shenanigans from a financial or critical perspective. Arguably the current wave of toothy mayhem has been inspired by the cult reaction to Syfy’s crazy “Sharknado” franchise and The Asylum’s “Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus” (and sequels). Positive feedback for recent films like “The Shallows” and “47 Meters Down” has also helped… which makes the long wait for “The Meg” to finally hit cinemas all the more puzzling. Based on Steve Alten’s successful literary franchise, the project has been in development hell for many years, and slipped through the fingers of Eli Roth. But now it’s in US and UK theatres, so YGROY “waves” goodbye to dry land and visits the big screen to see if this is a “shore” thing or not…
Starting 5 years ago, a short prologue shows champion good-guy and deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, with his usual of-unknown-origin accent that he uses for US movies) in mid-rescue. He attempts to save the crew of a stranded submarine, but his actions are complicated by an unknown creature making bloody great dents in the vessel. So he is forced to leave two friends and colleagues behind as the sub explodes, although he saves everybody else. Moving to the present, an underwater research facility called Mana One has discovered that the Mariana Trench has a false bottom! A layer of hydrogen sulphide has hidden deeper parts of the area from exploration. Being a sci-fi film, of course the resident scientists HAVE to poke around where they’re not wanted and “something” cripples an exploration vehicle. The head of the facility (Cliff Curtis as "Mac" Mackreides) goes straight to Taylor, who is perennially pissed-up in Thailand and will NEVER, EVER deep-sea-rescue again… accept he will because his ex-wife is stuck in the vessel. Bad luck. Meanwhile, the “something” that connects both events is on the rise, and it has a big appetite
Right off the bat, “The Meg” has two things going against it. One is the possible fatigue that audiences might have for sharks in the media, surely only surpassed by the prolific zombie outbreaks. Second are the somewhat ill-timed comments made by director Jon Turteltaub and star Statham just before it opened. Both expressed regret that it was a PG-13 (12A) rated film, especially as Turteltaub revealed that gory scenes were planned and partially filmed. Cue the mass gritting of teeth from horror fans. The film is the biggest American-Chinese co-production since “The Great Wall”, and is rumoured to need $400m to break even due to the massive worldwide advertising. It has made $145m in the opening weekend, but is unlikely to hit the desired target. But what of the film itself? Is it surf, err… worth it?
Negative stuff first… and there’s a fair bit of that unfortunately. The first act is so depressingly generic that it makes your brain ache with the sheer mediocrity of it all. Uneducated billionaire is shown around an investment that he knows little about (see: “Deep Blue Sea”, “Jurassic Park”, etc). A tormented hero won’t do the thing he’s best at, due to personal loss (see: “Cliffhanger”). Scientists don’t stop to think about the repercussions of what they do, before they do it (see: “Jurassic Park” again… and every 1950s sci-fi movie). Any semblance of realism is sunk almost immediately as characters bounce up-and-down between deep water and the surface. Seriously, Statham just turns the oxygen off at one point, pinches his nose, gets a small amount of blood drip from his nostril, and just shrugs! It’s that sort of film. It also contains the clumsiest cast of characters you’ll have seen in any recent movie. Take a shot every time an incident causes someone to tumble into open water and you’ll be in intensive care by the end! Other characters are like lemmings, and seem ridiculously pre-disposed to making themselves shark-bait for very little reason. It’s mostly played straight, and dialogue is pretty perfunctory, with only the occasional zinger creeping in there (“We’re in International waters, so I could beat the shit out of you and get away with it!”).
Given some of the talent involved (and budget) it’s far below the rip-roaring blood-fest it could have been. And yet… and yet. It just about keeps you glued to the screen, entertained for most of the time, and qualifies for a place in the “2018’s Guilty Pleasures” film bracket. Whilst it’s mostly played straight, the advertising (“Chomp on this!”) and some of the narrative winks at the audience and dares them to ignore the shortfalls. There are at least 3 intentional rip-offs/“homages” to famous “Jaws” scenes and they are knowingly skewed (the boat being pulled backwards, annoying kid pleads with his mother to go into the water, swimming dog in peril, etc). The story sets-up a possible “Piranha 3D” massacre and actually delivers on it… well, sort of, in a PG-13 way. There are also some great money shots, like; Statham scouring the water for the shark (see: “Open Water”), the perfectly framed and scary shot where Meg chomps on the underwater tunnel, and the grey silhouette of the massive creature sliding under a wakeboarder.
As regards the cast and effects, Statham is never going to win a best-acting award, but he’s great in tosh like this. As one character says; “He moves fast and he looks heroic... but he's kinda got a negative attitude.” Grumpily tossing out lines and swearing at animals like they can understand him, he handles the watery mayhem well and convinces in the more ludicrous chase sequences. As for the rest of the cast; Ruby Rose is actually given something to do rather than glower in the background as the tough-chick for a change, Rainn Wilson has fun as the ambiguously motivated billionaire Jack Wilson, and although he’s mostly relegated to the background Page Kennedy steals a couple of scenes as DJ (his synopsis of events is accurate and hilarious). The effects for the most part are pretty cool (if not always believable or obeying the laws of nature/physics). The Meg is well visualised and you can’t help getting a tingle of pleasure when you see a fin the size of a catamaran break the surface. It even works with a CG Statham flying around and the bizarre set of indignities foisted on the title beast. The scene where it chomps repeatedly mere feet away from our hero will induce guffaws and thrills at the same time.
Make no mistake. This is a flawed film, and yes… we believe it would have been better had the bloody nature of the material been embraced more. (NB: There’s actually much more gore in “Jaws”. This won’t trouble you unless you get queasy at the sight of fish and whale entrails). The occasional emotional scenes are gag-inducing, product placement is noticeable, and there are understandably frequent nods to the Japanese market. But if you accept the B-movie mentality that it strives for, and expect absolutely nothing more than that, you likely have fun with it and you’ll sail through the 2 hours of hi-jinks with a smile on your chops. Oh, and no… Statham does NOT punch a shark in the face at any point. Pity…