MEG 2: THE TRENCH [2023]

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Directed by:
Written by: , , ,
Starring: , , ,

USA

IN CINEMAS NOW

RUNNING TIME: 116 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera

Jonas Taylor has become an eco-warrior, working with the team of the Mana One research station to deal with the scourge of corporate pollution, obtaining evidence of companies which dump poison in the water then giving it to the authorities. Meanwhile Suvin Zhang’s brother Jiuming, who’s been raising a baby Megalodon, plans to visit a trench 25,000 feet below the surface of the ocean, using special exo-suits he’s designed. Suyin died, but Taylor has been raising her teenage daughter Meiying. Taylor, Juimung and others, including Meiying who’s stowed away, set off for the trench, where they discover a breeding area for Megalodons, and then an illegal mining operation run by Montes. Soon trapped in the station with limited contact to partners DJ and Mac at the Mana One, Jonas and Jiuming must find a way to safety….

With films like The Meg, it’s often hard to tell if they’re trying to be intentionally bad or unintentionally bad, but if anything that particular offering from 2018 wasn’t trying hard enough in both categories. It was a sizeable hit, but there was a certain run of the mill blandness about it, as if studio executives were exercising extremely strict control so that the movie couldn’t get too exciting, silly or imaginative, perhaps typified by a Meg vs octopus confrontation that mostly occurs offscreen. At least this sequel attempts to rectify that particular booboo in one scene, and pretty much succeeds, but does it otherwise improve on the original, providing the ridiculous fun that its predecessor largely failed to do? Well, one thing I should say right away – despite Ben Wheatley taking over from the journeyman John Turteltaub as director, his touch is so lacking that even seasoned Wheatley fans would have a very hard time identifying it as a Wheatley film if they didn’t already know. I guess that Wheatley, who will no doubt have to work as a director for hire every now and again if he wants to make his own projects, wanted to prove to both himself and others that he could make a highly conventional Hollywood studio movie, but it really does feel very anonymous – almost as anonymous as if it had been directed by Turteltaub. I would have thought that certain elements of the script would have been of interest to him, but for much of the time he doesn’t seem very invested in the proceedings and even largely botches some sections and scenes though poor creative and technical choices. The first two thirds, a lot of which isn’t even about Megs, could have easily lost nearly half an hour, even some of the action which is made very pedestrian, but the final third does finally deliver some of the insane fun that we have a right to expect, with crazy thrills happening all over the place so, as long as you accept that none of our main characters can even be seriously injured, let alone killed, it really is worth sitting through what goes before.

There’s a really neat opening set 65 million years ago, we see a Meganeura [large dragonfly] lying around before being swallowed by a dinosaur, which itself is eaten by another, larger dinosaur. Elsewhere on the same beach three creatures of the same species [they’re Carnosaurs but I really can’t identify them] are feeding on a large Herbivore before one of them is seized by a huge Megalodon which suddenly rises out of the water for his lunch. This establishes the role of the Megs as the top of the food chain, but also features pretty impressive CGI. Meg’s shark was largely unimpressive, even blurry and almost formless in some shots, so at least we already have one improvement. Well, for now. Jonas is now a “green James Bond”, and is introduced sneaking onto an oil rig. Almost right away he has to fight some men off, so it almost feels like we’re watching a long- in-coming fourth instalment in the Transporter series. Jason Statham still looks good doing this stuff, but unfortunately Wheatley, along with his cinematographer Tom Stern and his editors Steven Kemp and Kelly Matsumoto, decided to make it hard for the viewer to appreciate the action as it’s filmed in shakycam / flashcut fashion. Back in the eary days of Horror Cult Films, this style was almost everywhere, and consequently I seemed to be continually moaning about it, becoming a broken record. These days this pet hate of mine is less ubiquitous, and I don’t review as many new films either, so only sometimes do I have the opportunity to have a whinge, though I’m going to try to restrain myself here and move on for now.  Jonas goes into a room and downloads incriminating information from a computer onto a hard drive. Back outside, he’s confronted by some more guys with guns, but doesn’t seem bothered, then jumps into the water as a helicopter approaches – and then we’re back in safety as Jonas hands the hard drive over to two team mates. So far not bad, despite the fight filming – in fact one could watch a whole film with Statham as this character, even if the dialogue already seems to have been written by a ten-year old.

