Here are some takeaways from The Meg (directed by John Turteltaub):
1. For a shark the size of a zeppelin, she’s surprisingly good at sneaking up on people. Really a lot more jump scares than you’d expect for a giant shark movie. She’s always popping into frame like surprise, bitch, I’m a shark!
2. If you were making a movie about a giant CGI shark, you’d think that one of the first things you’d get worked out is how to use CGI to create a giant shark. And yet, most of the actual giant shark CGI in The Meg is pretty bad. Its biggest weakness, oddly, is the inability to give the shark a sense of scale. It’s like a landscape painter who’s bad at trees.
3. The Meg, whose pitch I imagine was something along the lines of “what if shark big,” has three credited screenwriters.
All that being said, probably the greatest thing about The Meg is that it’s a movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark. I watched the whole thing in a state of expectant wonder, thinking “my God, they’re really going to figure out a way to have Jason Statham kill a giant prehistoric shark with his bare hands, aren’t they.”
The Meg is kind of like Jaws meets Birdemic. It’s kind of like Jaws meets Jaws. It’s kind of like Jaws on steroids. It’s kind of like Jaws on steroids and Monster energy drink, with a script run through Google Translate. The Meg is magnificent. The Meg is the friends we made along the way.
Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a guy who yells at people trapped in submersibles, shouting “Reynolds? Talk to me,” into a walkie-talkie, which seems like a very particular skill. Or, as he’s described in the press notes, “a deep-sea rescue diver.” This would seem to be perfect role for Jason Statham, on account of he’s actually a former diver and is also Jason Statham.
We first meet Jonas Taylor as he’s trying to rescue some military guys from a nuclear submarine. He only manages to get half of them out before the sub is crushed by… something. Jonas has some crazy ideas about what that something was, but the pencil necks topside just think he panicked and that oxygen bubbles went to his brain or something and he got a bunch of people killed. So Jonas goes on self-imposed action hero exile in Thailand. Foight a shahk? Sorry, mate, oy’m retoiyad.
But when Jonas’ ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) gets trapped in a submersible miles below the surface in a secret compartment of the ocean (what they thought was the ocean floor was actually just a curtain of hydrogen molecules… don’t ask), there’s only one guy to call. When they catch up to Jonas in a sweaty bar, he hasn’t grown a big scraggly beard or anything, he’s just the same guy, sweaty and chiseled and covered head to toe in a thin layer of stubble, only now with a beer in his hand. I like to think that Jason Statham has a special rider in his contract, “must always be Jason Statham.”
Eventually Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and his foxy daughter, Suyin (Li Bingbing), marine biologists at a fancy institute on an isolated deep sea platform outside Shanghai, bankrolled by an Elon Musk-esque billionaire played by Rainn Wilson, convince Jonas to get back on the submersible and go save his ex-wife and her team of plucky ethnic comic relief. From this jumping off point, the movie becomes a series of narrative contrivances meant to put Jason Statham in the water with a giant CGI shark.
As relatively weak as the CGI is, The Meg is brilliant at giving its dopey characters consistently entertaining dialogue and striking the perfect balance of clever/stupid without being overly self-aware. There are so many great lines, from “you’re telling me one fish did all of this?” to my favorite line of the movie, the excuse for Jason Statham to get in the water with a 75-foot shark armed with nothing but his wetsuit and harpoon gun: “She’s shown a pattern of aggression towards boats.”
Maybe it was because of something in The Meg’s childhood? Let’s explore this.
It turns out that the draw of the movie isn’t really about how good the CGI Meg looks, it’s more about the wacky situations Meg gets herself into; the screeching tourists on the beach worried about their fat children or tiny dogs. It’s also possible that The Meg‘s producers blew their entire CGI budget on “Jaxx,” a computer hacker character allegedly played by Australian former MTV VJ Ruby Rose, but who is clearly a video game character.
Why did they want a video game character in the movie? I’m not quite sure, maybe it was a cross-promotional deal between The Meg, the video game, and Ice Spiker.
The big question hanging over The Meg, other than whether Jason Statham will eventually get together with the foxy Chinese marine biologist, is what does The Meg want? What drives a giant prehistoric shark that’s escaped from a secret compartment in the ocean, anyway? Does she have dreams? The Meg flirts with a few possible answers, including the classic “mother nature’s retribution for man’s arrogant disregard for the environment,” but the beauty of The Meg is that all its hints at subtext are a misdirect. It really is just a movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark. All hints otherwise simply add suspense. He’s not going to teach us a valuable lesson about conservation, he’s going to fight a giant shark, and the climax is so perfect it had me pumping my fists in my seat. What more could you ask for?
If you see one movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark this summer, make it The Meg.