The Meg (2018)
If you have seen any of the marketing material or trailers for The Meg, then you know exactly what you’re getting right from the get-go. All movies inherently require the viewer to suspend their sense of disbelief to various degrees. Naturally, the “creature feature” genre asks audience to go the extra mile with this concept. The Meg takes a major gamble by insisting that everyone goes further still, not by believing in a giant prehistoric shark (Megalodon) but that Jason Statham is a ex-navy, deep sea rescue diver. However, it pays off and the resulting movie is staggeringly stupid, but mercifully entertaining in an undemanding way. Recent movies such as Into the Storm and Geostorm are crass and made worse by their implicit assumption that their viewers are stupid. The Meg is far from cerebral but has an upbeat tone and a sense of playfulness that knowingly invites the audience to come aboard with the silliness. It’s a big distinction and the reason why I smiled a lot and frequently rolled my eyes while watching The Meg, but never with derision.
Plot wise, no cliché, genre trope or established cinematic convention is left unturned. Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) retires with a cloud over his head after leaving several fellow divers behind during a deep-sea rescue. His claim there was an imminent danger from some unknown sea creature, is not believed by fellow team mate Dr Heller (Robert Taylor), who suspects he may have suffered pressure-induced psychosis. Five years later an incident involving a submersible, trapped in the Marianas Trench, forces Jonas out of retirement and into a confrontation with his aquatic nemesis, a prehistoric Megalodon. The creature subsequently escapes the depth of the ocean trench and threatens the safety of an underwater research station, Mana One, owned by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) and run by oceanographer Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter and fellow scientist Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing). After a failed attempt to destroy the shark, the creature heads off towards the major tourist resort of Sanya Bay in Hainan Province, China. Digital effects abound, scenery is chewed by the cast, Statham is gruff and does everything one expects of him.
The Meg is effectively a big budget copy of the sort of movies The Asylum make, which is ironic on multiple levels when you think about it. It is one of the few recent US-Chinese co-productions that actually manages to maintain a sense of identity. Often when trying to please multiple markets, cultural and social differences are stripped back from the narrative resulting in a very bland and homogeneous product. The Meg manages to maintain a foot in both nations’ respective zeitgeist and the brief scenes showing the Chinese middle-classes indulging in identical leisure activities to their western counterparts is an interesting reflection of the nature of globalism. However, this brief moment of depth is more than likely purely accidental. As for the shark itself, it suffers from being purely a CGI creation and oddly enough, it’s size actually makes it less threatening. This isn’t Jaws where victims are slowly dismembered as the shark feeds. This is a Megalodon that can swallow multiple people in one mouthful. As a result, the climatic action scene at Sanya Bay is fun but oddly not that shocking. The Meg certainly doesn’t push the boundaries of its rating.
Some viewers will still find The Meg too “stupid” for their tastes. It is the sort of movie that is best viewed in the company of likeminded friends, late on a Friday night, after an evening in the pub. It is fair to say that if it wasn’t for the presence of Jason Statham, Cliff Curtis and Shuya Sophia Cai then this would have simply been a DTV release with an unusually big budget. It’s difficult to put an exact finger upon it, but Jason Statham has created his own unique niche within the action movie genre and he carries this movie by his own curious form of star appeal. Plus, the “creature feature” genre still seems to have an inherent attraction with audiences, as the box office returns of the Jurassic Park franchise prove. I’ll be honest and state that my interest in The Meg doesn’t go so far as a sequel. This sort of movie is the equivalent of a greasy burger you buy at the funfair. It’s fine once in a while as an indulgence, despite the fact that you know it’s bad, but you would soon tire of them being a regular part of my diet.