Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Cliff Curtis, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Jessica McNamee, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Shuya Cai, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Masi Oka
Sometimes, it’s the films that ask ‘what if?’ that can be the most entertaining, particularly when they involve something that is close to, if not entirely, impossible. The Meg asks, what if a prehistoric, long-extinct aquatic creature still existed, unbeknownst to us, in deep uncharted waters? We’ve seen sharks depicted as savage (and hungry) carnivores many times in films gone by, but nothing that quite compares to the size (or appetite) of Jaws’ ancestor, the Megalodon. So is The Meg full of that ‘what if?’ entertainment, or is it just another drag of a horror B-movie?
A group of researchers, predominantly from America, China and New Zealand, make their base, funded by billionaire Jack Morris (Wilson), in an underwater facility above the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean. On the basis of a theory that the seabed at the bottom of the Trench might not be the actual bottom, they send a team of scientists down to explore. On finding the seabed to actually be a layer of hydrogen sulphide, the team continue down through it to see what lies beneath, where they are attacked by a giant unknown creature and their sub is damaged. In order to rescue them, one of the crew at the base, Mac (Curtis), contacts his old friend Jonas Taylor (Statham), a rescue diver who has had some previous bad experience with said unknown creature. The team including Taylor decide to find a way to destroy the creature that they realise to be an ancient Megalodon, a feat that becomes fraught with danger, possibly biting off more than they can chew.
In an interview with Empire magazine, director Turteltaub said, “…we’re not making a horror, but we’re not making a spoof either. This is an adventure film that happens to have a giant shark in it.” This is kind of an odd statement. The “adventure” aspect must be in reference to the exploration of the deep, as there’s not really any other aspect of “adventure” in The Meg. Yes, there’s plenty of action and some drama to boot, but “adventure” generally makes you think of Bilbo Baggins running out of Bag End and following the road that goes ever on and on, down from the door where it began. It is an action/sci-fi with a horror vein running through it that has its arteries springing from the heart of Spielberg’s 1975 classic Jaws. The Meg certainly has its John-Williams-score-worthy moments, where the Meg does what sharks apparently do best and creeps up on unsuspecting people, but it’s nothing we wouldn’t expect from what is, really, a shark movie that doesn’t “just happen to have a giant shark in it”. The clue is in the film’s title.
Despite the confusion over what this film is actually supposed to be (it’s not a spoof, but it homages other shark-based movies quite a lot), it is very entertaining, with fairly thrilling action sequences, even if the story itself is nothing particularly new to audiences, other than the size of the fishy antagonist. And although it has that ‘what if?’ element that’s great for sci-fi, it is strangely ignorant of real-life issues that come with deep sea diving (apparently no one in the film has heard of the bends, aka decompression sickness, which can be fatal). A lot of the film’s entertaining aspects actually come from the abilities of its actors, and one actor in particular.
There’s something about Jason Statham. He has a strange onscreen presence that is understated yet purposeful and commanding. He doesn’t even really look like your usual Hollywood leading action man – yes, he has the physique (which this film lets us know during one scene), but he’s not really anything like the action men Hollywood has made us believe are the cream of the crop: not a ‘pretty boy’ like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp, not overly built like Schwarzenegger or the owner of a jawline like Henry Cavill, but Statham has his own unique look that works and sets him apart, and his ability to actually act is clearly a box office draw (not something every action man can claim). A movie about a large killer shark might not seem like a movie the Stath would care to appear in, but thank goodness he does, because he often makes it watchable and fun (his rendition of Dory from Finding Nemo’s little ditty, ‘just keep swimming’, is an absolute highlight). Other cast members like Curtis, Kennedy, Ólafsson and Oka also bring elements of comedy to keep the film lighthearted and stop it from taking itself too seriously, which sounds like just the balance Turteltaub wanted. Female counterparts in the form of Bingbing, McNamee and Rose also hold their own in what otherwise would have been a very male-dominated movie. Bingbing in particular showcases a new kind of heroine, bringing a lot of aspects to her character of Suyin that have generally been considered not film-worthy in the past: she’s Chinese, a scientist, a mother and a bit of an action badass. Suyin is not afraid to risk her life for others, but also puts her daughter first. Bingbing perfectly balances these aspects of Suyin to create a pretty well-rounded character. Suyin and Statham’s Taylor do often engage in light flirtation, but it doesn’t overshadow everything else. And a quick mention of Cai, who plays Suyin’s daughter Meiying, who is utterly adorable and probably gets the best lines of the film, other than Statham.
The Meg does indeed make use of its ‘what if?’ to entertain the masses. Turteltaub and his filmmaking team may have skipped merrily on by the realities of nature, but then that’s quite the rabbit hole to go down when talking about a film featuring an extinct creature. On the surface, it really is just an enjoyable film. It might have been about twenty minutes too long; a lot of it could have been scaled back and more purpose put into the plight of the characters and the story, but the characters make it what it is, and that is pure on-the-surface entertainment. It is very candid about its inspiration: a beach scene is practically lifted shot-for-shot from Jaws, and the name Jonas is surely lifted from the biblical tale of Jonah and the Whale, but it’s just trying to heighten what past films have already laid down. It certainly manages to heighten a lot of things, but Jaws or The Abyss it ain’t. It probably now runs (or swims, if you will) in similar circles (or schools…) as the likes of Deep Blue Sea and The Shallows, but it won’t grasp an audience looking for more than some fun-filled action and a bit of Jason Statham.
Also, thought of the day: wouldn’t “The ‘Don” have been a better title? The answer to that is, yes.