Tame Sharkzilla effort that would be lost without Statham
Ever since Spielberg changed the summer blockbuster game forever with Jaws, sharks have been one of film’s favourite villains. Whether they’re seriously sinister in entries like The Shallows and 47 Metres Down, vicious and able to turn on ovens in Deep Blue Sea, or faced with their most obvious foes, a Mecha Shark or a Giant Octopus; we love the beasts. Catching on to the viral nature of every new infamous Sharknado release, Hollywood wants a slice. Ta-dah, they’ve presented to us The Meg, a total B-movie brainchild straight from the 90s, made more possible by today’s special effects, and bolstered by the bout of the century – Statham vs Shark.
The plot is this: aquatic scientists off the Chinese coast, funded by obnoxious Muskian billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), believe they have discovered the deepest place on Earth. Formerly thought to be the bottom of the Mariana Trench, they’ve found an area of the ocean floor which is in fact cool liquid. Upon breaking through this layer, they discover a whole other uncharted underwater world, full of weird and wonderful creatures – it’s a groundbreaking discovery. What is it they say though; curiosity killed the cat. Of all the places in the world, you could find a thought-to-be-extinct prehistoric 70ft monster, it’s there. With a crew stuck down there with the Meg, specialist help is required. The big guns, the one, the only, the Stath AKA Jonas Taylor.
This isn’t exactly fresh fish to Jonas. He encountered something big in his rather traumatic past but was branded a loony for such notions. Inevitably, his rather nonchalant realisation, “It’s a megalodon”, isn’t surprising. From here, an overdrawn rescue op takes place, essentially an introduction to the titular beast before it’s set free into the great blue. The story is tiresomely derivative, not presenting any surprises, leaps or bounds. It will go exactly the way you expect it (although there are a few moments where you’re waiting on someone to face a Jackson-esque surprise death, and it frustratingly doesn’t happen). Not that originality was the film’s aim – it’s meant to be pure, stupid fun. For that to happen, the script needs to be good, or at the very least, so bad it’s good. But it’s very poor indeed, not tongue-in-cheek enough to maintain the tone it tries to create. There are some god awful lines, some of the most cheesy you’ll see in such a mainstream release, such as “It’s a good day to go fishing”, delivered by a likeable Cliff Curtis. Rainn Wilson’s character, a rich tit, is a fiendishly realised stereotype. The comedic actor is a natural at this type of role, money-focused and naive, getting a few laughs – but even he can’t escape the words he’s given, which are often noticeably awkward.
Tonally it’s all over the place, lunging from intimacy to panic, chaos to resolution, horror to laughter. The cast does not serve to save the film from this flaw, thrown around like expendable pawns who are there to keep the ship afloat. This is very much the fault of the team of writers (Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber), who in adapting Steve Alten’s source material, have lost the terror which was drizzled throughout, and failed to inject a cult cheesiness which could have made it something great. There’s not enough hilarious lines or crowd-pleasing awfulness. It’s a script that behaves itself too much considering it’s about a 70ft shark. The romantic interest of the piece is relatively refreshing, in the form of Bingbing Li’s Suyin, a mother of an adorably cute child (a fantastic addition with some scene-stealing interplay with Statham). But the filmmakers continue to throw this relationship-building in our faces when it’s the last thing we care about. We don’t need character drama or matchmaking, we need a big shark. Thankfully, pretty much any scene with Statham, the people’s action hero, works. He’s a charismatic performer, “heroic, but he has kind of a negative attitude”. He delivers some scenes with a knowing grin, a smile that is self-aware of the kind of daft thrills he’s presenting, and that really works.
Given the severe issues with the script though, the shark action needed to be good to make them more affordable. There are some great moments; a Jaws-inspired public beach assault (right down to the point-of-view camera) is a glorious ticking time bomb, the Stath descending along a cable to a sinking shark cage is pulse-pounding, an early-on deepwater escape is actually packed with some emotion. But there’s just not enough. You go in to a film like The Meg for the cheapest and most mindless of kicks. Shameless entertaining carnage; blood-soaked, terrifying, body-chomping, unstoppable chaos all dealt out by a 70ft shark beyond our craziest nightmares. The titular beast does enjoy a fair share of human meals, some gorier than others, some more surprising than others. But this is where the 12A rating (PG-13 for you American folks) is the romp’s greatest flaw. Jaws may have been a PG (upon original release), but it had the groundbreaking tension to make up for the lack of gruesome deaths. Deep Blue Sea may have been tremendously stupid, but it had crowd-pleasing slaughters (and an LL Cool J). The Meg dabbles in ‘wink-wink’ trashy humour and a few quality attacks but never decides which it wants to excel in, leaving a hunger for gloriously horrific massacres (if anyone says they didn’t want to see that young boy in the final act be eaten, they’re a liar).
Luckily, there’s a megalodon and the Stath to save it from hitting rock-bottom. Its best moments are during the confrontations with the monster, where the cast and director can finally flex their movie muscles and have some real fun. But, in a summer blockbuster just shy of two hours, it’s lacking in this department. Jon Turteltaub’s direction is okay, at best. He’s a filmmaker restricted from indulging in the darker side of the tale, forced to tone down scenes in which he could have been much more playful. Any pursuit sequences carry a fair level of tension, and look out for the money shot; a wide look at the gnashing Meg next to Statham as he treads water. But sometimes, it’s straight up bizarre. The first time we see our grizzled hero, the camera cuts around 6 times before showing us his face, just to different angles of him entering a confined submersible. Fortunately, anytime the big, certainly unfriendly shark comes along, and when Statham actually sings “just keep swimming”, you’ll probably forget about most of the problems.
As for the Meg herself; what a beautiful monster. Imposing nightmare fuel that would give Jaws a run for its money. It’s not just that it’s big (although it is really big), the menace and ferocity of its attacks are fantastic. The effects let her down a little, but considering the onslaught of the likes of Sharknado and the Mega Shark franchise, known for their hilarious renderings, this is a godsend for the genre. But unlike those truly terrible genre-pieces which are given redemption through their total disregard for quality, The Meg is too concerned with appearing to not take itself too seriously but also trying to look better than those films. There’s not even a decent theme; the music, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, who did some absolutely fantastic work on last year’s Wonder Woman, is so unmemorable you’ll question whether there was any music in it. This is majorly disappointing, considering even the stupendously ridiculous yet brilliant Deep Blue Sea at least tried in this area. Or, simply put and worst of all, it’s all a bit boring.