BIGGIER ISN’T ALWAYS BETTER
There seems to be a fascination of sharks in theatrical / cinematic endeavors. Over the years, these underwater sea predators, mostly the apex predator ones (i.e. great white shark, tiger shark, mako shark, blue shark, thresher shark, and hammerhead shark) have graced the silver screen with their intent to terrify viewers (and the characters in the feature) and usually act as a catalyst for a movie’s narrative path. Perhaps the most famous of all would be director Stephen Spielberg’s 1975 Jaws, which has become a hallmark feature in the history of filmmaking (even considered to be one of the greatest films of all time). Given its success by both critics and moviegoers, Jaws went on to spawn three sequels films (i.e. 1978’s Jaws 2, 1983’s Jaws 3-D, and 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge). However, none of these sequels movies ever surpassed nor matched the success to what the original Jaws film was able to achieve. Beyond the Jaws franchise, other films that feature sharks as primary antagonist includes 1999’s Deep Blue Sea, 2003’s Open Water, 2004’s Shark’s Tale, 2010’s The Reef, 2016’s The Shallow, and 2017’s 47 Meters Down. Now, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Jon Turteltaub head back into the depth of the ocean to unleash an enormous ancient predator in the movie The Meg. Does this movie sink its teeth in campy overtones or does it bite off more than it can chew?
Nestled 200 miles off the coast of China, Mana One is an underwater state-of-the-art research facility where a group of scientists perform their studies and expeditions, which is all funded by the eccentric billionaire mogul Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). Led by oceanographer Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his marine biologist daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), the Mana One team aspires to prove Dr. Zhang’s theory that there are unexplored ocean depths to the Mariana Trench, which is the deepest known part of the ocean. An exploration crew captained by Lori (Jessica McNamee) is able to just that when they enter a long-hidden area of the Trench, which has been separated from the rest of the Pacific Ocean by a natural “cold layer” atmospheric cloud. However, while down there, something enormous attacks their submersible and leaves her (and her team) stranded in an unknown underwater environment. Racing against the clock to save them, the Mana One crew reaches out to Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a deep-sea rescue diver who has been out of the game for five years, ever since he claimed a humongous shark-like creature was responsible for a submarine rescue mission gone wrong. As fate would have it, Jonas is also Lori’s ex-husband and (after some persuading) agrees to attempt to rescue her and her team, even knowing that a similar underwater monster / menace could be responsible for their current predicament. It turns out that Jonas was correct and Lori’s team was attacked a Megalodon: a colossal and ancient shark that was previously believed to have gone extinct millions of years ago. Now, this primordial undersea beast has now been inadvertently unleashed into the ocean at large as Jonas and the entire Mana One team must stop it before it wreaks havoc upon the populace.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
In real life, sharks have always been revered and feared amongst the general populace, with many seeing these deep-sea predators as dangerous (much like other apex predators like out there), which is something that they should be considered in my personal opinion. This, of course, makes them such a great obstacle and / or as an antagonist being in a variety of theatrical motion pictures, seeing these underwater creatures terrorize the characters throughout a feature’s runtime. Naturally, the most famous (and obvious) film that comes to my that features a shark is Stephen Spielberg’s classic Jaws. Iconic in its own right, Jaws was one of the film’s that stays with you, punctuating the feature with excitement, suspense, its on-screen visuals (revolutionary for its time), and (of course) the almost infamous musical melody…. you know… the whole “duunnn dunnn… duuuunnnn duun… duuunnnnnnnn dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dun dunnnnnnnnnnn dunnnn!!!”. Other movies that feature sharks have been somewhat “hit or miss”, finding films like The Shallows and even DreamWorks animated movie Shark Tale to be the more prominent entertaining hitters, while other movies like the Jaws sequels, Deep Blue Sea, 47 Meters Down, and even utterly stupid Sharknado movies (serious…. why are these movies even being made?)
