Would it really be summer if you weren’t munching on a bucket of popcorn while a shark movie plays on the big screen? Back in 1975 it all got going with the granddaddy of them all, 1975’s Jaws, and in recent years the shark flick has been enjoying a bit of a resurgence. 2016’s The Shallows with Blake Lively pushed all the right buttons, and last year’s 47 Meters Down did okay for itself, too. And of course there’s the annual ritual of ultimate shark-fueled cheese, The Sharknado series on SyFy, which wraps up next weekend with its sixth and final installment.
Before Ian Ziering and Tara Reid (and a host of other D-list celebs) hack sharks to bits with chainsaws, though, Jason Statham and Li Bingbing get their shot in Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg.
Unfortunately, what had all the potential to become either a bona fide classic like Jaws or a (very) guilty pleasure like Sharknado ends up playing it safe and landing right in the middle. The Meg has no shortage of witty one-liners, and the cast—which also includes The Office vet Rainn Wilson and comedian Page Kennedy—has the pedigree for a mindless, end-of-summer bit of fun, but then things fall apart whenever The Meg takes itself too seriously, and it’s amplified by a script that uses every cliché it can possibly cram in.
Statham stars as deep sea rescue diver Jonas Taylor, who spends his days as a loner in a bar in Thailand ever since his last mission; he saved 11 people, but he had to leave some behind, right after (of course) spouting, “If we go back, everyone dies!” When his ex-wife (of course) gets attacked in her research sub by a giant creature six miles down, Jonas (of course) gets pulled back in for one last job, despite his protestations.
The research lab, situated on a platform 200 miles off the Chinese coast, was paid for by billionaire Wilson’s Jack Morris, who (of course) wears a baseball hat and a hipster t-shirt while telling everyone that it’s his money on the line, and if the team doesn’t continue their research, some other company will, so let’s go!
The rest of the movie is a non-stop litany of human-against-shark set pieces, punctuated by some of the more head-scratch-inducing choices, ridiculous last-minute rescues, and convenient coincidences in shark moviedom. (Giggles were heard early and often throughout the theater.) And if I had a nickel for every time someone fell off a boat and into the water…
Had Turteltaub and the screenwriting team of Dean Georgaris and brothers Jon and Erich Hoeber (RED 2) decided they were going to go either full-on camp or all-the-way suspense, we may well have had something here. As you watch, you can actually picture how The Meg might have succeeded if it could have just stopped veering off in weird new directions—or if anyone in the movie had ever heard of SONAR…but that’s a whole other issue.
Despite it all, die-hard shark movie fans actually might not complain too loudly; there are good number of effective jump scares, and the monster itself is a jaw-dropping behemoth. For everyone else, though, The Meg is yet another hyped-up movie that just bit off more than it could chew.