A film review by Craig J. Koban August 27, 2018

THE MEG  jjj

2018, PG-13, 113 mins.

 

Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor  /  Ruby Rose as Jaxx  /  Jessica McNamee as Celeste  /  Robert Taylor as Dr. Heller  /  Rainn Wilson as Jack Morris  /  Li Bingbing as Suyin  /  Cliff Curtis as James 'Mac' Mackreides  /  Masi Oka as Toshi

Directed by Jon Turteltaub  /  Written by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber, based on the novel by Steve Alten

 

 

SCREENED IN
3D

THE MEG takes its name from the "Megalodon," a 75 foot long prehistoric shark the size of a whale.  It's an action thriller about of group of intrepid and courageous scientists that take on this aquatic menace to ensure that it doesn't lay waste to the rest of humanity that likes to reside on beachfront property.  It's also based, so I've been told by many, on the 1997 novel of the same name by Steve Alten, and as to whether or not it's a faithful appropriation of the source material I couldn't say.  

What I will say is that the job of the film critic is to report on how well a film worked on its own terms, not whether it paid slavish respect to its literary inspiration.  THE MEG might be an ever-so-loose adaptation of Alten's work, but as a film it's an infectiously enjoyable romp with a broad and dumb 1990's action film vibe.  This movie is pure cinematic fast food, but sometimes nothing tastes better than a greasy and unhealthy Big Mac. 

Shark themed thrillers seem to be all the relative rage now, whether they take the form of more serious fare like 2016's THE SHALLOWS, last year's 47 METERS DOWN, or, yes, TV's ultra campy and highly self aware SHARKNADO entries.  THE MEG isn't as bargain bin produced and silly as the latter, nor is it as frighteningly intense of as the former two films mentioned, but it seems to successfully straddle a difficult to navigate middle ground approach to its inherent material.  As a pulpy piece of B-grade entertainment, THE MEG is easily digestible schlock, albeit schlock that cost fifty times more than the average B movie.  If you're looking for compelling character dynamics and an enthralling dissection of man versus nature akin to JAWS, then you're clearly seeing the wrong type of shark movie.  However, if you want an epically staged and engineered monster mash that's very high of goofy, over-the-top action and spectacle, then THE MEG - apologies to JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM - is the go-to summertime extravaganza about ancient beasts run amok in the modern world.  If you check your brain at the door and fully submit to this film then you'll probably - as I sure did - leave the cinema with a big, dumb grin on your face. 

That, and we get to see action star Jason Statham literally go one-on-one with a gigantic shark.  

That's worthy of an admission price right there. 

 

 

The perpetually five o'clock shadowed and tough talking Brit plays, rather conveniently, the world's best deep sea diver in Jonas Taylor, so you just know that he'll have a particular set of skills that will come in handy when it comes to battling a massive shark.  As the film opens we see the usually calm, cool, and collected star being placed under insurmountable pressures when his character makes a botched attempt to save a vessel in the Philippines after it was violently attacked...by...something unknown.  Of course, Jonas believes, in his heart of hearts, that it was the long thought lost Megalodon, but others are quick to write him off as being delusion and the victim of PTSD.  Flashforward five years and Jonas has hit rock bottom as a drunken boat repairman in Thailand, but his life of inebriated solitude changes with the appearance of an old work colleague in Mac (Cliff Curtis) and his boss, Zhang (Winston Chao), who in turn is in charge of a vast underwater research facility outside of Shanghai that is researching depths uncharted before by man.   

They plead with Jonas to hurry back with them to the underground vessel, seeing as his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) was part of a deep dive research team that hit previously unexplored depths of the ocean floor, only to have her ship crippled by what clearly appears to be a Megalodon-like monster.  They will run out of air support in under 24 hours, so Jonas - out of a desire to save his ex and engage in a bit of told ya so comeuppance on those that once ridiculed him - decides to sober up and join the rescue mission, which is a success, but when it appears that the Megalodon does in fact exist and is now free to reign terror on nearby beaches, Jonas and his new allies realize that it must be stopped.  Unfortunately for Jonas, it also means coming to grips with and confronting his very worst fears in the world...but since he's played by The Transporter...his initial trepidation gives way to going on the full-on ass kick offensive.   

Perhaps the best compliment that I could pay THE MEG is that it knows exactly what kind of film it is and never looks back, nor apologies for it.  What's most refreshing is that director Jon Turteltaub (THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE and the NATIONAL TREASURE films) keenly understands that he's not making a science heavy thriller of the Michael Crichton variety, but rather a pure engine to dispense cinematic thrills and mayhem featuring plucky humans going up against their massively larger prey, and on those levels THE MEG wholeheartedly delivers.  The visual effects on display here are all rather thankless and credible, delivering on the necessary goods and making this film's cockamamie premise somehow feel grounded because, for the most part, the sequences showing off the shark in all if its glory are quite polished and convincing.  There is a criticism to be made here that THE MEG certainly goes for the more family friendly PG-13 rating and features some relatively tame and bloodless oceanic carnage; in many ways, this film would have been that much more sinfully engaging if it had more R-rated nerve.  Yet, Turteltaub does a decent job of orchestrating all of the sheer and unbridled nonsense that highlights the shark throughout.  THE MEG, as mentioned, is B-grade trash, but its made with top notch A-grade technology that rivals any other large scale Hollywood blockbuster. 

And, man, Jason Statham is just...well...the man in these types of films.  They don't require him to fully push the boundaries of his performance range, but action thrillers like THE MEG fully embraces and harnesses the gravel voiced actor's perpetual tough guy facade and straightforwardly rugged charisma to great effect.  Statham is actually pretty good here playing off his character's initial traumas that give way to having large doubts about ever getting back into the water again.  But, uh huh, when the plot requires it, Statham morphs into tough as nails Cockney action hero form and takes on the most preposterous of action sequences with a nonchalance that serves the film well.  Statham has been in some ape shit crazy action films, but he always seems to effectively modulate himself and underplay his characters to make the surrounding craziness around him feel oddly more believable.  Well, as believable as any film about a man going mano-a-mano against a shark the size of a building. 

The rest of THE MEG is a cliché factory of supporting character types that all feel ripped from a screenplay writing 101 instruction book: We have Rainn Wilson as the money grubbing and uber selfish billionaire that funds the research facility, as well as Ruby Rose as the tomboyish tech guru, and a wacky African American IT man that serves the purpose of cracking wise at the most inopportune moment.  Then there is the seriously tacked on romantic subplot characters, like one featuring a single mom scientist (Li Bingbing) and her adorable and wise beyond her years daughter that will unavoidably grow attracted to the available man candy that is Statham.  No viewer will ever require a plot roadmap to see exactly where the film is heading at any moment; THE MEG traverses down pretty much every predictable story arc you could think of for these type of films. 

But ya know what...it doesn't really matter.  THE MEG is brainless escapist fare that has an inviting old school production sensibility in feeling like it came off of an assembly line of other past action thrillers of yesteryear.  It reminded me a lot of 1996's ANACONDA, another cheesy, yet exciting and well crafted thriller about a band of people fighting their collective way through a giant, bone crunching snake, all done with a sly wink towards the audience that you shouldn't take it too seriously and just go along for the giddy ride.  THE MEG is a creature feature with not a lot of creative ambition, but it's thoroughly watchable in just the right self-referential dosages.  And it acknowledges iconic shark films of the past that inspired it, like one beyond obvious nod to JAWS.  The makers of THE MEG clearly know that they could never one up Spielberg's immortally cherished summertime film and instead just try to do their own thing.  

And that's okay.  Being a Big Mac film has its own unique virtues.  

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