Have shark movies jumped the shark yet? Excuse the pun, I simply couldn’t help myself, but every year or so it seems like another one comes along to try and take a chomp out of that niche market. And while we seemingly always get one that makes a sizable splash, none have really stuck the landing the way the original Jaws did. Sure, we enjoy how bad they are sometimes, like with Deep Blue Sea, but even the good ones like The Shallows tend to be forgotten as soon as they come around. And even in this age of cinematic universes and wannabe franchises sprouting up like weeds, nothing’s really been able to stick save for the likes of Sharknado, considering its made-for-TV cheapness. Well, here comes The Meg, with a whole series of sci-fi novels of source material that would be perfect for mining should this be a hit, which does look to be the case. But, unfortunately, The Meg sort of straddles that line between stupid and serious, not really committing to either camp. The end result is a wishy-washy mish-mash that’s neither so bad that it’s good or so good that it’s good. The special effects give the thing some teeth, but with really nothing else to show for it, sometimes all you can say is that bigger isn’t always better.
In The Meg, scientific researchers funded by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) discover that what they’ve thought to be the bottom of the ocean actually isn’t, but instead is an illusion caused by a cloudy layer of hydrogen sulfide. So, naturally, they send a team of explorers down to check out what lies beneath, led by Lori (Jessica McNamee). Well, things go sideways when their sub is seemingly attacked by a giant creature. While the sub runs out of oxygen, the rest of the team quickly formulates a plan just below the surface in their state-of-the-art sea lab. Turns out there’s only one man to pull off this rescue mission: Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), Lori’s ex-husband and allegedly the only one to come across this deadly beast. While the rescue is successful, turns out they’ve created an aperture in the hydrogen layer, through which a Megalodon, a prehistoric shark the size of a blue whale, is able to escape. As the Meg sets its sights on the Chinese coast and the scores of people that crowd the beaches, Taylor and the rest of the team must divert it from its deadly course, and hopefully kill the thing before it can kill anyone else.
If we’re playing everyone’s favorite game, Count the Clichés – aka CinemaSins – there’s already a few in that short synopsis, the whole estranged-loved-one trope often playing out in disaster movies like 2012 – or any Roland Emmerich movie for that matter – and the whole only-one-man-for-the-job thing pretty resonant of action movies like Lockout – it’s okay you don’t remember that one, but skip to the fifty-second mark on the trailer; it’s hilarious. However, unlike those two movies, The Meg doesn’t gleefully wear those clichés on its sleeve like a badge of honor. I mean, I’m not complaining they didn’t ham up the whole ex-wife angle for the umpteenth time, but it makes one question why that particular plot detail was written in when it had absolutely no bearing on the movie at all. So for the most part all these potential tropes are actually kind of incidental, brushed aside as soon as they’re mentioned in favor of telling a story, for some reason. And let’s face it: no one comes to see a giant shark movie for the story. The story is shoot the shark, kill the shark, the end. And I wish that’s what The Meg realized about itself, that it had the ginormous potential to be wonderfully over-the-top, stupid fun, instead of hampered by a pandering PG-13 rating that bypasses everything that people want from a shark movie.
I mean, yeah, that strategy from the studio has led to it taking a sizable chunk out of the box office, surely, but in the age of blockbusters staying true to its content by going hard-R and raking it in long-term because of it like last year’s Logan and It, it makes one wonder if they simply gave up on trying to make a good movie on this one and just cashed in their chips. Granted, I know there’s not a whole lot of gore to be had when your shark’s mouth is about the size of a living room, but I believe that there’s enough talented filmmakers in Hollywood to get creative with it all – hell, look at Piranha 3D – and it could just be the case that National Treasure‘s Jon Turtletaub just wasn’t the guy for the job. I remember when Shark Night came out, which advertised itself as being the Friday the 13th of shark movies, stranding a whole bunch of young blood on a remote chain of islands in the bayou or something when a whole bunch of sharks swim up their shores. Only problem was it was similarly PG-13, and every time one of those sexy college kids got ate up one couldn’t help but feel like someone was skimping on all the good stuff. So don’t go into The Meg expecting to see any cringe-inducing thrills like when Quint slides feet first into Bruce’s mouth in Jaws.
But, yeah, as far as the visual effects are concerned, The Meg looks far and away better than some rubber bath toy blown up to scale. You won’t have a hard time believing that a fishy could be that big and yet somehow be a suitable match for Jason Statham. However, throughout all of the set pieces, very seldom is there any real sense of tension or suspense. I mean, yeah, some people die, but certainly not enough when in relation to the actual size of the cast. Again, another missed opportunity is that the movie seemingly has no idea what to do with any of the players, save for Rainn Wilson, who I’m sure was the only one who knew what this should have been. Seriously, if you’re going to set up Megalodon vs. Statham, a title bout, surely, I don’t see why you wouldn’t want to go full Arnold with the man’s performance and make it as cheesy as possible – actually, now that I think about it, how this was never an 80s romp starring Schwarzenegger, I’ll never know.
So there’s not really a whole lot more to say than other than the fact that this should have been so much better. The Meg isn’t particularly bad, even for shark movies, but never does it really go the extra mile and give audiences something they’ve never seen before. Instead, it plays it safe, and is all the worse for it.
Final Score: 4/10