Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Meg

Some spoilers.

One of the most enjoyable, and definitely one of the most confident shallow copies of Jaws out there, The Meg makes sure to circumvent expectation in search of unexpected, uncharted waters, but winds up intentionally swimming around a few things that would've been useful along the way.

The Meg is the definition of the adage, "bigger isn't always better." In this essay I will...

This CGI fest of a monster movie does its best in the beginning to do "the Spielberg" and refrain from showing the shark. We don't get our first glimpse until the very end of the first act. And I suppose this movie is evidence that even though Steven himself did "the Spielberg" accidentally due to his malfunctioning Bruce, that's not the only variable that makes for masterful suspense in a film.

Both movies start with the titular shark causing a death that the lead knows about. Where The Meg loses footing is it then cuts over to its other characters who are unaware of potential danger. We know they're in danger, but they don't -- and I guess that's important to transferring suspense to the audience. There's even a plot point where the lead (Jonas, Jason Statham) has tried to tell others that there's "something" out there, but he's written off as crazy. Compare that with Chief Brody, unsure and worried, trying to keep his town safe while not stepping on toes. One is clearly more effective at producing a tone of dread.

Good cast. Very large. Lots of red-shirts. 

Still The Meg deserves props for giving character any attention in the first place. Jonas has his issues to work through, though they're mostly perceived issues in the eyes of his peers not true faults. Still he gets to prove himself. And I genuinely wanted things to happen between him and the secondary lead Suyin (Bingbing Li) who has a cute and feisty daughter for some instant and effortless additions of charm, humor and stakes. But the best of the lot was Rainn Wilson's nerdy billionaire who funds the ill-fated deep-sea research center. The town mayor, if you will, and Wilson gave an unnecessarily good and nuanced performance.

As things roll along a parallel to Jaws' final chase pops up in the middle, with a tagging, shark-diving, attempting-to-poison sequence, that ends in the killing of a shark, but the wrong shark. As in Jaws, relief is temporary, but I'm wondering why that was included at all, as it divides the movie's attention between two indistinguishable monster-villains. The second one is bigger, sure, but they're both Megalodons, so.... they're both massive. The difference between a massive 50-foot shark and a massive 70-foot shark isn't very much when everything's underwater, hard to see, and made out of computer pixels. As a result, things never get personal without one clear thing to fear.

More like The Megs, plural. Misleading title.

With a desire to be more of a clear-cut action blockbuster type flick, this movie forgoes the horror killings of The Boy Who Wants To Go Swimming, and The Dog, but for some reason the characters still have parallels. The Meg does pick off a number of supporting characters, but it feels arbitrary in its choosing. The boisterous action is where the movie shines. With memorable sequences involving the shark-cage, the beach (where Meg drags floating docks around in lieu of yellow buoys) and the end sequence that goes over-the-top in a fun way. Oh and Jonas swimming with the shark in order to tag it was both amusing and probably the tensest scene the movie had.

Those moments were exactly the type of fun ridiculousness you'd expect from a Jason Statham movie about an overgrown shark. But those moments are surprisingly few and far between, and what takes its place isn't worth the trade-off. Character plots that take too much time to not go anywhere meaningful, and attempts at tension-building that falls flat five times to every one time it works. The best I can say for it is that the dumb fun works when it's there, for those who go in for Fast and Furious type antics underwater. I do. And the Jaws references are impressively earned, though it sidesteps copying anything Jaws did that would have lent much needed gravity.

If facing down an aggressive 70-foot shark doesn't cut it, you have some problems with your movie.

Does a Jason Statham underwater Fast and Furious installment featuring prehistoric sharks really need gravity? Well, I personally don't think so. But the movie spends way too much time attempting it regardless, with results equal to if they'd thrown a few tidbits in here and there between action beats. If they honestly wanted character there's easier and more effective ways to get it done. All they end up with is a laboriously rendered semblance, and semblances are easy to recognize but not exactly involving, and involment is the point of putting character development in your story in the first place.

The movie knows what it is: A massive blockbuster flick about a massive shark that might've delivered mass thrills, but instead whittles them down, trading in longevity for mass appeal and mass safety. It's only disappointing because they knew exactly what they were doing and still did it anyway.


  1. Great review, as always. I was interested in this movie because I've discovered that I have a shying, minor fascination with sharks (though, of course, they terrify me, too). ;-P Still don't know if I'll actually watch it, but I was interested by your review. :)

    1. Thanks! If you're fascinated with sharks I hope you've seen Jaws, but this might be a pretty worthwhile watch. The sharks act even more unrealistically, but they are admittedly pretty cool.

  2. Great review! I think maybe I'll watch this on a sick or rainy day when I just want some good CGI and mindless action. :P

    1. That sounds like an excellent plan. Hope you enjoy, and thanks!

  3. Loved your review! I've been hearing so many good things about this movie but sadly haven't been able to go see it yet. Maybe it will happen in the near future, hopefully.

    1. Thanks Abby! It's definitely one of those movies that's enjoyable no matter how bad it is. Hope you enjoy when you get to it!