There may not be quite as many action stars any more, but it’s clear that they haven’t gone away completely. The big three of current action stars have all put out their recent titles with Dwayne Johnson offering up the passable Die Hard rip-off Skyscraper and Tom Cruise the fantastic Mission: Impossible – Fallout, so it only feels appropriate for The Rock’s Fast & Furious co-star Jason Statham to take his turn. What Statham’s installment had that piqued my interest even further was the promise of bringing cheesy horror into the mix and a trailer (yes I know, I try not to judge based on them) that was far better than it had any right to be.
Adapted from the first book in a series that was trapped in development hell for years, the titular Meg is of course a Megalodon, an extinct species of shark beloved by Discovery Channel and crappy B-movies. After a submersible is attacked by a mysterious force and gets off a final transmission of “Jonas was right”, the crew of an underseas marine research station location 200 miles off the coast of China must fetch this Jonas (Statham) who had 5 years earlier been involved in a similar tragic incident. Besides having a similar opening (showing that incident and having the lead dealing with the emotional fallout and guilt of it) to Skyscraper, the film quickly moves past that.
If you’re looking for a genre to classify this under, a $150 million film starring Jason Statham would indicate action and while there is that it is certainly far more of a natural/survival horror film than that would imply. It’s also has far less of the expensive B-movie camp that the trailer and casting him would suggest, as the film takes itself a bit too seriously for its own good. Sure, there are moments where the film comes alive and embraces its potential such as when it apes Deep Blue Sea (even including a bargain bin LL) or the climax, but Deep Blue Sea it is not, and I think the film was trying instead to be scary.
Big budget horror is so hard to do well, and this film is no exception. Director Jon Turtelaub (helmer of such dreck as The Kid and the National Treasure series) can’t really handle shooting horror, opting for quick cuts and easing up quickly on the gas. It’s something that will happen when you go for a near two-hour runtime instead of say the far more successful Piranha 3D which condensed far more creature feature goodness into 88 minutes.
Statham is so much more compelling than every other actor in the film. He has such natural charisma and throws himself into every ridiculous line and scenario, even the many serious lines that they throw in, that knowing smirk that’s never far from his face a perfect fit. Rainn Wilson is terrible as the dickish (if not completely useless) billionaire, but I’ll mostly credit that to the script (credited to Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber) which feeds him countless terrible one-liners which he flatly delivers. Li Bingbing does fine as the female lead, it’s just that the moments they let her be anything other than serious are few and far between.
The CGI looks good for this type of film though I’d rather they’d have spent that money making more scenes instead of all the improbably overpopulated ocean scenes. Dip below the thick cloud of gas that is apparently at the bottom of the Marianas Trench and disguising another ocean (bonkers pseudo-science does not bother me at all here especially since it essentially makes the film The Sea That Time Forgot) and you find more ocean life than you would find in a coral reef. Blood in the water, the movie turns into Aquaman.
Even after adjusting my expectations away from the fun thrill ride I had hoped for, The Meg, sadly comes up short. It just doesn’t know what its core concept is going to be as it bounces between survival, base under siege, action, and creature feature without the commitment to any of them. It has its sights set too high in production for its camp B-movie premise and any attempts at intentional comedic writing fall flat. There are moments of pleasure to be had to be sure, but far less than any movie that promises Jason Statham vs. a Giant Shark should have.