Now we meet Jiuming who’s perfecting this exo-suit, and at least our four screenwriters Dean Georgaris, Erich Hoeber, John Hoeber and Steve Allen, three of them returning from the first film, establish the main characters and their relations to each other quickly and simply without it coming across as forced, though it’s easy to grimace when we realise that Statham’s character is going to spend a lot of his time interacting with a teenage girl who’s often his equal, even his superior at times. But the idea of Haiqi, the Meg raised in captivity who could be the last of his kind, is interesting, and we worry for Jiuming when he goes into the water with Haiqi but the fish is clearly rattled by something and Jiuming is suddenly in some danger. With their special suits on board, Taylor and Jiuming lead a submersible exploration to the Trench, with Meiying stowing away to see the trench for the first time, while fellow Meg survivors DJ and Mac observe the group from the Mana One. They discover Haiqi has escaped captivity, via an especially trite piece of dialogue where someone asks someone else why a previously captured shark is swimming in the ocean, only for the answer to be “she must have escaped”. Yeah, that’s kind of the level we’re talking here. Two larger male Megs, still in the trench, mate with Haiqi. Then Jonas and his team discover an illegal mining operation in a station captained by a mercenary named Montes, who has a vendetta against Taylor for his imprisonment some time before. Montes’ crew was hired by somebody to covertly use the Mana One’s access to the trench to farm minerals that could earn them billions. Montes kills his crew in an explosion to cover up their activities, which causes a rupture in the trench and grounds both Taylor and Jiuming’s ships. DJ, Mac, and fellow Mana One analyst Jess discover that the rescue pod has been sabotaged, forcing the crew to use exo-suits to walk towards the station in the creature-filled trench. Meanwhile the rupture in the trench has freed some creatures and not just Megs….

This probably all sounds rather exciting, but nearly all of the underwater footage is very dark, so that it’s hard to always make out things properly. Of course this can work, and you’d think that a filmmaker like Wheatley would certainly pull it off, but the potentially thrilling midsection of the underwater walk becomes for the most part a blurry mess, with diminishing excitement and investment, despite a few [bloodless, of course] deaths, as the viewer is mostly confronted by lots of black and red [due to lights], with even jump scare moments not really working. What a waste, and it doesn’t bode well for the rest of the film. A fight scene in the station is also poorly done, in fact it’s positively inept, despite making brief use of a situation employed in Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom, License To Kill, and others. But the action just continues and a few chuckles might be raisedc by the comments of Page Kennedy as DJ; things such as his goofy pleasure at having bested some bad guys are extremely childish but are amusing anyway. And then, finally, it all relocates to an island resort called Fun Island, on which converge not just our good guys, and not just three Megs, but that afore-mentioned giant octopus, lizard-like creatures called Snappers who suddenly become amphibious with no warning, and lots of villains with guns. “I never thought we’d make that” says one character to another after surviving another scrape which would have killed most people. I doubt that many viewers will have been in doubt, but nonetheless the ridiculous, over the top nature of the proceedings is well orchestrated and well sustained even if it looks like the digital effects budget was running out, especially regarding the octopus’s tentacles, of which we mostly only see a couple. I almost felt like cheering during one of Statham’s silliest moments of heroics. Whether one considers him to be a good actor or not, he’s the perfect hero in a film like this, at times managing to make his quips amusing just by his delivery even if they’re not really.

There’s as much dumb stuff as in the first film, in fact probably more. Characters make stupid decisions, others can do amazing things, even basic continuity is sometimes absent. The villain who’s eventually revealed to be Montez’s boss sends the only pilot to investigate a dangerous noise, leaving herself stranded and endangered. Jonas is able to swim at the bottom of the ocean without a super-suit, something which is then explained though it’s an  explanation that leaves more questions than answers. Two guys are being shot at, the only way that they can get away is to climb a ladder but that seems impossible what with all the automatic weapons being fired at them, then suddenly we cut to them near the top of the ladder so they’re able to rush through a door to safely. And can you really make a bomb out of fertiliser? There are definite scenes that the editing was rushed, and, while it’s hard to believe that Wheatley would have accepted something like this, he may not have actually had much input or say in postproduction. He obviously had trouble getting one of his stars to give a decent performance. As we’ve already know, Hollywood productions increasingly feel obliged to include a Chinese star for the Chinese market, but they don’t always make good choices. Cast as Jiuming is Jing Wu, but his acting in English is so off that it becomes a chore to watch. In one scene he speaks Chinese while we see subtitles, and it might have been better if he’d spoken all his lines in English and one of two of the other characters understood him; hell, Jonas spent much of the events of the first movie with a Chinese person so he could c0nceivably have learnt to understand the language if not to speak it. Also very lousy is Melissanthi Mahut as security guafrd; not a single one of her lines is delivered in a convincing manner.

Scenes from the likes of Deep Blue Sea and Jurassic World are mimicked – hell, there’s even a verbal reference to Jaws 2. Yet, despite its many issues, Meg 2: The Trench feels slightly fresher than The Meg, and contains more memorable bits and pieces, if not always in a good way but at least they’re memorable. And in its final act, at least, it delivers in what it promises. As for Wheatley, hopefully he’ll now be able to put together another film of his own, though he somewhat went off the boil with the two films he made before this one. Let’s hope he doesn’t become trapped in big studio purgatory.

Rating: ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆

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About Dr Lenera 1981 Articles
I'm a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don't really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly 'have a life', I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I've always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That's not to say I don't enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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