Director: Jon Turteltaub
Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Robert Taylor, Jessica McNamee, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Masi Oka, Winston Chao
RunTime: 1 hr 53 mins
Rating: PG13 (Intense Sequences)
Released By: Warner Bros
Opening Day: 9 August 2018
Synopsis: A deep-sea submersible is attacked by a massive creature, previously thought to be extinct, and now lies disabled at the bottom of the deepest trench in the Pacific with its crew trapped inside. With time running out, expert deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor is recruited by a visionary Chinese oceanographer to save the crew from this prehistoric threat.
‘The Meg’ is basically short for ‘Jason Statham versus a 75-foot prehistoric shark’, and if that doesn’t sound like your idea of an exciting late-summer movie, then this slab of B-movie cheese is clearly not for you. Oh yes, the science-fiction horror novel by Steve Alten on which this movie is based was precisely meant to be that sort of pulpy entertainment, and director Jon Turteltaub ensures that his adaptation is balanced squarely between self-awareness and self-seriousness, even though it does start off being more of the latter before tipping into more of the former.
So it goes that our introduction to Statham’s deep-sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor is no laughing business: in the throes of his latest mission to save the crew of a nuclear submarine trapped at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, Jonas is forced to sacrifice two of his own men inside the submarine after it is purportedly attacked by a giant creature which crushes its hull. Jonas’ account of the tragic event is disputed by another key member of his very own crew Dr Heller (Robert Taylor), and after being accused of suffering a psychological meltdown, he retreats to seclusion on a rustic island in Thailand.
Five years later, Jonas is given the opportunity to get even with the creature when he is approached by an old friend Mac (Cliff Curtis) to lead an urgent operation to save his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) and her two other crew mates stranded underwater in a deep sea submersible names Origin off the Chinese coast. Mac and Lori are part of a larger team on a modern research facility called Mana One exploring if there is life beneath the depths of the ocean as we know it, and the first successful so-called ‘insertion’ (cue the geek joke delivered by Masi Oka and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) into the hydrothermal sphere at the bottom of the seabed brings the Origin face to face with the titular super shark previously thought to be extinct.
At first, Jonas’ history means he is greeted with scepticism by the team on board Mana One, including chief oceanographer Dr Zhang Minway (Winston Chao), his equally accomplished daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) and no less than Jonas’ former colleague Dr Heller himself. It goes without saying that Jonas will quickly prove that he wasn’t crazy after all, but after having also rescued Suyin who had valiantly but foolhardily gone to try to rescue Lori on her own, the two divorcees will begin to sketch the contours of a romance through some rare character moments, many of which also wisely draw on the precocious charms of Suyin’s eight-year-old daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai).
It should come as no surprise that ‘The Meg’ is built on a number of elaborate action-driven set-pieces mostly executed by Mr Statham, but it is also worthwhile acknowledging that Turteltaub and his screenwriters (comprising of genre specialists Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber) do give the characters just enough texture to craft some memorable scenes within these set-pieces. Among the notable archetypes on display here are the self-absorbed financer Morris (Rainn Wilson), the tough-as-nails independent female type Jaxx (Ruby Rose), as well as the timid plus-sized African-American comic relief DJ (Page Kennedy); and without saying who lives, who dies or how either way, these characters in their respective ways inject verve into some of the gloriously over-the-top sequences.
These sequences of course dictate the course of the narrative, which sees the megalodon emerge from its hidden depths by some Deus Ex Machina to travel hundreds of miles over open ocean to terrorise hundreds of summer-loving beachgoers at Sanya Bay. Each one of the three distinct settings forms the backdrop of a significant encounter with the megalodon, with the latter two especially allowing Statham to flex his physicality without being in any claustrophobic confine. More than simple logic, that explains why Statham has to swim within 100 metres of the shark in order to fire a GPS tracker at its dorsal fin, or dive below the surface to rescue Suyin trapped within a shark cage, or in the film’s pièce de résistance escape from a damaged submersible just in time to spear the shark in its eye.
Indeed, there’s not a lot of common sense involved, though nothing so exaggerated as to qualify irrevocably as parody. The operative word here is fun, and on that account, ‘The Meg’ definitely scores. Statham carries each one of these outlandish scenes with a knowing wink, and his ability to deliver the intentionally corny one-liners is matchless. On his part, Turteltaub gleefully seizes every opportunity to emphasise the relative size of the competition between Statham and the Meg, and patiently waits till the climax to unleash all restraint and let the campiness overflow – there in Sanya Bay, you have young males ogling at the opposite sex on separate floating platforms before being forcibly rammed together by the marauding shark, a man in an inflatable bubble float trying to roll over his fellow swimmers before his bubble is literally burst by the shark, and a plump and pampered young boy holding a paddle pop getting his just desserts after defying his mother’s caution not to go into the ocean.
It probably won’t escape you that the movie is one of the high-profile US-China co-productions this year, and while that is reflected in the locations and choice of co-stars, the pleasures here still seem more culturally attuned to Hollywood sensitivities. To its credit, ‘The Meg’ never comes off being sillier than it intentionally puts itself out to be, and boasts more than its fair share of entertaining man-versus-enormous-shark sequences. But hey, we thoroughly enjoyed it for what it was worth, and considering that the movie has been stuck in development for over a decade, we’d add that we couldn’t have seen it any other way than ‘Jason Statham versus a 75-foot prehistoric shark’.
(Jason Statham versus a 75-foot prehistoric shark - it's as simple, as cheesy, but as enjoyable as that)
Review by Gabriel Chong