IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 113 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Rescue diver Jonas Taylor tries and fails to save a group of scientists trapped in a nuclear submarine. He’s convinced he saw a giant sea creature, but his story is dismissed. Five years later, Dr. Minway Zhang and his daughter, oceanographer Suyin, are supervising a mission to explore a section of the Marianas trench concealed by a cloud of hydrogen sulfide. Taylor’s ex-wife Lori is one of the crew. When a very large creature hits the submersible and causes it to lose contact, James “Mac” Mackreides, another crew member at the station, suggests sending Taylor down to attempt a rescue, citing the similarity to his story and it happening in the same place. Despite Heller’s objections, Zhang and Mac decide to travel to Thailand to recruit Taylor….
Well this really should have been a hell of a lot better, and this is coming from someone with a weakness for movies featuring what to my mind is the scariest animal on the planet [which may have something to do with my parents taking me to a re-release of Jaws at ages 8]. I didn’t expect Jaws, but I did expect something on the level of 47 Meters Down or The Shallows. Unfortunately, this mostly toothless effort doesn’t come anywhere near to creating the impressive tension in those two films, while the would-be comic relief and melodramatic filler is mostly so lamely written that one begins to wish that the Meg [short for Megalodon, a shark from prehistoric times] would just hurry up and eat everyone, despite the cast actually being pretty good – well, with one major exception. Much fuss has been made about the decision to remove nearly all the gore, and, while I hate the way so many films are cut down to get that all important’ PG’13’ rating, I wasn’t initially that bothered in this instance. After all, nobody wishes that Jaws was bloodier. However, it really might have helped, because The Meg just isn’t suspenseful enough to compensate, relying largely on “jumps” to maintain some sort of edge. Yes, there are plenty of the expected moments when people are trying to desperately out swim the Meg, but when the blurry CGI creature lacks much in the way of detail or definition, it’s very hard to be on the edge of your seat.
They’ve been trying to make this movie for 21 years, and it took three screenwriters [Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber] to write the compendium of cliches that passes for a script. However, it feels like they were at odds with each other over approach and tone, because the film can’t seem to decide whether it’s slyly mocking its own ridiculousness or totally unaware of it. However, as the film’s opening scene of Jonas Taylor desperately trying to save some people underwater unfolded before my eyes, it was at least apparent that Jason Statham was in fine irascible form. Even if later on he seems ill-at-ease with some of the more cringe worthy moments he has to perform, he does actually makes some not-especially-funny lines kind of amusing by his delivery and you certainly can’t help but root for him right from the beginning when his rescue attempt goes awry. Taylor is busy saving the last survivor of the crashed submarine when he witnesses the hull being rammed in by a giant creature- though we don’t really see it. When he returns to the rescue vessel, two of his crew are trapped in the submarine but Taylor leaves anyway, realising that attempting rescue would result in his death as well as the deaths of everyone that has been rescued. Moments after detaching from the damaged submarine, it’s destroyed in an explosion. Small wonder that when Taylor is found five years later, he seems to be heavily reliant on the booze. It doesn’t take long for Taylor though to be convinced to return and confront his nemesis Captain Ahab-style, but while the others are away, pretty Chinese scientist Suyin attempts the rescue by herself and her submarine collides with the Meg before being nearly crushed by the tentacles of a giant squid – which the Meg then kills off screen – yes, you read that right – off screen – in a real wasted opportunity. If a monster film can’t be bothered to make something out of a confrontation between a giant squid and a giant shark, then you wonder what the point of making it is.
A crew member still dies, and Back at Mana One the research facility, it soon becomes apparent that Meg has followed Taylor and company there, so the group decides to track and poison it. Of course is easier said than done, and what if this isn’t the only Megalodon accidentally released when Taylor’s submarine accidentally created this hole at the bottom of the sea? I wish that more had been made of the extra underwater world found beneath the sea bed that we see at the beginning, instead of some debating about what to do with the Meg, though the sadness of one character who’s really upset by the decision to kill the Meg is largely thrown away when said character dies. Of course it’s mostly all about Meg chasing and eating people, though being 75 feet long he tends to just swallow them whole. Some of these scenes can’t help but be exciting, but too many of them are undercut by the continual attempts at humour. There’s nothing wrong with light relief, but half the time here the characters don’t seem to act like they’re in trouble at all, what with all the making of jokes and goofing around – but worse than that very little of what they say and do is actually funny. In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the original script didn’t contain much of this stuff, and that it was added later in an effort to make the movie more Marvel-like. Eventually we get the Meg heading for a crowded Chinese beach, but it all seems terribly muted, as if they weren’t so much aiming for a PG-13’ rating as a ‘PG’, and director John Turtletaub seems most interested in all the references to Jaws.
I previously desribed Suyin as being pretty, but said prettiness cannot compensate for the fact that Li Bingbing is a quite appalling actress despite having quite a number of films to her credit. This means that, while there’s a rather cute moment when Suyin leaves Taylor in his room to get dressed and looks in on him just a little bit longer than she should, there’s no chemistry between the two lead performers and their hesitant “ do they fancy each other or not” stuff just doesn’t come off. Equally forced-seeming are Statham’s scenes with Shuya Sophia Cai as Meiying’s daughter, though at least the latter’s not a bad little actress. Of course this is 2018 so we have to have a diverse cast, but what’s the point of doing so when the sole African-American character is such a stereotypical hyper active motor mouth? DJ was probably inspired by L. L. Cool J’s character in Deep Blue Sea, but Page Kennedy is mostly asked to try to be really “cool” and “funny”, even though most of his moments just land with a thud. Meanwhile Ruby Rose just does an irritating “I’m better than you” kind of pouting throughout, and in another opportunity the script creates to make things more interesting but then fails to follow up on, the character of Rainn Wilson’s corrupt billionaire Jack Morris just becomes another source of attempted laughs. And there’s little point in Lori, Taylor’s ex-wife even being in the film. The two only have one major scene together.
Not nearly enough time and effort seems to have been spent on the visual effects concerning the slightly indistinct, very simply rendered creature that we’re supposed to either be scared of or be awed by. A few moments when it appears covered in water are especially poor. I know that digitally rendering water convincingly still seems to be beyond the capability of most [though not all – I wonder why that is?] CG artists, but, compared to the very realistic sharks we’ve seen in some other recent films, one wonders how they thought they could get away with it. And only the shots of the fin really give some impression of the size of the thing – though wouldn’t it have been better if they made that real and practical to try and sell better the idea that a huge shark was about? Sadly, it probably never even entered the minds of the filmmakers and/or the studio to do that.
Overall The Meg isn’t terrible, but it’s extremely bland. Much like Skyscraper, it feels like it’s been continually screen tested to within an inch of its life so that any spark, any freshness, has been gradually ironed out of it – yet still somehow happens to be thoroughly stupid, as if the powers that be really do think that people who go to see movies are idiots. This is a film in which, for example, a plan is formulated to send somebody to sneak up on the Meg with a harpoon gun because, and I’m not making this up, “it probably won’t notice just one man”. That’s almost as dumb as the notorious bit in Burial Ground when they decide to let the besieging zombies in the house because “they move so slowly”. Though I don’t consider him to be much of a filmmaker, I actually wish that Eli Roth had directed this [as planned] because at least he would have brought some personality to the proceedings – though in a way Turtletaub has achieved something quite remarkable in my book. He’s made a shark into something that isn’t very scary. The last time I remember a filmmaker doing that in a major studio release was back in 1988 with – well, you know the film.