FILM REVIEW – THE MEG. With Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis. Written by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Rated PG-13 for action/peril, bloody images and some language. 113 minutes.
It’s been more than forty years since “Jaws” (1975) set the standard for shark movies, and “The Meg” isn’t going to be replacing it. Yet as a late summer thriller, it ups the ante in entertaining ways, providing plenty of thrills even if none of the characters are likely to stick in your memory.
In a prologue we see Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) lead a daring underwater rescue of men trapped in a submarine. When the vessel comes under attack from what he claims is a gigantic creature, he abandons some of the rescuers and surfaces with the survivors. Now, five years later, he’s summoned back into action when an aquatic research station off the coast of China has lost contact with one of their exploratory subs, commanded by Jonas’s ex-wife (Jessica McNamee).
When he arrives, he meets a crew of stock characters who seem to have been hired to appeal to different demographics, including China whose Gravity Pictures is one of the film’s co-producers. Among them are the (of course) venal American billionaire financing the project (Rainn Wilson), and scientist Suyin (Bingbing Li) who inexplicably has her adorable daughter on board. One of the games with this kind of movie is guessing which characters will survive until the end of the film.
They soon discover that Jonas was right in recognizing that there was a huge predator beneath the waves. It is a Megalodon, a 70-foot shark that was thought to be extinct. Once it is identified (and it’s not a spoiler given the title of the movie) the bulk of the film has the crew engaging in repeated attempts to destroy it. Between encounters, we get some character moments involving Statham and Li (separately and together), and comic or dramatic relief from everyone else. The reason for that is that other than Taylor and Suyin, we know absolutely nothing about who these people are, except as part of the scientific crew.
The rhythm of attack-and-break, attack-and-break was something established in “Jaws,” and director Jon Turteltaub and the three writers credited with adapting Steve Alten’s novel of the same name have no reason to change it. It’s effective in ramping up the action and then giving the audience a chance to catch their collective breath. In the climactic showdown, the film provides numerous subplots – including a wedding aboard a boat and a crowded beach – which allows the inevitable shark attacks to be different from what came earlier. Given the two-dimensional nature of the characters, no one has to do much in the way of heavy lifting, although Statham deserves credit for showing a gentle side in his scenes with Shuya Sophia Cai who plays Li’s daughter.
“The Meg” is another of those typical “August movies,” holding our attention while you’re enjoying an air-conditioned theater but not likely to provoke discussions or sequels afterward.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.