by Tom Clocker
43 years after Jaws scared us out of the water, Hollywood is still making man vs. shark movies. The Meg is the latest film that tries to emulate, appreciate, and update that all-time classic.
This movie follows a group of researchers who try to prove that the bottom of the Mariana Trench may not actually be the bottom. The lead scientist, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) believes that it is actually a barrier and that there is more ocean beneath it. When his theory is proven correct by a submersible that passes through the barrier, there is much joy and celebrating back on the research station. However, the 75-foot megalodon shark that lives beneath the barrier has something to say about these new intruders. It attacks the sub, leaving it stranded on the ocean floor. Zhang and his crew must convince Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, The Transporter) to get back in the diving game and rescue the three stranded scientists. After the rescue mission, it is discovered that “the meg” made it through the barrier and now has free reign of the open seas. The hunt is on.
At times, The Meg can be very formulaic. The entire plot is pretty much “Man vs. Shark 101”: stumble upon the shark, the shark becomes a threat to innocent people, and unlikely heroes must kill it before it’s too late. I mean, let’s not reinvent the wheel. Right? But ‘The Meg’ does manage to get a little creative with this basic template. Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) and his writing team throw in a few somewhat interesting characters and a couple predictable, but fun, twists. The special effects are top notch, especially when it comes to the underwater research station. Unlike the similar Deep Blue Sea’, The Meg does not confine itself to that one location. Billionaire and research station financier, Morris (Rainn Wilson, TV’s The Office) leads the team of experts on multiple excursions as they attempt to chase down the loose monster. This change of scenery helps the film to not feel stale or stilted.
During the first two acts of the film, Turteltaub attempts to connect the audience with the characters on an emotional level. There are multiple scenes written explicitly for this purpose. While there needs to be a little character development in every film, it feels like these scenes are a waste of time, especially considering the beefy 113-minute runtime. It is hard to feel any real connection with these superficial characters and the run-of-the-mill acting. The only exceptions to this are the characters of Morris and 8-year old Meiying (Sophia Cai). Morris is a goofball eccentric and Rainn Wilson did an excellent job bringing the funny. But Meiying steals the show. This little ball of energy nails every line, every facial expression and is just about the cutest thing you’ve ever seen. These two characters save the otherwise dull cast and uninspired dialogue.
In the third act, when the hunt is in full force, the film gets a little cheesy. Ok, it gets really cheesy. But, it’s good cheesy. It’s man vs. shark movie cheesy. And by saving most of the cheesy for the finale of the film, Turteltaub finds the right balance of potential reality and fantasy. Through the first 80 or 90 minutes, you believe that what you see could actually happen in real life. The people are believable. The discovery of the shark is believable. It all walks that fine line. Then you get to the final 20-30 minutes and the film throws reality overboard. The movie reaches down into its bag of tricks and pulls out the one-liners and physics-defying action. The Meg definitely gets absurd, but it’s fun to watch.
Films like The Meg are designed for one purpose: to be fun. The screenplays are generally superficial and cheesy. The acting can get silly. But, as long as the audience is smiling, laughing and maybe throwing a few “Ooooh’s” and “Ahhhh’s” out there, then the film can be considering success. The Meg checks all of those boxes. It does enough to have a bit of originality while sticking closely with what has worked already.
And let’s face it. Sometimes you just want to see a 75-foot shark eat some people!