Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 11, 2018)
A surprise hit from summer 2018, The Meg takes us to Mana One, an underwater research facility near the coast of China. One of its submersibles gets attacked by a mysterious force and becomes stranded.
To rescue the crew, the Mana One staff calls in Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a professional diver with a troubled past. As he attempts to save the day, he becomes aware of an enormous shark called a Megalodon, a beast that threatens everyone it nears.
Going into Meg, I assumed it’d be awful. Let’s face it: killer shark movies don’t have a great history, as most of the ones we’ve seen in the 43 years since Jaws have been mediocre to bad.
Nothing about the previews for Meg led me to believe it’d break that trend. The promos made the film look campy and absurd, more Sharknado than Jaws.
As it happens, Meg walks the line between the two disciplines. While not as dramatic as Jaws, it comes across as less goofy and silly than the Sharknado efforts.
If forced to pick Meg’s most accurate forebear, I’d select 1999’s Deep Blue Sea. Both films show obvious connections – mainly connected to the presence of research facilities – and both also give us fairly similar tones, as they flirt with the line between drama and camp.
I’ve given up the hope that any shark attack movie will ever remotely approach the quality of Jaws. It remains the ne plus ultra of killer fish flicks, and it remains the definitive entry of its genre in a way that doesn’t happen in other domains.
For instance, The Godfather may offer the most highly-regarded gangster movie of all-time, but other classics in the genre exist. And Star Wars acts as the biggest “space opera” out there, but plenty of other notable entries can be found as well.
One can’t find another “deadly fish” movie with anywhere close to the quality and success of Jaws, though, and Meg does nothing to challenge its spot at the top of the hill. While far from the worst of the genre, Meg offers a pretty mediocre experience.
Part of that comes from its running time. Jaws got away with its two-hour length because it wasn’t really about the shark. Instead, it was a character drama gussied up with action/horror elements.
While Meg clearly fancies itself as more than a piece of aquatic terror, it fancies wrong. Despite a slew of character elements intended to flesh out the roles and add depth/drama, Meg exists to deliver outrageous action. Any other stabs fall flat.
And that’s where its 113-minute running time becomes a liability. Rather than invest mainly in violent action, Meg spends a lot of real estate with its characters and their relationships.
These moments go precisely nowhere, especially when Meg subjects us to the predictable romantic connection between Jonas and Suyin (Li Bingbing), the supervisor of the research facility. Their relationship exists as a perfunctory measure and it never goes anywhere in a convincing manner.
It doesn’t help that most of the cast members add little to their roles. While she looks gorgeous, Bingbing seems wooden as Suyin, and she displays zero chemistry with Statham.
As for Statham himself, he operates on cruise control. He’s played roughly 1000 similar hard-edged roles like Jonas, and nothing about the part forces him to stretch his muscles.
As billionaire investor Jack Morris, Rainn Wilson essentially exists as comic relief, and he does fairly well in that domain. Despite its occasional flirtation with campiness, Meg often takes itself very seriously, so a little lightness helps move along the story, and Wilson adds mirth to the proceedings.
I probably wouldn’t care about the movie’s excessive running time and its dull characters if it delivered vivid action, but Meg falls short in that area as well. The film contrives a slew of circumstances to put people in danger, but none of these ever become tense or exciting.
We just don’t care about the main characters, the secondary roles or the slew of innocent bystanders who end up in the shark's path. Without any form of investment, the action sputters, as the escalating body count means nothing due to our detachment from the participants.
A shorter, looser Meg might’ve delivered decent thrills, but as it stands, the movie goes too long and meanders too much. It’s a mediocre shark film without a lot to make it compelling.