Film review | The Meg

It’s time to be slightly apprehensive of the water, as The Meg unleashes the full might of Jason Statham on the summer blockbuster public. Also a giant prehistoric shark, but you knew that already

Alpha prehistoric predator, meet alpha human: Jason Statham squares off against a giant shark from history in the cheerfully dumb bite of monster fish cinema that’s The Meg
Alpha prehistoric predator, meet alpha human: Jason Statham squares off against a giant shark from history in the cheerfully dumb bite of monster fish cinema that’s The Meg

Here’s a confession from this film critic – I have a huge soft spot for the kind of movie where an oversized species of fish (usually a shark, but not necessarily) is unleashed on an unsuspecting public. It’s a genre that peaked at its earliest, what with Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) being a masterclass in tension and horror, but the fact hasn’t stopped me from watching just about anything involving an improbably large shark munching on some innocent swimmers. Enter The Meg, which is exactly that, only with the addition of the rugged charms of one Jason Statham. And that’s all one needs to know, really.

In case you’re still curious, here’s a quick lowdown. Five years ago, one Jonas Taylor (Statham) botched the rescue of a nuclear submarine’s crew so badly it leads to an underwater explosion huge enough to bring a tear to Michael Bay’s eye. Taylor insists this was due to an attack by a huge, mysterious creature, but since no one buys this admittedly novel explanation Taylor no longer spends his days messing around in submarines. Fast forward to the present, and an exploration craft sent to the very bottom of the Marianas Trench ends up under attack by... something. The organisation behind the expedition needs someone to recover its expensive deep-sea submarine, quick, and who do they decide is the one man able to do the job? Taylor, obviously, who now spends his days getting drunk in Thailand. And what was responsible for the attack on both submarines? I’m not telling, because that would constitute a spoiler!

Okay it is the titular Meg, aka Megalodon, a giant shark that roamed the world’s oceans as recently as two million years ago. Wikipedia says it was “one of the largest and most powerful predators to have ever lived,” and “fossil remains of megalodon suggest that this giant shark reached a length of 18 metres… Their teeth were thick and robust, built for grabbing prey and breaking bone.” Of course, as a very serious film The Meg does not exaggerate on what is known about the actual megalodon in any way, and the dimensions of these impressive beasts are wholly consistent throughout. Oh, who am I kidding, there’s absolutely zero fact in this film other than the name of the shark, whose dimensions fluctuate wildly between shots, as they range from “huge” to “really, really huge.”

As for the actual piece of cinema, The Meg is a film of two halves. The first is oddly reminiscent of Gareth Edwards’ 2014 take on Godzilla, with lots of build-up and at least some attempts at tension as director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, National Treasure: Book of Secrets) teases the possibility of a giant shark attacking the aforementioned submarines. The main twist, really, is that The Meg was financed by Chinese interests, explaining the inclusion of Asian actors in the cast - Winston Chau plays the grizzled scientist character typical of such monster movies, while Bingbing Li is, essentially, the female foil/romantic interest to the gruff male hero. There isn’t much else one can say about the cast, other than at least everyone appears to be having fun even as Jason Statham, a man with a face like a fist and a voice like a 40-a-day habit, fails at the emoting forced on him by the script.

Then there’s the second half, which is where Megalodon makes a full on appearance and the film gets well and truly stupid. The shark goes on the aquatic rampage with the cast on the chase, stopping at one point the check out the wreckage of a fishing boat (which is where the action screeches to a halt to present a message against shark fin soup, as is appropriate for a film about a giant prehistoric shark with a taste for human flesh). The climax sees Megalodon make the obligatory visit to a densely populated beach, before Statham and Li take it on, using a little submarine complete with a missile launchers. It is all very silly, but also very fun, so all’s good, really.

Despite a relatively slim 1 hour 52 minutes running time The Meg still manages to overstay its welcome - the slashing of attempts at characterisation and some of the more cringeworthy gags would have made for a tighter, better film. Still, this is the best (relatively) recent attempt at this genre since 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, and frankly it made for a more entertaining time at the cinema than any of this summer’s supposed blockbusters.

The verdict

A cheerful big screen throwback to a genre generally reserved to the kind of dreck not even deemed suitable for streaming services (Sharknado 6, anyone?), The Meg might be as dumb as a bag of hammers, but it does allow for a more than pleasant time in the dark and cool confines of the cinema screen. This critic can’t say he loves it, but in the least it is extremely likeable, and sometimes that is all that counts.

Marco Attard