The Meg Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by Warner Bros
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Steve Alten (novel by)
2018, 113 minutes, Rated 12A
Released on 10th August 2018
Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor
Bingbing Li as Suyin
Rainn Wilson as Morris
Cliff Curtis as Mac
20 years after its publication, and following years of attempts to bring Steve Alten's giant dino shark novel to the big screen, The Meg is finally here. Who could have foreseen that she'd bring Jason Statham and the People's Republic of China with her?
Sorry Eli Roth; sorry R-rating; sorry the 'the'; National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub helms this bloodless adaptation of Alten's novel(s), with popular hardman Statham taking on the role of deep sea diver and submarine expert Jonas Taylor. Frequent Turtletab collaborator Nic Cage would have made a far more convincing version of the character as written in the books, but this isn't that; The Meg is as much Jason Statham summer action movie as it is giant shark extravaganza.
Everything but the loosest idea of the character is jettisoned as Taylor joins a vastly multicultural group of scientists and civilians under the sea, where a hitherto unexplored stretch of the ocean has just been discovered, and his ex-wife is trapped in a damaged submarine. Enter 'the Meg', a 70-foot Megalodon shark; pissed off, hungry and responsible for Taylor's allegedly crippling PTSD.
Which, like his drinking habit, lasts all of five minutes. Statham's Jonas Taylor is the least alcoholic alcoholic ever seen in a film, suffering from post traumatic stress in spite of rarely appearing to be traumatised or stressed. Which is probably for the best, since the film requires him to do just about all of the hard work. Whether it's rescuing downed submarines or swimming after a giant shark to pin a tracking device on it, Statham's your guy. Chinese star Binbing Li gets a couple of studio mandated bits to do, but she screws almost all of it up, so it's back to the Stath to save the day.
All of the time, a (large) cast of sharkbait looks on, mostly in awe of our dome-headed hero. Only Rainn Wilson makes much of an impression, being afforded both a character to play and the most solo screentime of anyone beyond the Stath. He's also the only one of the lot with any charisma; everyone else is either terrible in it or desperately underserved by the script.
But in the end, the only thing that really matters is the Meg herself. And in this respect, The Meg is... just fine. This is action on a budget unaffordable to sharks since Deep Blue Sea, and Turtletaub has a lot of fun with his big beast. The film is at its best before we actually see the Meg, but each and every moment she is on-screen is thrilling, fun and well presented. While the CGI certainly isn't flawless, it delivers, and feels like a tangible threat throughout. Which is good, because you had better believe Statham is going toe-to uh, fin, with that shark.
If Jason Statham fighting a 70 foot Megalodon is what one is looking for from a big summer action film, then The Meg is the film for you. It's big, brash and frequently often sometimes fun. Its Chinese-American co-production lends it a different feel to most summer blockbusters, and largely, the melding of sensibilities works (depending on how one feels about the Chinese sense of humour and over-schmaltziness).
And yet there's an underpinning cynicism to the film that I found almost impossible to stomach. The Meg is a film coldly calculated to appeal to as wide an audience as possible, from its star (like The Rock, a big draw) to the chemistry-free love interest and boring PG-13 rating; even little Meiying is so over-designed for cuteness (light-up trainers, mis-matched clothes, butterfly wings) that she might as well have been a CGI creation herself. Where Alten's novel was a moderately decent rip-off of a Michael Crichton book, this is the modern movie equivalent – more Jurassic World than Jurassic Park.
The studio commitment to being light and cheery leaves us lumped with a massive cast Turteltaub can't – or won't – kill off, reluctant cannon-fodder only half of whom will actually die. And so Turteltaub and The Meg take their frustration out on whale after whale – a curious through-line in animal violence which leads to some of the film's gnarliest sequences.
The Meg knows that all that really matters is Jason Statham fighting a giant Megalodon and half-asses the rest. It's entirely without tension, without character and often without charm. But Jason Statham does fight a giant Megalodon.