Since the release of Jaws in 1975, every five years or so has a brought a film that’s intended to be “The Next Great Shark Movie.” Some, like 2011’s Shark Night, become forgettable works of pseudo-parody. Others, like 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, become generational cult classics; still others, like 2003’s Open Water and 2016’s The Shallows, pass critical muster but fail to garner a mass following. Hollywood’s latest toothy offering, The Meg, seems to have set its sights on being all of these things, and in the process fails to really deliver on any of them.
Having done as much cinematic damage as he can on land, Jason Statham takes to the seas as Jonas Taylor, a deep-sea rescue diver with a past who reluctantly signs on to a rescue mission when an ancient 80-foot megalodon (the titular “Meg”) is discovered at the bottom of the Mariana Trench. If you find yourself rolling your eyes at the previous sentence, then this movie is either right up your alley or something you should avoid at all costs, depending on your tolerance for absurdity. Statham is forced to team up with a group of scientists — including Bingbing Li and Ruby Rose, and a tech billionaire played by Rainn Wilson — to figure out how to defeat the giant fish and save humanity from extinction.
The Meg is at its best when it embraces its B-movie roots, thriving on the gasps and applause of its popcorn-munching audience. One fake-out, in particular, is engineered to draw a smile out of even the most cynical moviegoer. Unfortunately, the film seems afraid to dive into the deep end of its own schlock; for every cheer-inducing scene of shark mayhem, there are three scenes of Statham stoically addressing his co-stars, mixed with character development that might work in a movie where we really cared about any of the characters. There’s a reason that no shark movie since Jaws has fully succeeded as both a creature feature and a character study, and even that feat required the guiding hand of one of its generation’s most brilliant directors and a cast of world-class actors. The Meg, alas, has neither; no offense to Mr. Statham, but Robert Shaw he is not.
It doesn’t help matters that The Meg has been saddled with a PG-13 rating, which draws in more potential dollars but makes the shark mayhem practically toothless. When the megalodon finally makes it to civilization in the third act, you can practically feel the audience leaning forward in anticipation. The promised carnage never comes, however, leaving the ending of The Meg flat, despite an act of physics-defying super heroics that will likely be enough to leave many moviegoers walking out of the theater still laughing (in both the good way and the bad way). However, The Meg has been sold for months as a film where the biggest shark to ever appear in a summer blockbuster will finally feast on an ocean full of unsuspecting humans. This feels like the kind of film The Meg so desperately wants to be. As it turns out, we’re left to settle for some off-screen deaths, lots of close calls, and the small amount of blood the film’s rating will allow. The Meg could have been an unabashed gorefest, and seems to be setting one up, but ultimately fails to deliver. What we get feels like a missed opportunity.
The Meg isn’t a horrible film, but it’s not a very good one either, largely due to its complete unwillingness to fully commit to being the high-budget “low-budget” film it shows glimpses of. If the creative team had been more willing to jettison the serious stuff and risk tens of millions of dollars on an even bigger, even dumber giant shark movie, it may well have succeeded. Its big dumb moments are, by far, the highlights of the film. Unfortunately, The Meg hedges its bets and ends up weighing itself down with the kind of heavy plot and character work its audience couldn’t care less about. There’s a time and place for nuance and character. There is also a time and place for an 80-foot shark to try to eat the quippy star of the Transporter franchise for 90 minutes. This movie has too much of the former and too little of the latter. By not exploiting its strengths, The Meg exposes its weaknesses, ultimately causing the entire film to slowly sink to the bottom of the sea.
Check out this bonus video where stars Ruby Rose and Rainn Wilson take on other monstrous Megs.
Producer and film critic for Screen Junkies/FANDOM! I’ve been a movie lover all my life and want to share that passion with as many people as possible!
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