Jason Statham wrangles a mega-chunk of summer-movie shark cheese
Starring Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li & Ruby Rose
Directed by John Turteltaub
“You’re gonna need a bigger boat,” said stunned Police Chief Brody (Roy Scheider) when he got his first glimpse of the shark in Jaws back in 1975.
A much bigger boat, indeed, is what’s needed in The Meg, about a much, much, much bigger shark—a prehistoric behemoth, nearly 100 feet long, that could swallow up the great white from Jaws like a sliver of sushi.
Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction novel about the discovery of a “living fossil” in the Pacific’s Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the world’s oceans, the movie is built around British action star Jason Statham as rugged rescue diver Jonas Taylor, called back into duty when the Megaladon—long believed to be extinct—rises from the depths to terrorize the seas.
Turns out Taylor has met Megaladon before—and it made him vow to never go in the water again…
Director Jon Turteltaub came up through the Disney system, most notably with National Treasure and its sequel, Book of Secrets. He’s got a light, breezy touch—golly-whopping action and effects; easy on the violence; a wholesome sprinkle of romance and flirtation; B-movie quips and banter; and laughs to go along with the gasps. The Meg is nothing that will make anyone’s year-end awards list, but it’s certainly a mega-chunk of summer-movie shark cheese.
In addition to Statham, the movie features a cast of international players from all over the globe. A co-production between American and Chinese companies, it was obviously made with plans to extend its box-office “bite” far beyond the territorial waters of the United States.
Chinese actress Bingbing Li plays an oceanic researcher with a precocious young daughter (the scene-stealing newcomer Shuya Sophia Cai) and a supportive scientist father (Taiwanese actor Winston Chao). Australian Robert Taylor (star of TV’s Longmire) plays a doctor. There are two other Aussies, model-turned-actress Ruby Rose and Jessica McNamee (she was tennis player Margaret Court in the 2017 movie Battle of the Sexes), Japan’s Masi Oka (Max on Hawaii Five-0), and New Zealand’s Cliff Curtis (Travis on Fear the Walking Dead). You might recognize Page Kennedy (Gerald from TV’s Rush Hour). Rainn Wilson, best known as Dwight from TV’s The Office, plays an American billionaire who doesn’t want the Meg jeopardizing his research investment.
But the biggest star, so to speak, is the shark. The Meg is a real beast, a computer-generated colossus the size of a battleship, and the movie has some serious fun when it finally goes on the loose. If you think seeing a shark fin in the water is scary, wait until you see one as tall as a house slicing through the chop. If you gasped when the shark in Jaws leapt out of the water, just wait until…well, just wait.
The legacy of Jaws looms large over any shark flick, and The Meg certainly gives Steven Spielberg’s 1975 opus a big tip of its enormous fin. That’s particularly true for a big—there’s that word again—beach scene, when the Meg cruises China’s Sanya Bay packed with hundreds of frolickers enjoying the surf, sand and sun. Who’ll become chum? The tubby kid with the popsicle? The little dog that fell overboard? The doofus running in the water ball? Those horndog boys wooing the raft of bikini-clad girls?
Oh, the dread! The horror! The shark show!
And what a shark show it is, with high-tech underwater gizmos meeting elemental, old-school vendettas and legends and lore from the bowels of the Earth and, well, practically the beginning of time. When Statham’s character, Jonas—it’s hard to miss how close that name is to Jonah, who, you know, got famously swallowed by a whale—goes mano-a-mano with his nemesis, he’s going full Moby Dick, harpoon and Ahab and all.
The plot can barely stay afloat, logic flies all over the place and character development is as shallow as the ocean is deep. And the movie seems kind of stuck in a PG-13 limbo, between what could have been a gutsier, bloodier, gonzo R rating, and a more Disney-fied, hokier, jokier, family-friendly adventure. (There’s even a subtle Finding Nemo reference.) It ends up feeling rather neutered, like something awesome, powerful and truly terrifying has been throttled back, tamped down and packaged as mass entertainment for wide consumption.
Which, of course, is exactly what it is.
“That thing is the devil!” one character says, watching anxiously as the Meg trails his watercraft. Hardly. But The Meg is one hellishly huge fish fix for pop-culture shark fans. TV’s “Shark Week” is over. Summer’s coming to a close. So c’mon in—the water’s not exactly fin-tastic, but it sure does make a massive movie splash.
In theaters Aug. 10, 2018