By: Hawk Ripjaw (Four Beers) –
Deep beneath the sea, in the Marianas Trench, a group of scientists (their names don’t matter because most of them will eventually die) are about to test a new theory that the ocean floor at the bottom of the Trench actually goes deeper. Funded by tech billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), this expedition will open new avenues for research. Unfortunately, they don’t realize that it will also open new avenues to planetary peril, and some aggressive force below traps them.
Luckily, one of them used to be married to Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who is pulled from his generic drunken sedentary lifestyle to rescue his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee). In doing so, he unwittingly creates an opening in the thermal film in the Trench, releasing the prehistoric 75-foot shark, Megalodon. Taylor has witnessed Megalodon before, but nobody believed him. With Megalodon on the loose, it’s up to Taylor, Mac (Cliff Curtis), DJ (Page Kennedy), Jaxx (Ruby Rose), some guy called The Wall (Olafur Darri Olafsson), Taylor’s new love interest Suyin (Li Bingbing), and her father Zhang (Winston Chao) to hunt down and incapacitate the Megalodon before it takes every spring break swimmer on the coast.
The Meg is at its most fun during its lively, creative action sequences that feature a number of moving parts and are often very exciting. These are surprisingly dynamic and the movie really gets going once the team starts hunting down the shark. The Megalodon, more a set accessory than an actual villain, still manages to add a chaotic wrinkle to every setpiece even if it’s not actually something to be intimidated by as an audience.
Jon Turteltaub does a lot of the heavy lifting here—most of the characters are fairly one-note and lack any significant depth, but Turteltaub directs them with easy chemistry. Nearly all of them are likeable enough, though almost none of them are interesting enough to really care whether they live or die.
Credit should also go to the screenplay for avoiding the “ex-husband and wife get back together at a time of peril” trope. They’re divorced, they won’t reunite, but they remain friends and enjoy an easy camaraderie that, with the almost sickeningly adorable youngster Meiying (Sophia Cai), makes one of the best and most genuine scenes in the movie.
That’s about all the good that can be said about the script, unfortunately. More often than not, it feels like action setpieces, gadgets, and submarines were the first thing created, with the rest of the movie built around it. Characters especially feel like the final addition, an “oh, well we’ve put the fun parts in the script, now we have to add the stupid humans” insertion. There’s little interest in these folks besides in which order Megalodon will make them its snacks. Most of the dialogue, too, is either quippy or expository, and there’s not really any creative dialogue at all.
With a movie that seems to be focused mostly on fun, anything that isn’t immediately on that same wavelength has a deflated sense of energy. Oddly, there’s a secondary focus on some surprisingly serious plot beats, including a couple of character deaths that actually bring the movie to a halt to mourn a character for longer than would seem necessary. Save for one or two characters, nearly everyone here is a SyFy-caliber quip machine, so whenever any one of them does die, it’s more of a fun moment of creative carnage than it is anything significantly dramatic. So when the movie tries to make it dramatic, it comes across as false. At worst, the movie feels afraid to feel too silly, despite a general and pervading sense of knowing what kind of genre flick it is. It ends up shuffling its feet a bit too much to make the Megalodon truly frightening.
Speaking of restraint, Turteltaub has been vocal about his wish to have been able to inject The Meg with far more gnarly violence, and the movie’s PG-13 rating is definitely felt in how toothless some of the violence is. There’s a decent amount of blood in the water and the occasional severed limb here or there, but there’s certainly a feeling that the movie could have benefited more from an R rating and a lot more gore. There’s a cheeky and obviously bloodthirsty approach to how certain characters are placed in peril, but the restraint forced on Turteltaub is easy to see in the finished product and doesn’t quite line up with the wacky trappings of some of the action scenes.
In trying to be taken just a bit more seriously than a wacky genre flick, The Meg doesn’t quite pull together. Oddly, it has many moments of self-aware silliness, and it generally knows what sort of movie it is. When it’s fun, it’s really fun, and the action scenes and character moments really pop. If only the rest of the movie had as much freedom to cut loose, particularly with the violence, this could have been a new classic. As it stands, it’s entertaining, if unmemorable.
The Meg (2018) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every “something unseen slammed into the side of the submarine” jump scare.
Do a Shot: for everyone that gets eaten
Take a Drink: whenever a character does or says something that plays to their archetype