Back in the 1990s Disney purchased the rights to a book that was expected to be the next big shark movie thriller through their Hollywood Pictures studio. Several studio changes and a stint in development hell late and we finally have “The Meg”. Starring Jason Statham and putting the focus on a massive prehistoric shark let loose on the world “The Meg” sounds like a really cool idea on paper, but it’s messy production and high budget had many wondering if this film would be any good or even be good enough to work as a campy B-movie. I’ll be honest I was excited to see it for myself and now that I have I’m ready to give my take. Is it as bad as many expected it to be or are there redeeming qualities that make “The Meg” a harmless attempt at the summer blockbuster? Let’s take a look. This is my review of “The Meg”.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT
“The Meg” focuses on a group of scientists, engineers and technicians aboard the Mana One, a massive research facility off the coast of China led by Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and financed by tycoon Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). The group is composed of Zhang’s oceanographer daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), architect and engineer Jaxx Herd (Ruby Rose), team leader Mac (Cliff Curtis) and others attempting to dive into the uncharted depths of the Mariana Trench below a frozen layer of material separating the known waters from a hidden and potentially prehistoric world. When a mission goes wrong due to an assault by an unknown creature rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is called in to help and eventually identifies the creature in question as a Megalodon, a 75-foot prehistoric ancestor to the modern-day shark which the team shortens to simply the Meg. During their escape from the depths Taylor and the team inadvertently release the Meg into the ocean introducing the ancient predator to the modern world. When the creature sets its sights on a Chinese beach filled with unsuspecting civilians Taylor and the Mana One team must come together to form a plan to lure the Meg away and kill it before it kills them or anyone else.
I give “The Meg” credit it had me entertained. Considering its interesting and storied development and the fact that it became the butt of many jokes before it was even released “The Meg” is honestly a shamelessly good time. There’s not a lot of substance but on the surface it’s honestly not a hard watch. You get exactly what you came to see. Maybe it’s not the level you want to see it, but it’s great campy B-movie style cinema with a likeable lead, a creepy larger than life monster and some really epic action sequences that make it a lot more fun than it probably deserves to be. “The Meg” actually reminded me of the survival horror films I grew up with, the ones where it might not be as bloody or gory as you’d expect but it’s always interesting to see who’s going to die next and how. You know films like “Anaconda” and “Lake Placid”. It’s fascinating how it manages to be so engaging while also being so generic which I think is part of its charm.
Not everyone in the case really pulls there own weight but the ones that due are a breath of fresh air. Jason Statham is absolutely awesome in this movie and is clearly the one person hamming it up and having a good time. I mean, lets be real the one thing this movie had going for it from the beginning is that it’s Statham versus a Megalodon and by the end of the film that promise pays off. A few other actors manage to inject some life into an otherwise bland cast including Rainn Wilson as the financier of the Mana One group who discover the Megalodon and even Ruby Rose who brings personally one of my favorite performances of hers so far to the screen. For me Rose hasn’t really shown a lot of potential in her short list of big screen outing, but this is the first time I can truly say confidently I believe she has some great talent worth sharing. All of these actors feel like their having fun and really getting into the action of the film which, in turn, helped me enjoy myself more than I expected.
