The new thriller, The Meg, showcases Jason Statham as the action hero he is. While providing plenty of adventure and some scares, it ultimately goes light on the gore despite having a giant shark as its centerpiece.
The film opens five years ago. A submarine is marooned in the depths of the an ocean trench. Jonas Taylor (Statham) and his crew are there to rescue the survivors. Suddenly something large starts banging the sub to the point of making it unseaworthy. Lacking time, Taylor evacuates to the escape vehicle, already filled with people. His two comrades become trapped and Taylor has to make the decision to leave with the crew members he already has saved. The sub then explodes.
Now we are in the present. Billionaire investor Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) arrives at Mana One, a marine research station which he has funded. There he meets the various crew members, led by Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao). He is there to witness their test of a hypothesis that the true ocean floor in the Pacific is concealed by a dense cloud of hydrogen sulfide. They send a search vehicle, conveniently manned by Taylor’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), Toshi (Masi Oka), and Wall (Olafur Darri Olafsson).
Their descent proves that the hypothesis is true as they discover a whole new benthic environment. Their joy soon turns to fear as they are attacked by a large creature and their vehicle becomes disabled. Mac (Cliff Curtis) states that the only viable person for a rescue is Taylor. This is controversial because Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor) at Mana One was in the rescue pod with Taylor five years ago. He concluded then that Taylor panicked and made up his story about a large creature attacking the sub.
Nonetheless, Mac and Zhang go to Thailand where Taylor now is living in relative ease and idleness. He owns some kind of fishing boat in poor repair and drinks lots of beer. Of course he still is in prime physical shape.
When they arrive back at Mana One, Zhang discovers that his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) already has descended in an attempt to rescue the others. Taylor soon joins her. When returning to the research station, they created a breach in the ocean barrier. This created a pathway for the megalodon to come to our world. A megalodon, or “meg,” is a very large shark that became extinct, or so human beings thought, millions of years ago. Now the crew must endeavor to either capture or eradicate this beast before it wreaks havoc.
All of the action scenes in the film are top-notch. They have excellent pacing, are well-filmed, and the visual effects are superb. The megalodon is truly scary with its giant mouth full of very large teeth. There were times when I jumped in my seat from surprise. The climax in particular is quite rousing.
One grows to like the characters as time progresses. Their camaraderie seems genuine. One false note is provided by Wilson as Morris. For someone who invested a lot of money into Mana One, he seems genuinely clueless about what he paid for. He never quite seems convincing in his part.
Statham is his usual reliable self and is a highlight of the movie. Li is good as a foil and eventual possible love interest. Another standout is Page Kennedy as DJ. He ends up being the voice of caution as well as comic relief.
For a film that features a giant shark, I expected to see some major consumption of human beings. All you get to see are a giant mouth full of teeth about to eat someone, and an occasional stray limb in the sea. The movie does not stint on the Meg eating other sea creatures.
This is even more dismaying when the picture provides a beach scene full of people as the Meg approaches. Admittedly each person is just a tiny equivalent of a chicken nugget to this giant predator, but a beach full of people is a family meal. Yet not one person is eaten as the shark is diverted by a plot device.
One has to speculate if the reason for this lack of gore was to get a PG-13 rating. An R rating makes it harder for teens to see the film, so this is understandable from an economic perspective. Or were the filmmakers concerned that too much graphic violence would be a turn-off to their target audience?
In any case, this unwillingness to show human casualties seems disingenuous and inconsistent with the premise. I have to contrast this movie with Jaws in this regard. Who can forget Quint’s death scene, for example?
The film also falters in other ways with tried-and-true clichés. One is the character who does something bad and then has to atone for it by their death. Another is having all of the major characters from the research station go on the same boat a la the major officers in Star Trek beaming down to a danger zone instead of sending grunts. They also note that three other boats have been destroyed by the Meg yet they are in a boat.
The beginning of the movie features an unintentionally cringeworthy scene that could be a training film for what constitutes a hostile work environment. Morris is introduced to the three-person crew and essentially asks how a woman came to be aboard the vessel. Then her two male counterparts engage in a prolonged sexual double-entendre.
Suyin’s daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), is excessively precocious, one of my screenwriting pet peeves. She also predictably serves as a matchmaker between Taylor and her mother. I had to love out loud when the film cut to a scene with Jason Statham in the shower. Of course someone knocks on his door and he has to appear nude save for a strategically-placed towel. And of course it is a woman who is at the door. I guess that the wet suits did not show off enough of his physique for the filmmakers.
The original book by Steve Alten had many sequels. Yet the movie does not end on a note that implies a follow-up. As such, the ending is nice and sharp, perfect for this type of picture.
Although the film is a disappointment as a gore-fest, it nonetheless provides plenty of thrills, adventure and action.
Rating: Three out of five stars
A deep-sea submersible—part of an international undersea observation program—has been attacked by a massive creature and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean…with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, former deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is drawn out of self-imposed exile by a visionary Chinese oceanographer, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao), against the wishes of his daughter, Suyin (Li Bingbing), who thinks she can rescue the crew on her own. But it will take their combined efforts to save the crew, and the ocean itself, from this seemingly unstoppable threat—a prehistoric 75-foot-long shark known as the Megalodon. Thought to be extinct, the Meg turns out to be very much alive…and on the hunt.
Five years before, Jonas had encountered this same terrifying creature, but no one had believed him. Now, teamed with Suyin, Jonas must confront his fears and risk his own life to return to the ocean depths… bringing him face to face once more with the apex predator of all time.
Cast: Jason Statham, Winston Chao, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka and Cliff Curtis
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenplay by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber
Based on the best-selling novel MEG by Steve Alten