The Meg is a big dumb giant shark movie that aspires to be nothing more than a big dumb giant shark movie. It has a couple of good action scenes and uses its monster for some impressive visuals. There is nothing here you would not expect after seeing the trailers. It does what it does well enough and makes no effort to do anything else. This may not be Jaws, but it is still kind of fun.
The title creature is a megalodon, the world’s largest shark. In real life, they are extinct. In the story, one is inadvertently discovered by a team looking to go deeper into the ocean than anyone ever has. The only man who can help them is Jonas Taylor who was disgraced after losing friends in a similar rescue attempt years earlier. That is basically it for setup. From there it is all explosions and chomping.
As usual in stories like The Meg (which is based on the 1997 novel by Steve Alten), “the only man for the job” is drunk on a beach when he is recruited for the mission. Despite much being made of his drinking during his introduction, he sobers up pretty quick and does not touch alcohol for the rest of the movie. It is meant to establish Jonas as someone who has given up on life, though very little convincing is needed to get him back in the game. He is played by Jason Statham in full on hero mode and he has the charm to pull off a one-note role like this.
Actually, most of the cast is able to make their characters slightly more interesting than the potential fish food they all are. Bingbing Li gets to do some action hero-y stuff of her own as the daughter of the head of the research station much of the story takes place on. Cliff Curtis is good as an old friend of Jonas’. Ruby Rose and Page Kennedy add amusing comic relief as two of the crew members. Also, Rainn Wilson pops in occasionally with a funny line as the billionaire funding this expedition. It is a solid cast that somehow never gets completely lost amid the spectacle.
Additionally, I was intrigued by how multicultural The Meg’s cast is. Jason Statham is British, Bingbing Li is Chinese, Winston Chao (who plays her father) is Taiwanese, Cliff Curtis is from New Zealand, Ruby Rose is Australian and Rainn Wilson and Page Kennedy are Americans. And that is just the main cast. An approach like this certainly makes it easier for the studios to sell their product outside of the United States.
The thing that surprised me the most about this film is that it takes itself more seriously than I anticipated. It is still ridiculous, but it is not the over-the-top goofiness I thought it might be. The action scenes are played almost totally straight and do build up a small amount of suspense. However, it also seems to understand how absurd a lot of it is. While the filmmakers do not really take advantage of that aspect, they do not ignore it either. I expected a monster thriller with a silly grin, but it is closer to an amused smirk.
The Meg (103 minutes without the end credits) is for people who want a summer special-effects extravaganza they can watch with their brain shut off. It is not good per se, though it is enjoyable in spots and the actors appear to be having a great time. The creature design is cool, there are some effective thrills and stuff gets blown up real good. If you want anything more than that, you are going to the wrong movie.
3 out of 5
Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor
Bingbing Li as Suyin
Cliff Curtis as Mac
Winston Chao as Zhang
Robert Taylor as Heller
Rainn Wilson as Morris
Ruby Rose as Jaxx
Page Kennedy as DJ
Sophia Cai as Meiying
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
Screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber