The Meg (2018) Review

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The Meg (2018) 

~Review by Grawlix (August 2018)

*** This review contains minor spoilers***

   I recognize that, when writing a review, I have a tendency to make more than a few references to other, similar movies. Part of this is functional, providing what I feel is important context and allowing for a familiar frame of reference. I will admit, however, that there is a little bit of showing off to it as well, like, hey, look at all of the movies I’ve seen or, at least, heard of; this being one of the few venues where that actually means something…  Anyway, I suspect I’m going to be doing that a lot as I try to describe The Meg. The more cynical among us could certainly make the case that few things are truly original these days, but The Meg, more so than most, is happy to fly its influences out in the open.

   The Meg begins on a floating research station in the Pacific Ocean. Its billionaire financier (Rainn Wilson, collecting an easy paycheck) has flown in to witness a potential historic event. Situated above the Mariana Trench, the researchers (a pan-ethnic coterie led by Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li)) are about to test the theory that the bottom of trench is not solid, but rather a gaseous thermal boundary that will yield to an even deeper oceanic environment heretofore unknown to mankind. The layer is duly breached (by a manned submersible… gutsy) but before our intrepid explorers can make many observations, the sub is disabled by… something. With its oxygen reserves dwindling, the rest of the team call in the one man who has ever managed to make a (mostly) successful rescue from such an extreme depth. This is Jonas Taylor, played by Jason Statham in typical Statham mode. He’s sarcastic and gruff, haunted by a hard decision he was forced to make on a previous rescue attempt. He naturally refuses the job initially, but the revelation of certain personal connections to the research team prompts him to reconsider.

   So, for those keeping score, the first 40 or so minutes of the movie plays out much like The Abyss (and its many imitators like Leviathan, Deepstar Six, and The Deep) with bits of Jurassic Park and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea thrown in. The rescue sequence is suitably tense, if a bit rote. It’s also rather hand-wavey when it comes to certain scientific phenomenon, most notably regarding decompression sickness, which I only note because when it come to movies like this, that’s usually a non-trivial concern.

   But then, unless you’ve somehow managed to completely miss the ad copy for this film, you know that all the research related drama is just a warm up for the main event. It turns out that all the breaching of the thermal layer creates a conduit for something to swim its way up from the depths. It’s massive, and it’s hungry – literally the biggest fish in the sea – and it falls to our research team to solve this problem before it gets too (ahem) serious.

   At this point the movie essentially just becomes Jaws, except instead of eating people, the shark eats entire boats. Now, pretty much any movie that has a shark as its monster is going to be borrowing from Jaws to some degree, that movie quite literally spawned an entire genre, but The Meg in particular harbors absolutely no pretensions about where it’s drawing inspiration. There’s a sequence with a shark cage, a poison charged speargun, a kid who nags his mom about going into the water, a hapless dog, hell, there’s even a quick shot of a banana boat. The only thing that’s conspicuously missing is a recreation of the famous “trombone” shot.

   And while it is refreshing, in a sense, that the movie doesn’t try to pointlessly reinvent the wheel, there is a thin line between being streamlined and just being lazy. Wilson’s billionaire character, for example, is the stereotypical detached rich guy who knows some technical language but has none of the expertise that goes with it, frequently saying things that make the rest of the characters roll their eyes. The rest of the characters are similarly stock models, including the tatted-up punkish computer whiz, the token black guy who has a token black guy freak-out, and the stoic Asian love interest whose chilly demeanor slowly thaws over the course of the film. Granted, this isn’t exactly a character driven movie, and, as such, the main cast is a bit on the larger size, but this is compensated by the fact that most of them are given the bare minimum amount of development making the few beats they each do get ring noticeably hollow.

   The effects are decent. Most of the sets and scenery look good. The actual creature is rendered about as well as a depiction of a 70-foot shark can be, though the movie wisely hedges its bets with a lot of scenes in low light and, of course, underwater. Take note of that first point, a lot of the movie is pretty dark, so if this is something that’s liable to annoy you, you’ll maybe want to wait for the home release. The less-is-more approach is typically the right call in movies of this type, and whether it be by convenience or design, The Meg thankfully falls on the right side of that equation.

   The Meg is based on a series of novels, the first of which was released in 1997 and almost immediately optioned for a film adaptation. At one point it was slated for a 2008 release and I can only imagine the desk pounding that must have taken place when the notorious D-grade schlock studio The Asylum started releasing, in 2009, their own series of Mega Shark flicks which begat endless sequels and spin-offs (Asylum’s typical M.O.), each more absurd than the last, including the ridiculous Sharknado series, the sixth installment of which is poised for release (a Syfy channel exclusive, natch) as I type this. To say that the market for shark themed thrillers is a bit saturated would be an understatement. With that said, The Meg has clearly gambled on the belief that the market for good (well, better) shark themed thrillers is comparatively lacking, and thus far, that gamble appears to be paying off. It also doesn’t appear to be hurting the bottom line that the movie deliberately courted the overseas (particularly Chinese) market, but, hey, nothing wrong with going to where the profit is.

   I’ve heard, secondhand, that some critics are tearing The Meg apart for its formulaic structure and general straightforward approach and to that I can only shrug my shoulders. Do these people really walk into movies like The Meg expecting Citizen Kane with a shark? The Meg is not Citizen Kane. It’s not Moby Dick. Hell, it’s not even Jaws. But what it is is a rip-roaring monster flick about a big fish with a lot of teeth. If that’s your bag, grab yourself a big bucket of popcorn and watch the water turn red.

Final Grade: B-

The uninspired characters definitely drag this one down. Some of the Man versus Nature pontification in the dialog is downright cringey and, at nearly two hours, the slow parts can feel very slow indeed. But outside of the contrived dramatics the movie is all kinds of fun, provided your idea of fun is watching various forms of human and marine life get torn to shreds by a giant, finned murder machine.


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