When you’re tangling with the Megalodon, just opting for “a bigger boat” isn’t going to cut it. No, it takes a steely-faced action hero like Jason Statham — his Fast and Furious co-star Dwayne Johnson must have been busy this week — to take on the prehistoric giant shark that gives The Meg its all-too-casual title. Shouldn’t these two at least get to know each other a little better before Statham levies nicknames on his arch-nemesis?
The actor plays a deep-sea rescue diver here who’s pulled out of retirement to save his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) and her team from the aforementioned sea monster. You see, there’s a tragedy in his past that crippled his ability to do his job and saddles him with a personal connection to the beast he’s recruited to confront. Needless to say, lives are lost, and it all winds up with Statham boldly taking on the Meg himself. All in all, the film — based on the Steve Alten novel — bears a fairly by-the-numbers plot, but, let’s be real here, no one’s going to see the “Jason Statham versus a giant shark” movie expecting an intricate story. Familiar tropes pretty much come with the territory.
What’s selling folks on The Meg is the prospect of spending two hours watching some over-the-top action and spine-tingling thrills unfold on their nearest IMAX screen (what else is fit for The Meg, right?). So, it’s notable that the film doesn’t push the envelope nearly as far as some viewers are probably expecting. This isn’t B-movie insanity of the Sharknado ilk. Hell, this isn’t even on the same level as Snakes on a Plane. The Meg prioritizes family-friendly (read: bloodless) “shocks” to propel its simple plot forward, and every time you think it’s “going there,” director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) pulls back significantly.
This is not to say that The Meg needs more violence to deliver on the non-stop action promised by its marketing campaign (see the above trailer), but the film’s slow pace — its main story doesn’t even really kick in until halfway through, leaving the first 50 minutes feeling like setup — and nagging tendency to take too much of itself seriously ultimately keeps it from being the brainless blast that might have been.
The pic does squeeze a few legitimately fun moments into its latter half, including a beach sequence that feels like a deleted scene from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. But even these feel toothless and aren’t enough to make up for the sufficient but uninspired footage that comprises the whale’s share of The Meg‘s too-long 113-minute running time.
Even though the movie’s dripping with trite subplots and underdeveloped characters, the cast escapes more or less unscathed. Statham’s just as wry and charismatic as he always is, exercising his natural ability to dominate the screen no matter how strong the material is. In fact, some of his best moments are simple character beats between him and co-stars like Li Bingbing and Cliff Curtis, both of whom bring life to otherwise-flat roles.
Rainn Wilson, meanwhile, plays somewhat against type as the billionaire behind the facility where all the chaos is unleashed, but The Meg feels like it’s constantly trying to make its mind up about where to take his character. Likewise, future Batwoman Ruby Rose doesn’t get nearly enough to do, especially given her action-heavy roles in John Wick: Chapter Two and xXx: The Return of Xander Cage.
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For a killer shark film, The Meg doesn’t even develop a stable identity for its title character. In the best monster movies, the creature itself has a point of view that we can understand or, at least, presents a memorable, albeit mindless, vision of evil. These are the reasons why fans go gaga over Godzilla or flock to see the endless iterations of Michael Myers, respectively.
The Meg never receives any such development, which sounds like a silly thing to say until you consider the fact that the antagonist of the film is either off-screen being cryptically discussed or swooping in for a quick jump scare before fading away again. Granted, much of this mystery is intended to build suspense and allow for future twists, but we spend precious little time with the main attraction for most of the film, which feels like a missed opportunity.
Of course, The Meg never comes close to escaping the shadow of Jaws, but it also falls short of other contenders like Deep Blue Sea and The Shallows, which have a better sense of the kind of audience they’re trying to reach. Turteltaub so desperately wants to please everyone — from genre aficionados to casual moviegoers — with his film, and the end result is an action thrill ride that manages to entertain without ever really wowing its audience.
The Meg delivers the Statham-versus-giant-shark battle moviegoers are promised, but does so in a way that still manages to be underwhelming.