Movie Review: ‘The Meg’ Lacks Bite

Movie Review: ‘The Meg’ Lacks Bite

Poor, poor Meg: after the prehistoric shark (short for megalodon, who went extinct a few million years back) is inadvertently released from the icy depths deep beneath the Mariana Trench, a team of deep-sea researchers... hunt it down in order to kill it. 

Their goal, in The Meg, is to save humanity from this one 30-meter-long shark in the vast oceans of the coast of China. he team of researchers led by Jason Statham’s deep-sea diver Jonas just instinctively know that she’s headed for China’s Sanya Bay, home to some of the most densely-populated beaches in the world.

The Meg’s curiosity results in the death of one researcher when it rams a sub vessel; a few more get gobbled up after they start to hunt it down using, at various points, tracking darts, machine guns, lethal doses of whale tranquilizer, and depth charges. 

But is the Meg really a threat? Sure, it’s a pretty big shark, but it’s not a literal monster out to snack on humanity. I don’t think more than a handful (four? five?) of people get eaten - not even the small dog - though thing get a little hazy during the film’s climactic action.

When Steve Alten’s bestseller Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror was released two decades ago, plans for a film adaptation were almost immediate: Alten’s book may not have been high literature, but it was the perfect kind of cheesy source material that might give the shark movie genre another Jaws-like blockbuster.

After two decades in development hell, attached at various points to names like Guillermo Del Toro and Eli Roth, 2018’s The Meg falls under the direction of Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure), who brings to the movie a disarmingly straightforward - and mostly serious - approach.

Alten’s novel, for example, opens with a Jurassic prologue in which a T-Rex falls into the ocean to be gobbled down by the megalodon. The new film, meanwhile, shifts the focus to Statham’s Jonas, who must leave two men at the bottom of the sea during a Cliffhanger-like intro that hangs over the rest of the movie. 

Much of the rest of The Meg becomes a Jason Statham action movie, only this time his adversary is a giant shark. Potential love interest Suyin (Bingbing Li) also sometimes gets in on the action, going in a plexiglass shark cage, a sci-fi submersible, or even sans any shark protection in order to stop this deadly beast at all costs.

But what is Rainn Wilson’s billionaire doing dropping bombs from a helicopter to try and stop the shark? Why is Page Kennedy’s drone pilot - who can’t even swim - going shark hunting with the rest of the team? Ruby Rose’s programmer? Winston Chao’s head researcher? Cliff Curtis’ character does something vaguely heroic at one point, but otherwise I couldn’t tell you why he’s in the movie.

Sure, they’re all part of the team that let this “monster” out, but there must be a limit they’re willing to go to in order to atone. 

I was rooting for the shark throughout the duration of The Meg: it only seems to attack out of curiosity or self-defense, and I have a feeling our protagonists put more lives in danger than they save. Is the shark really, instinctively, making a bee-line from it’s home in the ocean depths to the beaches of China? Or are our heroes chasing it there?

In the end, even a 30-meter shark is no match for a shirtless, impeccably-toned Jason Statham, flying through the air (or water) with a combat knife between his teeth. But who is? At least semi-serious The Meg is no Sharknado, I initially thought. By the end, however, any sense of fun that might have been garnered by mixing the cheesy source material with goofy Statham action has been thoroughly drained.

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