After 20 years in development, Steve Alten’s beloved novel, Meg, finally rises from the depths to explode onto the big screen…well, to a degree. Through various scripts drafts, Alten’s airport paperback (which spans eons) has been pared down to the bare essentials. For a 2018 disaster film, that’s something of a bad sign. After countless decades refining the formula, it hit near perfection in the 90’s. By contrast, the last handful of years pale in comparison to that golden era. Part of the issue comes from films designed in theory to be goofily enjoyable, yet end up getting played way too seriously. Unfortunately for those anxiously excited for another trip back into the water, The Meg comes off as simply being dumb, rather than dumb fun.
Jason Statham is deep sea rescue diver extraordinary, Jonas Taylor. While saving seamen from a sinking nuclear sub, he encounters a creature of legend, though no one believes him. Five years later, he’s a drunk in Thailand. Meanwhile, at the state of the art research facility, MANA ONE, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li) lead scientists who hope to test a theory that the bottom of the ocean is actually the ceiling to an environment millions of years old. With proof in their grasp, the lead submarine is attacked and crippled. Just as it’s signal cuts out, the pilot yells “Jonas was right!” Mere minutes later Statham is on the scene, declares the creature a Megalodon and causes an explosion which allows the prehistoric shark easy access to the South China Sea. And since 55 minutes of the film have now elapsed, everyone takes a breather.
What sinks the film then, is that it isn’t much fun. The establishing hour or so feels like a slog. Somehow, it still builds up to a wildly, entertainingly silly third act. If everything else matched that energy and brazen disrespect for laws of physics and reality, The Meg would be an all-timer. Instead of jumping the shark, it’s content to merely tread the water. Needlessly focusing time on a romantic subplot, secondary characters are so thin a breeze threatens to knock them overboard.. which still happens… close to 20 times. That’s a shame when familiar faces like Cliff Curtis and Ruby Rose round out the wasted cast.
Since this is a blockbuster film featuring a shark, many will be quick to compare it to either Jaws or Deep Blue Sea. In reality, it hews closer to the litany of cheapo efforts SyFy has acquired over the years. No, that’s not including the Sharknado series. Those at least attempt to reach a level of ridiculousness where anyone attempting to point out the inherent problems seems like a crazy person. Your opinion may vary, but those are at least honest in their schlocky intents. The Meg is too wrapped up in playing things straight, that it gets in the way of all the fun it should be having. It matches how lesser SyFy outings save their most preposterous moments for the final 10 minutes, simply because they lack the budget. But, when your number reaches upwards of $150 million dollars, you aren’t afforded the same excuses.
Anyone wandering into a feature of this nature comes to see one thing: the carnage. Unfortunately, since The Meg is saddled with a PG-13 rating, there can only be so much of it. In place of guts or grue (not belonging to sea life), it settled for a series of ineffective and terribly choreographed jump scares. Not helping matters is the fact that just days before release, director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) has come out stating he originally was shooting an R-rated picture, one that prominently featured bloodier deaths. He also strangely said his initial vision was funnier, making one wonder what happened along the way. That’s somewhat to be expected from the brain trust responsible for Battleship and Laura Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life.
There is a built-in audience for The Meg, primarily those who require only basic levels of excitement be entranced by such mundanity. By that barometer, many may be overjoyed. It’s just difficult to recommend a film content to skirt by on merely being mediocre. For waiting 20 years, there’s no other way to label the finished product as anything but a disappointment. Sure, the tail end finally dives head first into the ludicrous, but not only is that part short-lived, it serves to make the slow lead-up that much more aggravating.
If The Meg winds up a modest hit, there’s a chance a sequel comes along, embracing the nonsensical beast at its heart and unleashes a gleefully, impossibly absurd sequel. The more likely scenario is that if said follow-up were to happen, it would probably premiere on the SyFy channel, thereby completing the circle of life and righting whatever natural order still exists in the world.