“I’ll take ‘How to Stuff Up an Easy Slam Dunk’ for $500, Alex.”
The Meg is a no-brainer, and not in a good way. It looks like a formula for instant B-movie success: take Steve Alten’s risible but narratively serviceable source novel, plane away the misogyny, stir in some ironic self-awareness, and Bob’s your uncle. No need for pretensions of grandeur: Jaws may be the master mould here, but being able to stand proudly alongside the likes of Deep Blue Sea, Deep Rising, Piranha 3D, or even Anaconda is an acceptable win condition.
But The Meg is not Deep Blue Sea. The Meg is not even Snakes on a Plane, although the chief quality it shares with that stinker is being almost entirely forgettable. That and, like Snakes, it fails to live up to its deliciously knowing premise. Just as “Samuel L. Jackson vs snakes” did before it, “Jason Statham vs a dinosaur shark” promises so much but, like an order from wish.com, it delivers so little: few thrills, fewer laughs, and regrettably little blood.
There’s possibly a little voice in your head telling you that this is one of those “so bad it’s good” flicks that stuffy critics just don’t get, man, and it’ll still be worth plonking down a few bucks on Cheap Night and milking the experience for laughs, possibly with a little chemical assistance. Quash that. The problem is that, set down on paper, even the driest description of The Meg sounds like at least a bit of a good time. Our hero is Jonas Taylor (the Stath’), a former elite rescue diver lured back for One Last Job when a deep sea submersible containing his wife (Jessica McNamee) and a couple of disposables (Masi Oka and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson) has run into trouble exploring a deep oceanic trench. Could the cause of their woes be the same thing that sent Jonas’ last mission so disastrously awry: a 75 foot Megaladon (basically a giant Great White), long-thought extinct but actually just chillin’ in the deep dark depths? And could said Meg make its way to the surface to munch on the unwary? And could that be a way more boring series of events than you could possible believe?
Yes, yes, and yes.
Some variation or another of The Meg has been in development for over two decades, so perhaps it’s forgivable that the script feels designed by committee, but the problem is that the process has micromanaged the story to within an inch of its life, always taking the broadest, most obvious option at every turn in the hopes of hooking some of that elusive and lucrative four quadrant international appeal. The film limps along from setpiece to setpiece with precious little momentum, few thrills and, a couple of jump scares aside, almost no horror. Every character you expect to survive survives; everyone you expect to die dies.
Those characters are played by a solid roster of performers (and Ruby Rose) who all do what they can with the material at hand: Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Robert Taylor, and Winston Chau try their level best to inject some life into the proceedings, despite being saddled with wildly contradictory behaviours and motivations. Rainn Wilson’s billionaire, the money behind the underwater research facility where part of the action takes place, might as well be suffering from Multiple Personality Disorder, flipping from goofball comic relief to avaricious corporate villain seemingly at random. All are united in their awe of Statham’s hyper-competent hero, though; indeed the one character who initially isn’t, Robert Taylor’s grizzled medico, gets his own highlight scene to admit how wrong he was partway through the proceedings. to be fair, Li Bingbing is also less than enamoured with the Stath’ – for about three seconds before it becomes apparent she’s only resisting his charms for the sake of extending the romantic subplot out to an acceptable length.
“Acceptable” seems to have been the guiding axiom of the whole production, with every element just about fulfilling its remit, but never going so much as a millimeter outside its designated parameters into “actually interesting” territory. The best it can do is deliberately remind you of better movies. Whole lines – hell, whole sequences – are cribbed from Jaws, a tactical error that only serves to make the viewer wish they were watching Jaws. It’s lazy – the kind of arrogant, ostentatious laziness that only a very specific stripe of nine figure film can aspire to, where stupid amounts of money and effort have been sacrificed in the creation of something truly insipid and dull.
That sort of thing should not be rewarded. A scene where a 75 foot eating machine cruises into a packed beach should not elicit yawns – but it does. A film with a budget hovering in the mid $100M range shouldn’t look cheap, but here we are. A cast packed with this much talent shouldn’t look uncomfortab… well, maybe they should, especially if they’ve seen the rushes. Even a dog has enough sense to look ashamed when it’s peed on the carpet.
And The Meg is definitely a dog.