“The Meg” deserves a lot of credit for riding the line between campy B-movie quality and true theatrical action. Honestly despite its flaws I found it to be a top-notch attempt at the summer blockbuster, but just not in the 2010s. “The Meg” was a fun flashback to the 90s for me where it probably would have gone over a lot better than it has today. It has that typical 90s charm about it that doesn’t go too far but goes far enough to avoid being bland. I kept comparing it to “Deep Blue Sea” which is another shamelessly corny and campy shark movie that I just love to watch because it’s mindless animal-based violence at its best and that’s what we get here. Maybe 20 years ago when it was first discussed as a potential big-screen project “The Meg” would have held up pretty well. This might not seem like a compliment to some but for me it is because “The Meg” isn’t trying to chart new ground or be revolutionary. It’s just trying to be fun and it works in its own way. For me it recaptures the fun of a simple animal antagonist like we haven’t seen in years. It’s a cliche that I wish more movies would bring back because today it’s usually wasted on stupid SyFy films that take the idea way too far over the edge. It reminded a cinema cynic like me that sometimes you go to the movies just to be entertained and I appreciated that. It kept my attention, it presented me with a fun killing machine of a monster and some memorable human characters, and it provided some effective thrills and moments of suspense that kept it from feeling tired or boring. Considering the long and troubled process that went into making this film a reality I’d say that’s more than we could have ever asked for.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
First off “The Meg” above all else is just so cheap looking. This is a movie that took over 20 years to finally bring to the big screen and features one of the most legendary prehistoric non-dinosaur creatures ever discovered. This should have been a unique experience with great effects and awesome scares but instead the shark looks incredibly cheap, the scares are predictable and the overall quality of the story plays out more like a first draft than something that went through several directors and numerous re-writes before finally being filmed. While I give “The Meg” credit for actually working as a B-movie theatrical picture on the, when your budget is estimate between $135 million and $175 million and this is all you can produce there’s no other word that comes to mind before the term LAZY! There was so much going for this story and instead it’s just the bare basics with little obvious effort to truly make that investment worth it. “The Meg” is derivative, it’s poor quality and it never tries to deliver on much of its potential which to me was its biggest sin.
They had one of the largest, if not the largest predator in the history of the world to work with and the filmmakers made it look tame compared to some of the smaller sharks we’ve seen on the big screen. There’s even a big moment where the Meg swims though a large group of Chinese beachgoers and does NOTHING for the longest time. It literally has an entire week’s worth of food just waiting to be swallowed whole and it does NOTHING. Part of the problem however lies in the unavoidable issues that naturally come with using a massive Megalodon as your antagonist. It’s a huge beast with a mouth large enough to bite a whale in half. In reality there’s no hope for the humans. The shark wins, end of story. The writers could have gone in a more extreme direction to show us how the introduction of this predator impacted the world but instead it seems like the writers tried to over-adjust in the other direction. They made the monster too tame, too predictable, too much like a normal shark which in turn affected the payoff. This giant beast, arguably the greatest water-based predator of all time, feels castrated and mishandled to the point where in hindsight it’s frustrating just how much more ridiculous and over-the-top this movie could have been. Now I’m not asking for the SyFy treatment, I already threw their cheap productions under the bus, but more action and more creative use of the monster would have sufficed. Usually I compliment a film’s ability to remain controlled and hold things back but this is a SHARK THRILLER!!! It’s supposed to be insane and “The Meg” just isn’t. It’s fun but it’s not “holy crap what the hell is going on, this is awesome” fun. It’s just way too tame.
And of course, as I mentioned before not all the actors and actresses really give it their all. Aside from Statham, Rose and Wilson no one else is invested. They all fill their quirky character stereotypes and the lead female actor, Li Bingbing, is absolutely lifeless in this movie. She has little to no personality other than the mother involved in the danger and the love interest disguised as a capable woman. What’s worse is she has NO chemistry whatsoever with Jason Statham despite his attempt to add some charm to the relationship. Her on-screen daughter has more personality than she does. She’s just plain boring and I’d say the same for other stars in this movie as well. Only a small selection of the cast really seems to give a damn while others are just going through the motion or barely trying at all. The ones who do try add some much needed energy to the flick but there’s more that phone it in and as a result the performances as a whole all suffer.
When it was all said and done I enjoyed “The Meg” even if I didn’t love it. It’s a harmless wannabe summer blockbuster that does just enough to be as entertaining as you’d expect for a film about a massive shark attacking people. It’s nothing special by any means and its poor CGI and overall quality make me wonder where over $135 million went for this project. The story and thrills are derivative and only a small portion of the cast is actually any good, granted they’re characters we spend much of our time with. It’s a film that could go either way and really should have been a lot more fun than it really is. That said though it’s plenty fun in its current state too and if you’re looking for a mindless action thriller to occupy your time this is definitely not the worst you could do. It’s neither terrible nor great and it could have been a lot better, but thankfully it’s not nearly as bad as many expected. While on the surface it looks like “The Meg” should be among the worst movie of the year it avoids being a complete dumpster pile by offering just enough redeeming quality to pass the time. It’s one of those movies that’s just there and is sure to have its haters and its fans. For me I’m a little in between and recommend it for anyone looking for a simple good time but not for those looking for anything close to a truly worthy film about the terrifying ancient creature that inspired it.