|UK Release Date||10th August 2018|
|Reviewed||15th August 2018|
Ah, nothing more than we love here than a shark movie. To be honest, we’ve been a bit remiss recently, having missing 47 Meters Down and Open Water 3: Cage Dive we were keen to amends with this one, especially as it starred a BS favourite in the form of The Stath.
In general, shark movies can be boiled down to maybe three categories: 1. Survival Horror Shark - which I think pretty much covers the original Open Water as well as the more recent effort, where the plucky protagonists are somehow left at the mercy of a huge shark or sharks and the filmmakers go out of their way to make it all stand up to some level of scrutiny. The Shallows is a great example of this, huge amounts of fun, tight premise and convincing central performance from Blake Lively (see also The Reef). 2. Science Horror Shark - whereby people mess with either the shark’s environment or mind and it all goes spectacularly pear shaped, the wonderfully nuts Deep Blue Sea is the granddaddy of this one by now but you could arguably chuck Piranha in there as well because when you’re being chased by one huge fish or many small fish, it’s still only the teeth that really matter. 3. Anything made by Syfy. Which doesn’t really need any further description beyond the note that it’s a shark + something bonkers. There is a 4th category but that’s just for Jaws all by itself and we won’t sully that magnificent movie by talking any more here about it.
So, all this hard swimming brings us to The Meg. Which, crucially, has no idea which of the above categories it wants to be in. The ‘plot’ finds Jonas Taylor - Jason Statham (who, whichever way this review goes, we have nothing but absolute respect for) rescuing people from a submarine. Things go wrong and he ends up having to leave some mates behind. Some years later, an underwater lab is fiddling with the thermocline at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, something manages to disable Taylor’s ex-wife’s submarine and the only person who can save everyone is now dozing in a bar in Thailand. Queue lots of ‘Jonas was right!!!!!!’ style dialogue and soon The Stath is en-route to the trench and a showdown with the creature what done it.
We always try to lead with the good on movie reviews because we love movies and we always, always want them to succeed. This is not always possible though. So let me chuck out the one glaring fact that no doubt every single other review has flagged on this one - at no point prior to ‘Jonas was right!!!!!!!!!” is the Megladon mentioned. The initial rescue happens in a submarine (not a vehicle known for its windows) and all The Stath sees is a blob on a sonar, before something hits the sub and the pressure destroys it. I understand that nit-picking movies like this does nobody any good but this is CRUCIAL to what’s wrong with Taylor and even within the movie’s own silly logic it doesn’t work. And it sends the whole movie off down a conflicting path it never recovers from.
The movie can never decide whether it’s a serious survival movie with genuine things to say about the environment, whether it’s an action vehicle for a star way too talented to be in it, whether it’s about an evil capitalist wreaking havoc with his pliant employees, or whether it’s simply a big funny thrill ride with a giant fucking shark in it. It never picks any of these lines and it can never reconcile them. Because one minute we’re nodding sagely along as the dead are mourned and the next we’re laughing as a practical joke goes spectacularly wrong. And the next, Rainn Wilson, in what he’d like to think is the Samuel L Jackson from Deep Blue Sea role, pinballs between telling everyone he doesn’t care about anything but the money he’ll make from the whole thing and weeping at the loss of crew and back to maniacal hunter. Or at least what counts as maniacal when you’re Rainn Wilson. Which is pretty much just over-gravelling your next blithering nonsense.
The family friendly (I kid you not, there was a guy in the screening with an eight year old and I judged him. I bet she had a great time) rating for the movie hampers things even more. Where Piranha (the new one anyway) doubled down on every conceivable moment of gore with a hysterical joy you rarely find outside a teenager with a helium balloon, The Meg has to flinch away to maintain it’s 12A. Which isn’t to say it has to be gory to be a success, there just needs to be something else there, like a bit of tension maybe. Sadly, Jon Turteltaub (director of such hits as, er, Last Vegas and National Treasure) wouldn’t know tension if it, well, if it waited for just the right amount of time and jumped out of the water at him. The entire event has an uneasy, 'lets keep it safe and geographically convenient for the overseas market' feel about it, which means it will no doubt more than make its money back.
Every element of the movie is stuck together wrong, the chemistry between The Stath and Bingbing Li (as Suyin, the operation’s head scientist) is so awkward it could be a teenager’s first kiss. I’m not insisting they get it on, far from it, but the movie definitely wants us to think that way and the stars just aren’t aligning. Now that I think about it, the best part of the entire movie is Shuya Sophia Cai as Suyin’s precocious eight year old daughter Meiying. She’s easily the equal of everyone else on screen in terms of acting (even The Stath struggles to get anything meaningful out of the rotten script) and the scenes between her and The Stath show all the warmth that’s missing from anywhere else in the entire movie.
And what of The Stath? Well, the movie just isn’t the right one for him. There’s no room here for his brooding malevolence or his magnificently balletic fighting or his comic timing. All he has to do is grumble out meaningless nonsense like “Didn’t it occur to you that Mother Nature knew what she was doing?!” or some such rubbish and occasionally swim directly towards a hundred foot prehistoric shark.
Sigh. I wanted so much more from this and I know the above would generally point you towards this movie being awful but that’s just our naturally high shark expectations. The Meg isn’t terrible, it’s generally entertaining but every time I think back on it, I come up with another piece of the puzzle that just doesn’t fit. It has a natural conclusion about halfway in but because that’s not long enough for a movie, it presses on with a whole other thing, which then means what should have been an on the nail 90 minute thrill ride, stretches into just shy of two hours of meandering between different styles of movie. I very nearly forgot to properly mention the Megladon itself. Another misstep. Bigger does not necessarily equal scarier. All proportion is lost over a certain point so what’s the point of the extra size? I’ll end on another positive - Ruby Rose. Wasted here but still a great brooding presence and one that will grace the new Batwoman series if the haters don’t drive her out. Oh, and they nicked the humorous "Fin" end title from the great 2014 short film Sharkosaurus directed by Spencer Estabrooks.