Over forty years ago, Steven Spielberg made cinemagoers everywhere afraid to enter the ocean and changed the face of cinema with Jaws (ibid, 1975), to this day the quintessential tale of a giant shark terrorising water-dwellers. Since then, many films have attempted to recapture that magic, including Jaws’ lacklustre sequels, but, somewhere along the way, the concept of the giant shark movie fell into the dredges of direct-to-DVD and made-for-television releases.
Relegated to B-movie status, the argument can be made that cinema has not seen a shark movie with a significant budget since the underrated Deep Blue Sea (Harlin, 1999). Director Jon Turteltaub seeks to correct that with The Meg; like Jaws, The Meg is also a loose adaptation of a book, in this case Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (Alten, 1997), though it brings one crucial difference to the table: The Meg concerns a gigantic prehistoric shark hidden from the outside world for centuries rather than a giant great white.
The Meg stars Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor (these two things, the casting of Statham and his character’s name (“Jonas”), combined with the concept of a seventy-five-foot shark should tell you everything you need to know about this movie), who encountered the titular megalodon during a deep-sea rescue mission. Discredited by his peers, despite seven eleven people, he has divorced from his wife, Lori (Jessica McNamee), and descended into a drunken stupor. All that changes, however, after a group of deep-sea divers, led by Lori, breach the Mariana Trench and discover a previously hidden world of new species. Working from billionaire Jack Morris’ (Rainn Wilson) underwater research facility, Mana One, Lori and her fellow scientists are immediately attacked by a megalodon and trapped deeper than anyone has ever gone before. Against the objections of Doctor Heller (Robert Taylor), who previously judged Jonas to be suffering from pressure-induced psychosis, James “Mac” Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) knows that Jonas is the only man qualified to lead a rescue mission and, alongside Doctor Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), manages to recruit Jonas.
Despite the objections of many of the Mana One staff, Jones manages to rescue Lori and her associate, the Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), when Toshi (Masi Oka) sacrifices himself to distract the megalodon. Back on Mana One, Jonas forges connections with Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing) and her daughter, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), but, when Morris’ claims to have drafted in the army to destroy the megalodon, finds himself having to contend with the reality of a giant prehistoric shark loose in the waters.
First of all, what a great time this is for giant monster movies; Rampage (Peyton, 2018) and Pacific Rim Uprising (DeKNight, 2018) were both serviceable efforts this year alone and we still have Godzilla: King of the Monsters (Dougherty, 2019) to come next year! The important thing to remember about movies like The Meg is that they are designed to be mindless fun and, in that regard, The Meg succeeds.
Put aside any allusions that this is anything like Jaws; such comparisons are meaningless and unfair. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is that the reveal of the megalodon is a slow build (there are some perhaps unavoidable other parallels, though, such as the hunt out to sea to kill the shark and its attack upon swimmers). Once the megalodon rises from the Trench, though, all bets are off and we get to see the monstrous creature in all its glory.
A B-movie with a budget, this film is bolstered by Statham’s natural charisma; he is always so cool and composed and relatable that it is impossible to not like him and he is at his quasi-superhuman best, leaping head-first into what appear to be impossible situations and emerging unscathed by the skin of his teeth. The rest of the cast is pretty decent, too. All of the characters may be a bit one-note (there’s the billionaire, the moody Goth chick, the loudmouth comic relief, etc) but they’re fun and play their roles well even when they’re just there to be eaten. The best parts involving the megalodon might be featured in the trailer, but that doesn’t detract from the rest of the film.
In the end, The Meg is definitely a film for you to switch your brain off to and just enjoy. The one thing I always hate about shark movies is how they’re constantly compared to Jaws (and, yes, I am aware that I did that as well) but you’ve got to let that go because no film is going to live up to that hype and times have changed. Not being Jaws doesn’t stop The Meg being a decent giant monster film or a fun time at the cinema, so get any other ideas out of your head and just have fun with the idea of Jason Statham kicking a giant monster shark in the nose.
Recommended: Fans of giant monster movies and Jason Statham should be well satisfied but I’d also say anyone up for a good time would enjoy this, too.
Best moment: Obviously the megalodon’s attack on the swimmers from the trailer is a great scene that I hope gets extended and uncut on DVD, but there’s a great moment involving a shark cage too.
Worst moment: There are times when the movie is unnecessarily slow, as though it was playing things a bit too safe or straight, especially in the first quarter or so before things really pick up.