This, of course, brings me back around to talking about the movie The Meg, the latest theatrical feature film to be have a shark as a main antagonist. For those who don’t know, The Meg is adapted from the book “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, which was written by author Steve Alten, and has spawn a novel series based on around the idea of a megalodon shark. Working at a bookstore, I remember coming across this title every now and again in the “Fiction” section, glancing at the back cover a few times (thinking I might read it….one day), but never got around to it. With an assuming premise and larger-than-life heroics, Alten’s first Meg novel seem ripe for a big screen film adaptation. Unfortunately, the road to getting The Meg filmed was a long one. Beginning back in 1996, Disney’s Hollywood Pictures bought the rights (from Alten) to adapted the novel into a motion picture. Unfortunately, making the movie stalled and by 1999, the studio’s rights expired. In 2005, New Line Cinema (reportedly) bought the rights to the novel, with several key members (director, producer, and screenwriter) being attached to the project, which had a tentative release date from summer of 2006. However, the deal fell through (due to budget constraints) and the project was abandoned sometime later. It wasn’t until 2015 that the movie’s adaptation of Alten’s novel finally got off the ground, with Warner Bros. Pictures buying the rights and following through on the film’s production (which leads us to the present). I remember hearing a few mentions about The Meg on the internet, but not so big noteworthy ones. Of course, the movie trailer for the film appeared online and created some “buzz” about the film, promising larger than action and cheesy fun. Given its premise, I was semi-interested in the movie. Personally, I like campy / cheesy films, but only if done right and I had some pre-release mixed feelings about The Meg. I don’t know what it was, but it was definitely there. Nevertheless, I see went to the see the movie, hoping to be entertained with this big action blockbuster aesthetics and goofy fun. What did think of it? While the movie has a inherit cheesiness throughout and a favorable role for actor Jason Statham, The Meg comes up short, feeling less fun that what it wants to be and ends up being a derivate and choppy film rather than something pure ridiculous entertainment. In short, bigger doesn’t always mean better.
As a side-note, since I never read Alten’s Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, my review is gonna be based on the movie itself and not what was add, subtracted, or otherwise change from Alten’s original literary works. That being said, the book (from what I heard) has a pretty cool opening scene (taking place in the pre-historic era and involving a megalodon shark and a T-Rex) and a very big heroic stunt towards the end of the book, which would be really awesome to see in the movie. Sadly, both of these scenes aren’t in film, which is disappointing.
While actor / director Eli Roth was original suppose to direct (he left due to creative differences), The Meg is directed by Jon Turteltaub, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like National Treasure (and its sequel film), Cool Runnings, and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice. Much as happen assumed (and advertised), Turteltaub makes the movie has that “tongue and cheek” (or rather “teeth and cheek”) motif vibe throughout the feature, feeling slightly self-aware of the goofy premise that the movie is in telling. Thus, the movie (from start to finish) keeps a semi-entertainment level, offering plenty of broad action scenes (and characters as well) and certainly has that campy B-rated movie tone (for the most part). The movie’s action also helps add to the flavor, with a few scenarios playing out in large-scale (some might be recognizable from other projects), but the result adds to the larger-than-life behemoths that Jonas and the Mana One team face. In truth, Turteltaub’ s makes The Meg feel like I was watching Anaconda or Lake Placid…. whether or not that’s a good or bad thing is up to the viewer’s perception and or likeability of giant monster movies.
In terms of presentation, The Meg has that blockbuster-ish look and feel throughout the movie, which (again) does semi-heighten the over-the-top ridiculousness that the film has to offer. The set-pieces for the movie are large (in scale) and have that high quality (i.e. slick sci-fi look to them), which is mostly notable within the movie is set on Mana One. Thus, the credit from the art direction team and the production designs by Grant Major are noteworthy and commendable in the movie. The visual effects for the movie are a bit of a mixed bag. Why? Well, it’s mostly surrounding the effects in bringing the megalodon shark to life. Some scenes have the shark looking quite impressive (huge in size and scale) in a very detailed and believable way, while other times it looks too fake and dated visual effects. Thus, the visual effects for the movie lacks a consistency throughout, which can be a bit of a distraction for some. The rest of the movie’s technical team, including film editing by Steven Kemper and Kelly Matsumoto, set decorations by Amber Richards, and cinematography by Tom Stern all do favorable work in their respective fields throughout the movie. It’s nothing grand, but it does help the production value of the movie look impressive. Lastly, the film’s musical score, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, is pretty good. While it probably won’t win any more or get nominated for this upcoming award season, Gregson-Williams score heightens the movie with its dramatic melodies and pulse-pounding tension mood cues.
