‘The Meg’ Review: Perhaps the Greatest Film Ever Made About Jason Statham Stabbing a Giant Prehistoric Shark
The most famous line from Jaws is, of course, Roy Scheider saying “You’re gonna need a bigger boat” after his first face-to-face encounter with the killer shark. The Meg plays like it was written by someone who misheard Scheider, thought he said “You’re gonna need a bigger shark.” and then took it as a flash of inspiration. Because that’s all it’s about; a big-ass shark.
Technically, it’s a Megalodon (or “Meg” for short), a prehistoric underwater beast that seemingly went extinct eons ago. But no, it turns out the Meg was lying at the bottom of the ocean for a couple million years (sharks are extremely patient animals, apparently) waiting for an opening in an impassable thermocline (just Wikipedia it). 70 feet long, with jaws stronger than any other creature on the planet, man versus Meg “wouldn’t be a fight,” one character says in the film. “It would be [duh duh duhhhhhh] a slaughter!”
Ah, but you see, the guy waging war against this toothy titan is no ordinary man. It is Jason Statham. And so the slaughter goes both ways; the Meg eats a whole bunch of people (good thing the cast is very large!) but he can never quite catch the mighty Statham, who comes within inches of the Meg’s mouth on numerous occasions, but always escapes by a hair. (Or technically a stubble, in his case.)
Statham plays Jonas Taylor a deep-sea diver whose life was destroyed by a botched underwater rescue. Jonas insists a giant shark was to blame for the deaths of his friends, but no one else saw this monster and everyone thinks Jonas is crazy. Years later, the shark returns during another deep-sea dive, and this time it follows Jonas back to the surface, desperate to eat him and anyone who stands in her way. Dude, Meg: Mechanic: Resurrection wasn’t that bad. Chill.
To be brutally honest, the first half of The Meg is pretty close to Mechanic: Resurrection in terms of quality. Too much time is wasted on the characters, their connections, and the nitty gritty of ocean-floor rescue operations. Then The Meg returns to the surface, and its title character attacks Statham and his chums (please clap) at their high-tech ocean laboratory. Suddenly the film blossoms into an endearingly silly slasher movie, complete with ludicrous jump scares. (As it turns out, the biggest shark that ever lived is surprisingly good at silently sneaking up on its prey.)
The Meg has a talented variety of snacks (AKA actors) to choose from. Dependable Cliff Curtis plays Jonas’ buddy Mac while feisty Ruby Rose is a computer expert named Jaxx. Li Bingbing is another diving expert (and potential Statham love interest) with an adorable daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai, giving good moppet). She’s on hand to provide comic relief and additional stakes when the ocean lab is imperiled. Most importantly, Rainn Wilson plays an obnoxious rich guy whose sole purpose in the film is to be so despicable that we actively root for the Meg to eat him. It’s fun to hope he gets horribly killed!
Like director Jon Turteltaub’s underrated National Treasure movies, The Meg has an innate understanding of its own absurdity, and is at its best when it embraces and amplifies that impulse. It includes the line “It’s a great day to go fishing!” It has a water-bound chase between a tiny dog and a giant shark. It has a scene where a little shark swims out of the mouth of a bigger shark. And, God bless it, it has an entire sequence where Jason Statham and the Meg get into an underwater dogfight, with Statham inside an advanced submarine that looks like a Star Wars spaceship while the Meg, y’know, swims and stuff.
Statham has more chemistry with the shark than with Li, and the film’s long opening half could have been cut down by at least 10 minutes. But when Turteltaub brings it all together, like in the gonzo finale where the Meg turns a crowded Sanya Bay into her own personal Old Country Shark Buffet, it’s a lot of fun. And Statham gets to put his old competitive diving skills to good use fighting this big-ass shark. Next time, though, we’re gonna need an even bigger shark for Statham to stab. How about one the size of Rhode Island?
-The Meg is a co-production between the U.S. and China, and it bears a lot of similarities to the last U.S./China blockbuster I saw, Skyscraper. Both movies are about a disgraced American hero who made a fatal mistake on the job years earlier and then gets a shot at redemption by accepting an assignment in China, where they reassert their mettle by saving their loved ones from bad guys (or sharks, whatever). It could be a coincidence. But it’s something I’m going to be keeping an eye on going forward in other internationally co-produced action films.
-The movie’s closing title card gets an A+.
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