A Jason Statham vs Giant Shark movie really should only be two things: very stupid, and very fun. Certainly, the trailers for The Meg suggested a self-aware romp that was hardly going to push any storytelling boundaries but, with tongue firmly in cheek, be entertaining from start to finish. Unfortunately, the finished product is not in on the joke like the marketing was, leaving us with a weirdly earnest monster movie with a script that needed to take itself far less seriously.
Surprisingly based on a novel, The Meg’s story is a combination of streamlined simplicity and fake science nonsense. A marine conservation lab under the sea near the Chinese coast uncovers a new sea floor beneath a previously impassable layer of freezing gas, waking up a 25-meter Megalodon, which inevitably proceeds to chase down our protagonists with a determined focus more akin to a serial killer than a force of nature. The research station calls in Jonas Taylor (Statham) – the only person on earth to have witnessed the Megalodon before and lived – to help them kill the giant shark and that’s really all there is to it.
With this premise, it shouldn’t have been hard to deliver a pleasingly idiotic B-movie, but the writing all too rarely enters the campy silliness territory needed to elevate The Meg into cult status. Instead, unconvincing romantic beats and horribly strained one liners sap away energy and good will, as do the cuts made to ensure a family-friendly rating. What should have been a gory, schlocky ride ends up as another personality-free US-China coproduction like Pacific Rim Uprising or Great Wall.
Statham does bring a campy, self-aware charm to proceedings, but both he and the star monster are somewhat underused, especially in the tedious first act. Most of the other characters, like action-scientist/love interest Suyin (Bingbing Li) and station chief Mac (Cliff Curtis), barely register, though Statham does have a fun dynamic with Suyin’s daughter Meiying (Sophia Cai). Rainn Wilson largely steals the show as the self-regarding Elon Musk-esque billionaire buffoon financing the operation, one of the very few characters allowed more than one archetypal trait.
A couple of set-pieces do manage to raise the pulse, director Jon Turteltaub conjuring some witty fake outs that effectively build tension before someone is inevitably eaten. Yet, the unsure tone, never fully committing to either real stakes or a Deep Blue Sea-style ‘the deaths matter more than the characters’ mindset, leaves most scenes stranded between sincerity and nihilistic fun. Clearly given a budget too big for its own good – and presumable studio interference to match – The Meg fails to deliver on some pretty basic promises.