A few years back, Discovery Channel’s Shark Week included a two-hour “documentary” titled Megalodon: The Monster Shark Lives that posited that a 25-meter long, prehistoric shark that—despite fossil records confirming it died out 2 million years ago—still roamed the oceans.
It was goofy, it was stupid, and it pissed off the small, dedicated community of shark researchers. They accused Discovery of jumping from sometimes questionable pop science to full-blown fantasy that was better suited to a frivolous, late-summer action movie than quasi-educational documentary fare.
Well, reader, a group of U.S. and Chinese studios made good on that recommendation and have delivered The Meg, better known as the movie in which Jason Statham fights a gigantic, prehistoric shark. And yet, a brain trust of big-screen producers couldn’t come up with something better than a roomful of cable television executives.
Oh, hell, why qualify it? The Meg is exactly what you think it is: it’s Jason Statham getting revenge on the gigantic, prehistoric shark that ruined his life. The setup’s the same as it always is in these types of movies: Statham is Jonas Taylor, the deep-sea diver who plays by his own rules and doesn’t give a damn and leaves people behind on a rescue mission, sending him into a spiral of drinking on a remote beach only to be contacted when well-funded researchers need his help. Right, and his ex-wife just happens to be among them.
What ensues, though, is a reminder that trying to one-up the Die Hards, the Deep Blue Seas, or even the Sharknadoes of yore is no small feat. Sharknado at least commits to just how stupid it is. The tag line for the first installment was “Enough said!”; for the sixth and allegedly final, scheduled to air later this month, it’s “It’s about time!”
With The Meg, it’s time to drop some chum in the water and hope the two biggest movie-going countries in the world bite.
As the latest in a long line of guys with nothing left to lose, Statham—unflinchingly stubbly and growly—looks more bored than vengeful, a mood not improved when he arrives at the deep-sea research station where he meets the other archetypes. There’s three generations of a Chinese family of marine biologists (Winston Chao, Li Bingbing, Shuya Sophia Cai), the sniveling billionaire paying for it all (Rainn Wilson), an old friend (Cliff Curtis), the jerk doctor from Jonas’s last mission (Robert Taylor), the black technician who gets all the audience-surrogate jokes because that’s how pandering works (Page Kennedy), and the female engineer who Jonas assumes is the only one “who looks like you know what you’re doing” because she looks like Ruby Rose (Ruby Rose).
Oh, and yes, the gigantic, prehistoric shark. The crew dives, surfaces, dives again, and the gigantic, prehistoric shark is there waiting for them. Between encounters, there are what could possibly be described as expository dialogue. Li’s character is dangled as a love interest for Jonas, but it’s only in the eyes and completely chaste. One character, before meeting a toothy end, tells another that she is “a good person,” without any evidence previously that she is either good or had reason to believe she was in need of verbal redemption.
Whenever the gigantic, prehistoric shark’s not on screen, the dialogue sounds like it was written by an artificial intelligence program trying to mimic human speech. The direction, credited to National Treasure helmer Jon Turteltaub, appears nominal at best.
Ultimately, the only one in The Meg with a shred of recognizable humanity is the gigantic, prehistoric shark itself. The titular megalodon cares little for blandly drawn meet-cutes and cheap stereotypes, preferring to munch on boats, fish, and human flesh. It’s almost a morality play. The people who deserve to get it, get it; the ones who don’t, don’t. I suppose it’s a sign of my own humanity that while The Meg played out, I envied the former group.