It’s not every day you see a high-speed chase between a submarine and a prehistoric megashark.
Director Jon Turtletaub (director of 90s gems like Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping and the National Treasure franchise) heralds the return of shark attack movies, a genre made famous by Steven Spielberg’s Jaws way back in 1975, with The Meg, featuring our favourite square-jawed, heroic star Jason Statham.
But make no mistake, The Meg is no Jaws. In aesthetic and intention, it comes closer to its other B-movie cousin Sharknado, a movie so uniquely terrible that it spawned three sequels. However, what works for our newest creature feature is its huge cast and an earnestness that belies the sheer ridiculousness you’re watching on the big screen.
The Meg begins with Statham’s Jonas still recovering from a rescue mission that went wrong. But when another expedition, which includes his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee), gets stranded at the bottom of the ocean, Jonas comes out of his self-imposed sabbatical and dives right in. Accompanying him on this rescue is headstrong and idealistic Suyin (Chinese actress Li Bingbing), who works at the futuristic research base that sent the expedition out in the first place.
The two come face to face with the megaladon, a 75-foot prehistoric shark that was believed to be extinct, that they accidentally bring back to the surface, and boy, he’s hungry.
Rounding up the cast at the research headquarters include Suyin’s father and head researcher Dr. Midway Zhang (Winston Chao), millionaire CEO Jack Morriss (Rainn Wilson), tech head Jaxx (Ruby Rose), mission supervisor James Mac (Cliff Curtis) and resident doctor Heller (Robert Taylor).
The huge cast both works for and against the movie. While it adds to the story’s diversity and makes room for bigger set-ups, The Meg wastes a lot of its time in setting up back stories and creating some level of emotional depth for all of these people, and all the exposition can seem contrived even to the most optimistic of audiences.
The second half is where the movie really hits its stride, where the set pieces keep getting bigger and bigger. The wait surprisingly begets huge pay-offs, including a puppy versus shark moment that will most likely stay with you a while after you’ve left the cinema. One of the biggest strengths of the movie is that it never feels repetitive: Turtletaub ensures a change of scenery almost every 20 minutes, and with it comes its own new set of challenges. So we go from submarines to big boats to underwater human-shark duel to crowded beaches, and the rapid pace keeps the movie from sinking.
Statham appears in his most family-friendly, PG-rated role as yet, which can be confusing given The Meg’s B-grade undercurrent. And while he strains under the pressure of juggling the action hero and rom-com chocolate boy personas, he manages to pull it off with a winning smile and that trademark knowing look in his eyes.
The rest of the cast mostly hold up their end of the stick. Bingbing is cutesy and glowing, but is hesitant on dialogue delivery, sucking all the chemistry out of what otherwise should have been explosive banter (some of the credit also, of course, goes to a subpar script but no one’s looking for an Oscar here). Rose as the androgynous tech wizard is especially winning and lights up the screen. Wilson as the clueless moneymaker is also effective.
To recap, The Meg works because it’s so busy having a blast, you almost don’t notice all the things that are wrong with it. And if Tom Cruise’s incredible Mission: Impossible — Fallout was the return of the summer blockbuster, The Meg is here to make sure you’re still having fun. So take a deep breath and dive right in.