It’s summer. It’s blockbuster season. We’ve already gotten the serious ones – Black Panther, Infinity War – out of the way, and now we’re all tired and hot and sweaty and we want something that’s just a little mindless fun, something we can drink an iced coffee in front of and forget about our troubles for a while. Enter The Meg: Jason Statham versus a giant, prehistoric shark, a suitably batshit idea for a suitably long summer.
So, the premise for The Meg is simple: a giant shark, known as the Megalodon, is unleashed from the depths of the ocean hellscape it normally inhabits by a science expedition gone awry and into the real world, causing alleged chaos in it’s wake. And let me clear here and say that I fucking love me a B-movie – I’m a big fan of movies that can lean into their own inherent sense of ridiculousness and have a whole bunch of good, camp, tongue-in-cheek fun in the process, because there’s nothing wrong with a movie just acting as a couple of hours of pure entertainment. From my early days of Flash Gordon and Streets of Fire right through to last year’s deliriously ridiculous Geostorm, some of my movies of choice are ones that just inject straight pulpy fun into the pleasure center of my brain and never try to achieve more than that.
And B-movie does seem to be what this film is aiming for. But the thing that The Meg seems to forget is that “B-movie” isn’t just an assignation you earn by dropping a silly premise and some gags and wandering off – B-movies have a specific alchemy to them, a tone that’s upheld by both script, performances, and direction, an overriding sense of fun that helps carry us over the bumpier parts of the story. And The Meg, for all it’s ridiculousness, just doesn’t have that.
For one thing, Jason Statham is wrong as the lead in this movie for many reasons. First and most importantly, his actual involvement in the plot feels so labored – they have to go out of their way to fetch him to help out in the first place, and when he arrives to join the rest of the ensemble at the underwater science base that is certainly not ripped off Bioshock’s Rapture, he doesn’t find the easy chemistry the rest of the cast have with each other. He only really turns up when he finds out that his ex-wife (played by, of course, an actress nearly a full two decades younger than him) is in trouble. The Meg goes out of it’s way to drag Statham into the plot, and it just feels like they’re emptying a big box of action hero over the story for the sake of it. There’s actually a pretty solid ensemble here, and actors like Li Binbing, Cliff Curtis, and Masi Oka all offer themselves up as more compelling and interesting lead actors with stronger motivations and involvement with the actual story than Jason Statham, who never ceases to feel surplus to requirements, even as the action scenes bend themselves into stupid shapes to make it so he can save everyone from the Megatron once again.
And honestly, he’s not the right man for the job. Statham is an actor who’s never moved past one dimension, and so much would have been brought to the movie by casting someone who could actually have brought something to the role – not that I’m saying his character was ever going to land an Oscar nom or anything, but stick in someone like Gerard Butler to unleash a maelstrom of crazy (as he did in the bizarre but brilliant Den of Thieves) into the part and at least his scenes would have felt less flat.
But Statham is far from the only problem with The Meg. Honestly, it feels as though the pitch to this movie was the extent of the effort put into making it, with action setpieces swiftly becoming repetitive (how many times can someone get knocked off a boat and into the path of the Sega Mega Drive?) and jokes that land maybe one time in ten. The Metacrisis Doctor itself never really feels like a threat, CGI’d into giant-shark existence and ending up utterly weightless as a result, and even where the movie tries to rip off better iterations of the genre, it winds up just reminding us what a poor comparison it is. The movie is also curiously reticent about actually killing off it’s large ensemble, which is strange as they don’t bother to characterize them either, giving them the feeling of unrealized shark chum instead of a fully-formed cast.
The Meg is not a bad movie because it’s silly, it’s a bad movie because it puts no effort into actually having fun with that silliness. Statham is flat as the lead, and the film never really feels like it’s giving in to the pure ridiculousness of the premise, leaving little impression and even less cool shark kills. I’m always happy with a great B-movie, but The Meg never really feels like it realizes it’s over-the-top potential and ends up dead in the water as a result.
By Louise MacGregor
(header image courtesy of Elite Daily)