Coming out of The Meg had me thinking more of another modern monster film, Del Toro’s Pacific Rim. A film that’s every bit as great as now as it was in theatres 5 years ago. The reason, Pacific Rim is so damn good is because the film has a clear direction of what it wanted to be throughout the story.
John Turtletaub’s newest film, The Meg, isn’t anywhere near close to Pacific Rim.
In 1997, I read a book, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror that told a tense character-driven story of Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver who was fighting his own Moby Dick-style story against a Megladon, a prehistoric 75 foot shark. It was a story that clearly focused on Taylor and the shark. In the new film, Jason Statham plays Taylor, a former rescue diver plucked out of Thailand by a group of scientists after he’s nearly killed when a Megladon attacks the beached submarine he’s in the middle of a rescue on and nearly kills him. Nobody believes him until a Megladon attacks this group’s submarine as it explores the bottom of the Marianas Trench – the deepest point underwater in the world.
This group of scientists, played by Cliff Curtis, Li BingBing, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Jessica McNamee and billionaire funder, played by Rain Wilson muddles every point in this story that is legitimately interesting with dull, watered down comedy.
The tone goes all over the place with the briefest mentions from Statham what its like to be 200 feet underwater and you have to make the choice to leave people behind to save the majority or any sort of character moment that would help us connect with any of these characters. By the end of it, you really were cheering for the shark. And I think that was the point as every point of interest in this film involved the shark rapid-fire, non violently, killing people (to keep the PG-13 rating). Which created a further sense of frustration for me because Turtletaub’s fantastic instincts for editing and tension came through to create some action sequences that were truly spectacular to watch. You just see what you wanted this movie to be and by the time you’re into it, it’s on to another watered down moment between this cast that we never spend enough time with to care about.
And I can’t even say the style was good because there’s a great deal of shark CGI that was truly terrible to look at. You get the sense the film was trying to go for the Jaws tension with the shark in the murky blackness of the water but forget you actually need to see something at some point. The water did what water does and distorted a great deal of work.
For what this film is, the cast did well enough to garner a lot of laughs in the audience I was in… just not from me. Statham carried the film with talent that he doesn’t get enough credit for in both drama and his straight man comedy. Li BingBing as the lead of this science team plays the conscious of this team and has some great chemistry with Statham for the very brief periods where they’re allowed to act more than “Look at the big shark over there!”. For me, Rain Wilson was the standout for a few reasons. Mainly because I think he never quite seemed like he fit the tone of the story with how much he was chewing the scenes. Second would be that scene chewing. Wilson does a great job of playing an asshole and wanting you to not like him.
Cliff Curtis continues a fantastic career of being overlooked in films and barely gets any time to show that he’s the most talented actor in this cast. The third act of this film sums it up perfectly by killing tension with joking nod after nod to Jaws. The Meg is a film trying to be something it’s not. It’s an easy three out of five stars.
If you want to see a legitimately good shark movie, do what the filmmakers of The Meg obviously wanted to do, go watch Jaws. Meg cost $150 million dollars and Speilberg’s barely functioning shark proves that creativity and imagination will always deliver a stronger reaction.