Unfortunately, The Meg struggles from the get-go in trying to find a perfect balance between summer blockbuster fun and cheesy / campy nuances. For starters, Turteltaub has a hard time in trying to strike a balance between cheeky campy fun (mostly humor based lines) and scare thrills and chills. Done right, the movie could’ve been something truly great and enjoyable. However, The Meg doesn’t achieve that, with Turteltaub presenting some confusing elemental tones throughout the movie. The juxtaposition of campy silliness and dramatic scares and thrills is perplexing in this movie and the marriage between the two (in The Meg) is an unsatisfying one. Thus, the tonal shifts of the two is jarring and the movie doesn’t know what it wants to be: funny with its ridiculous premise (almost like a Sharknado movie) or something serious and dramatic. Adding to that is the film’s humor, which again is suppose to be that “tongue and cheek” cheeky type that is played for laughs. However, most of the various jokes and gags are cheap and rather dull, with most of them having that DOA (dead on arrival) and…. quite personally…. take away from the more seriousness moments that occur in the movie. Now, before I go further, let me remind my readers that I do like cheesy / campy funs, so I do understand the nature of these types of movies and how they work. That being said, The Meg just struggles to be something “pure popcorn ridiculous fun”. Some might like it, but many will find (including myself) that the movie is stupid, brainless, and not as funny as it wants to be. Even the action sequences, while amusing to a certain degree, can’t hold the entertaining thrills and chills that it so desperately wants to display on-screen. I’m not saying that the movie needed to be super gory (with an R-rated), but The Meg needed a bit more “pizzazz” in scary tactics and chilling thrills.
Adding to that notion is the fact that the film’s script seems rather lazy. Yes, there is a story to be told (involving Jonas, the various Mana One team members, and the megalodon shark), but majority of the feature seems shallow and barely scratches the surface of what it really wants to be. Thus, most of the narrative screenplay, which was penned by Dean Greorgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber, seems too silly (even for a campy cheesy endeavor like this) and lay ground work for some interesting stuff that never really pays off. This includes Jonas’s relationship with his ex-wife and his resentment towards Dr. Heller as well as Dr. Zhang and Suyin’s relationship, Jonas and Suyin’s romantic back and forth, and a lot of other similar scenarios that don’t pan out. The screenplay also interjects a lot of scientific technobabble that really doesn’t mean much and just seems to pad the dialogue to make sound cool. Coinciding with that is the fact that the movie has too many characters for us (the viewer) to even care about, but more on that below.
My personal biggest gripe I have with this movie is how choppy it all feels. all movies, The Meg follows a three-act storytelling arc in its feature; finding each one to be very distinct in the film’s narrative. That being said, the actually ebb and flow of those acts (in the movie) are very choppy and don’t feel like a part of a full-length feature film. In truth, it felt like I was watching three 35-minute episodes of a TV show and / or min-series. What do I mean? Well, the first act has a problem introduced (there’s a little backstory added) and then the problem gets resolve rather quickly and ends. I mean it reaches a point where the ending of the first act could basically end the movie altogether (i.e. cue the end credits roll). Unfortunately, that’s not the case as the second act quickly begins and proceeds to do the exact same thing again: a little bit of story / character moments followed by a problem (a few action scenes) and then ends with a closing piece that seems wrap everything up (again). Cue end credits title once again. Then the third act begins and it’s the exact same thing…. just much bigger and boisterous. You get where I’m going with this. Thus, the movie could’ve been solely based around anyone of the three acts (expanded upon the ideas and scenarios in those particular events), but ends up being way too short, underdeveloped, and too choppy for a wholesome narrative arc. Of course, this goes back to the screenwriters (Georgaris and the Hoebers) and how created a very bland and unbalanced screenplay for The Meg. There is a story, but its not as cohesively as it would like to be.
The cast in The Meg is a good mixture of recognizable faces and some unknown ones within the various set of characters that populate the movie. Unfortunately, most of the actors and actresses in the movie deliver adequate performances. I’m not saying that their bad in movies (well…maybe one), but majority of them are bland footnote ones, completely generic, and are, more or less, cannon fodder for background moments and / or shark attack set pieces. At the head of the pack (and probably the best performance in the entire movie) is actor Jason Statham, who plays the role of underwater rescue diver Jonas Taylor. Statham, known for his roles in The Transporter trilogy as well as Spy, Crank, and The Fate of the Furious, handles himself well in the movie, playing up his classic action hero bravado in a lead that he’s grown accustom to in his many movie endeavors. The character build of Jonas Taylor, however, as a lot to be desire, but ends up a shallow one. There’s plenty of backstory to his character (i.e. a haunted past, a disgruntle colleague, and working to save his ex-wife), but its not fully flesh out. Still, while it may not be his defining nor best role of his career, Statham does shine in The Meg.
