We here at Nightmare on Film Street have been ramping up to shark summer since there was still snow outside, and the sun was but only a memory. Extended Shark Week, The Last Sharknado (sure), and the pièce de résistance – The Meg.
Adapted from Steve Alten’s novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, The Meg promised to be the shark movie to end all shark movies (woo, Sharks!). I will add that the project was originally titled just Meg, without the ‘the‘. I get that hashtags and googlability are important, but just – Meg – sounds way cooler.
Audiences have been reeled in for The Meg before the first trailer had even dropped. Distributors used cheeky marketing – posters blazoned with the wee, itty bitty shadow of Jaws paling in comparison to the gargantuan that is Meg. Producers cast Millennial fan-favorites Ruby Rose (Orange is the New Black), Rainn Wilson (The Office, but like seriously – House of 1000 Corpses), and the always apathetically charming anti-hero Jason Statham (Crank). We were ready. We were so ready.
But herein lies the problem. The Meg isn’t a bad movie. And it’s definitely not a good movie. For the film to succeed – other than at the box office (because I’m sure it’ll do fine), it had to be B-Movie camp.. or a well executed and surprisingly heartfelt adventure with an impossibly large shark. It attempted both.. and failed.
Here is where I normally go into the synopsis – but before I do, I have a big bone to pick. There was no cold open. This is likely as, for the sake of the story the filmmakers wanted to tell, our scientists/explorers needed to be the ones who unleash Meg. She’s just chilling and eating deep-sea kelp and the weird monstrous fish that live down there until they prod their submarines into her weird ecosystem bubble. So I get it. Teenagers at the beach don’t really fit with deep-sea and submarines. But if you are going to get in the ring with Jaws, especially by bringing up the conversation with every poster, you need to be on the same playing field. Jaws has one of the best (I would say the best but it’s tied with Scream) cold opens of all time.
The Meg has a water-logged title card and Jason Statham opting to kill his buddies over deep-sea peer pressure to save some divers or something. Keep in mind. This is a shark movie. The biggest shark movie.
There are 3 elements every shark movie must have. One of them is your shark. You don’t need lots of shark, but you must have shark. Sunshine. Sharks interrupt perfect summer days. That’s their thing. They’re like metaphors for going back to work when you’re enjoying your day at the beach, or something. The third is murder. Sharks gotta eat, and it better be some dude’s arm. I need all of those 3 in the first 5 minutes. Why? Because shark movie.
Let’s do this right. Directed by Jon Turteltaub (known for such CGI fests as The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, and the National Treasure films), The Meg follows drunk (but only when its convenient) Jonas Turner (Statham) who’s been hiding in Thailand since his failed rescue dive that resulted in some of his diver pals being sacrificed to Davy Jones. But after the exploration mission into the what-we-thought-was-the-sea-floor-but-isn’t-actually-the-sea-floor goes awry, trapping three divers 10 000+ meters under the sea – he’s the only man for the job. Oh, and one of the trapped divers is also his ex-wife for some reason. Thus sets off the obtusely formulaic plot of The Meg.
Before he hops in his submarine towboat, Turner gets the all-clear from the disdainful Dr. Heller (Robert Teller), and has some lightly flirty banter with Suyin (Li Bingbing), daughter of Dr. Minway (Winston Chao). To be honest I don’t know what any of these people do. Suyin at one point says she dives with sharks. Ruby Rose is the one that shouts out the shark blips on the radar.. sometimes. And Rainn Wilson is playing some sort of evil Elon Musk..?
The rescue mission goes mostly okay. (I’m not ruining the movie, by the way. This is only the 1st of the 1000 missions they go on in the film.) There’s a giant squid, a giant shark, and one of the three trapped divers sacrifices himself and explodes even though he’s only had about two lines of dialogue and they were all him writing a goodbye to his wife. Yeah buddy, you’re going to die. That’s just how this works.
In doing so, they open up a tiny rift – just big enough to allow the biggest shark in recorded history to skirt through. So now they, these scientists (alarm bells go off here) who’ve discovered not only a plethora of new life, but an animal thought to be THOUSANDS OF YEARS extinct do the only thing they know how. They want to tag it, hunt it, and kill it. What?
There are a few fleetingly fun moments. The shark finds his way to a densely populated beach and a wedding on a yacht (Hey look, our cold open!). A few characters die in the un-goriest of ways. There’s some CGI shark action. And then there’s the jokes. The terribly unfunny, break for laughter but only one audience member chortles and we all feel bad, jokes.
“..All in all, if you wanted to see Jason Statham punch a shark this summer, go see The Meg.”
All in all, if you wanted to see Jason Statham punch a shark this summer, go see The Meg. But know that you’re going to have to sit through an hour-and-a-half of hamfisted emotional moments and stake-raising conflict. And also probably some of the worst dialogue and character development since the Sharknado movies. At least they know where they lie in the foodchain.