Statham vs. Shark. What more do you want?
When the ink has dried on the early 21st century, historians will probably look back and say, “Wow, people loved sharks” and “Wow, people also loved Jason Statham punching things.” Fortunately, those historians will have films like Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg to explain why we love them both. It’s a fun giant killer shark movie, and a solid Jason Statham action romp.
The Meg stars Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor, a deep sea rescue expert called out of retirement to rescue his ex-wife from a unique underwater disaster. She’s trapped at the bottom of the Marianas Trench which, it turns out, was deeper than anyone ever realized. And what’s worse, she’s being attacked by a giant prehistoric shark called a Megalodon.
There’s not much to the plot of The Meg. Jason Statham comes to the rescue but the Megalodon escapes into the rest of the ocean and starts biting everything in sight. People try to stop the Megalodon, and that’s about it really. Just add shark mayhem and Jason Statham’s tough guy attitude.
For a movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant killer shark, The Meg takes itself surprisingly seriously. The filmmakers use a lot of energy and even more pages of dialogue to explain every scientific detail, as though after 20 pages of textbook jammer about heat vents we’re going to suddenly throw up our hands and admit the movie is plausible. And when characters die in The Meg, the survivors stop and cry about it, which is a surprisingly humane approach since the movie was only made to show those people getting bitten in half anyway.
Jon Turteltaub directs The Meg with a sense of scale, letting the big action sequences play out huge and filling the little moments with detail. Audiences weaned on SyFy Channel shark movies, about sharks fighting robot sharks or sharktopi fighting whalewolves (yup, that’s a thing), may find it refreshing that the interiors of submarines actually look like submarines in this movie. And when Jason Statham finds himself swimming in the middle of the ocean, less than one hundred feet from a ticked off Megalodon, and racing that titanic fish to a little boat that’s probably not safe anyway, it’s filmed with real intensity.
Jason Statham doesn’t get to fist-fight as many sharks as we might like, but he’s completely at home in this material. The billionaire financing the expedition, Morris (Rainn Wilson), sums him up perfectly: “He looks heroic and he walks fast, but he’s got kind of a negative attitude.” Statham’s default grimness helps The Meg get away with some truly ridiculous events, because it looks as though he half-expected them to happen. And the supporting cast brings out the actor’s oft-neglected warm and cuddly side. Page Kennedy tells the jokes, Sophia Cai supplies the 8-year-old adorableness, and Ruby Rose adds unbridled charisma to a very small role. She looks as though at any moment she might jump out of the background and beat up Jason Statham until he gives her the lead part.
Li Bingbing is particularly fantastic as Suyin, a deep sea expert who develops a playful, sparring relationship with Jason Statham. She’s heroic and she has a sense of humor and she’s a good mom and she has a natural romantic chemistry with him. They are absolutely charming together, and their relationship brings a lot of humanity to a film that was otherwise, once again, all about how fun it is to watch sharks eating humanity.
The biggest problem with The Meg is, ironically, is how big it is. The film is nearly two hours long and a heck of a lot of that time is spent not watching a giant shark bite things. The first act of the movie sets up a mystery that’s completely ruined by the marketing, and even the title. What kind of giant monster could be attacking this submarine at the bottom of the Marianas Trench? You’re going to have to wait at least half an hour to find out and if you guessed a giant sea horse, you’re wrong.
It’s also entirely possible that audiences who are expecting a big budget Sharknado will come away mildly disappointed. The Meg never teeters very far into lunacy. There are exciting action sequences and the finale is a fist-pumping doozy, but you don’t get to the see this Megalodon flying through the air and biting the head off the Statue of Liberty, or teaming up with a sentient volcano to destroy the world, or whatever. The Meg is just a movie about a killer shark doing killer shark stuff, except, you know, he’s super big.
Maybe The Meg would have been better off by going completely insane, but maybe it’s just just the way it is. It’s a movie with modest goals, inviting you to watch Jason Statham wage war against a Megalodon, and then showing you that fight. And that fight is worth the price of admission.