Behind Statham’s Taylor, actress Li Bingbing plays Suyin Zhang, a personal official at Mana One. Known for her roles in Transformers: Age of Extinction, The Forbidden Kingdom, and 1911), Bingbing handles herself well in a movie like this, playing up the strong female architype bravado throughout the feature. Her on-screen chemistry with Statham is playful, but wooden and the film’s attempt of making a love connection between the two is pretty vanilla and sour tasting. Alongside, Bingbing’s Suyin is actor Winston Chao (1911 and Road to Dawn), who plays her father Dr. Minway Zhang, the oversees the daily operations of Mana One. Chao is a good actor, but his character is far too cliché and generic to fully care about him. He’s in the movie, but of little importance to The Meg’s grand scheme and his scenes with his daughter seem pretty shoehorned in. Actress Shuya Sophia Cai (Somewhere Only We Knew) plays Suyin’s daughter (and Dr. Minway’s granddaughter) Meiying Zhang. She really doesn’t play much into the movie’s main story (just pops up here and there) and is mostly have that random “kid” archetype in a feature like this. However, her performance is good (even for a young actor and in a minor capacity) and her scenes with Statham are pretty cute.
Unfortunately, the last large supporting character in the movie is probably the worst, with actor Rainn Wilson who plays Jack Morris, an eccentric billionaire tycoon who financed the “Mana One” underwater research facility. Wilson, known for his roles in The Office, Monsters vs. Aliens, and Super, has proven to be actor of many comedic facades. However, Wilson’s performance in The Meg is totally obnoxious and completely annoying, playing up the goofy eccentric architype for his character of Morris by interject weird one-liners for some cheap laughs, which ultimately backfire on their intent and just end up DOA (dead on arrival). In truth, the character of Jack Morris (despite some minor dialogue in a few scenes) could be eliminated from the movie altogether and the film’s narrative structure could stay intact, without the character ever be missed in any way, shape, or form. In the end, Wilson’s Morris is horrible and probably the worst character in the entire film.
The rest of the cast, including actor Cliff Curtis (Fear the Walking Dead and Sunshine) as James “Mac” Mackreides, actor Page Kennedy (Rush Hour and S.W.A.T.) as DJ, actress Ruby Rose (Pitch Perfect 3 and John Wick: Chapter 2) as Jaxx, actor Robert Taylor (Longmire and Vertical Limit) as Dr. Heller (who doesn’t trust Taylor from his previous mission they worked on together), actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Lady Dynamite and The Missing) as The Wall (really…. that’s a character name?), actress Jessica McNamee (The Vow and Battle of the Sexes) as Lori (Taylor’s ex-wife), and actor Masi Oka (Hawaii Five-0 and Heroes) as Toshi are pretty one-dimensional and / or generic, offering up various crew / team members that make up Mana One. Again, as I stated in one of the above paragraphs, The Meg has too many side characters to even care about and most just end up as “cannon” fodder, with one or two spotlight scenes from them. This is disappointing as their acting talents are fine (but are horribly utilized in the movie) and some of them (i.e. Ruby Rose), are underserved in a movie like this.
It’s Statham vs. a primordial megalodon shark from the pre-historic era in the new movie The Meg. Director Jon Turtelaub’s latest film see Alten’s story come to life (on the silver screen), with a barrage of “no holds barred” goofy angsts and abashedly campy overlays throughout the feature. While the movie takes a somewhat pride in its endeavor of its inherit cheesy tone and Statham does make for decent (and likeable) main hero protagonist in the film, the rest of the feature falters underneath its own premise, finding The Meg struggling in its confusing tone, mediocre script / wooden dialogue, bland stock-like characters, adequate to annoying performances, hardly up the scares levels of fear, and some niffy CG effects. Personally, I thought this movie was bad. Despite embracing its overall cheesy ridiculous and some vague to semi-entertainment value, the movie just never fully “clicks” into its own cinematic terrain and into its own motion picture rhythm. If this movie was released back during the mid to late 90s (during the heyday of ridiculous action blockbuster movies) or if I was ten years old, I would love this movie more. Sadly, that’s not the case (on both accounts) for me. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is both a “iffy choice” with some people liking it (again, those who like the cheesy B-rated movies), while everyone else is a “skip it” as it really neither good enough (or bad enough) to be cheesy movie fun. In the end, The Meg tries to bring big dumb mindless fun, but ends up being too generic and too brainless to even be considered good B-rated fun.
2.5 Out of 5 (Iffy Choice / Skip It)
Released On: August 10th, 2018
Reviewed On: August 13th, 2018
The Meg is 113 minutes long and is rated PG-13 for action / peril, bloody images, and some language