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Ever since the granddaddy of all animal attack movies, Jaws, was released, everyone has been eager to follow in it’s footsteps. It’s a film that, like Die Hard, has spawned many imitators. Jaws with a croc or gator? Lake Placid, Alligator, Rogue. Jaws with a snake? Anaconda. Jaws with smaller fish? Piranha. Some films have tried to match the primal terror that Jaws captured, and many have failed. Others, meanwhile, have leaned in the other direction, embracing pulp and ridiculousness in favor of a good time with a body count. The Meg, a riff on Jaws meets Jurassic Park meets Jason Statham, features Statham taking on a long though extinct gigantic, prehistoric shark, I’ll give you one guess as to which direction they lean into.
The Meg is a pretty simple story told with a big budget and a high sheen. Underwater explorers discover that there is a floating layer of sediment at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, separating the true ocean floor from the rest of the sea. When they go exploring underneath this layer, they accidentally unleash a Megalodon shark, a prehistoric eating machine the size of a sperm whale. The group of experts then have to find a way to contain it and kill it before it does more harm to innocent people.
Much like the majority of animal attack movies, the cast doesn’t need to be impressive, it just needs to be filled with some bodies. Fortunately, Jason Statham is a lot more than a body, and his casting in the lead role of underwater rescue expert Jonas Taylor. His inclusion helps up the camp factor simply on his persona alone, giving the audience hope that we may get some hand to hand Statham on shark action.
The rest of the cast is fine, if unremarkable. Rainn Wilson plays the smarmy, aloof billionaire well, and Li BingBing is good as another marine expert and Statham’s love interest. Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, and Page Kennedy are all doing their jobs playing lesser versions of stock characters that we’ve seen before, like the badass engineer, dry witted team leader, and the funny black guy respectively. Admittedly, The Meg has a fantastically diverse cast, even if it's attempt to bring in Chinese dollars is more obvious than the giant shark.
Director Jon Turtletaub doesn’t exactly have the filmography that you’d think would make him a candidate to direct The Meg. His previous films include the National Treasure movies, 3 Ninjas, Cool Runnings, Disney’s The Kid, and Last Vegas. That being said, he does bring a workman like steady hand to some of the proceedings, with the underwater sequences probably the most effective of the bunch. The film also makes some enjoyable references to Jaws and, surprisingly, Finding Nemo, with some of them more subtle than others, but the big ones putting a grin on my face.
What the film lacks is a true personality. It tries to be serious and campy at different times and fails to fully bring the full effect of either. The movie is goofy at times, crazy stupid fun at others, yet also tries to go for genuinely suspenseful or heartfelt moments, and the mix doesn’t work. The heart-to-heart moments between characters fall flat, leaving the audience to crave more giant shark action, some of which is mighty effective. For every terrible plan, there’s a genuinely tense sequence, like the one that finds Statham swimming out in the middle of the ocean, glancing down under the water to try and find a glimpse of the leviathan that may attack at any moment. It’s one of the most effective scenes in The Meg because it perfectly represents the terror of being completely out of control with an entire world of things that could eat you swimming beneath the surface.
Even still, The Meg lacks some key components of what makes a giant animal attack movie so satisfying. For one, while there is some good shark action in display, there is never once a genuine full-blown money shot of the shark. There are some that come close, like a longer look at it from a shark cage, or one of the many times it breaches the surface, but they lack memorability.
Likewise, every good animal attack movie needs one good signature kill, regardless of the rating. Jaws and any one of it’s kills could be considered not only it’s best, but some of the best of all time. Anaconda had a half-digested, winking Jon Voight, Piranha 3D had Jerry O’Connell, Deep Blue Sea had the Samuel L. Jackson surprise. The Meg just lacks that iconic moment that should get everyone talking. One of the worst sins an animal attack movie can make is not having any memorable animal attacks.
One of the things that The Meg has going for it is the budget. The film looks great, from the sets to the action scenes to the shark itself. Everything looks very well done, and I was particularly impressed with how good a lot of the underwater scenes looked. They are, admittedly, mostly CG, but it was still pretty thrilling to see mini-subs playing chicken with a giant prehistoric shark.
Ultimately, The Meg has some fun bits sprinkled throughout, but just doesn’t push the envelope enough in either the direction of campy Jason Statham madness or semi-serious thriller. If you’re a fan of giant animal attack movies, there is definitely some things to enjoy here, but don’t expect to add The Meg to the top of your list.
The Final Pop
The Meg has some fun giant shark action and Jason Statham doing Statham things, but it’s sadly not enough to elevate this giant shark run amok flick to the higher levels of animal attack shlock. Boring character beats, not enough memorable action, and a lack of identity get in it’s way of rising to the level of other great but dumb popcorn movies. Bigger doesn’t always mean better. Microwave Popcorn