The Meg isn’t trying to unseat Jaws as the monarch of the shark sub genre. It’s dumb but it’s not that dumb. It’s fun though, that quality almost making watching this in theaters worthwhile. But the movie has to end, and the audience has to turn their brains back on. If it wasn’t already on because of its self awareness. And that’s the main conflict in a movie that doesn’t really have one.
There is apparently a sub genre of movies dedicating themselves to depicting the megalodon. That’s a shark species that scientists thought were extinct long ago. Some of those are educational but most of them are schlock-y in the way that obscure shark movies are. This seems like a more refined version of those movies. It might even make audiences momentarily leave whatever cinematic comfort zones they might have had.
So let’s expand from the megalodon to its contemporary cousins, the great white sharks. There are three times more movies about that species than the Meg, starting with Jaws and its imitators. The sad thing about those imitators is that they exist to scare and thrill audiences and nothing else. And The Meg falls under that trap. Some scares take way too long before the payoff, a plague affecting monster movies today.
There wouldn’t be a film if the Meg was really extinct, but it isn’t, at least in this fictional universe. The Meg has been trolling the depths of the Philippine Sea – hi. It’s and destroying those who are dumb enough to explore such depths. But of course, there wouldn’t be a film if the shark has no enemies. But the Meg does have an opponent in the name of Jonas (Jason Statham). He’s a rescuer whose virility is under attack by the shark.
The Meg killed Jonas’s coworkers in 2013. Well, that’s Jonas’ version of the story. The rest of his crew believes that he abandoned those two crew members out of temporary hysteria. Nobody believes in the shark’s existence until five years later. Now, members of his crew join some marine biologists studying the Pacific Ocean. These scientists are smart but are way in over their heads against the shark.
There’s a hint of calculated self awareness to this new crew. They’re mostly marine biologists and computer technicians who are useful and sympathetic. But it also includes its token billionaire financier Morris (Rainn Wilson). Supposedly the crew’s dumbest member, he does come up with tracking the shark to kill it. He got the idea from Shark Week. The film knows that it’s building on the genre, but this wink still feels too hard.
The movie, based on Steve Alten’s book, was under development for two decades. Now it comes to fruition under a collaboration between Warner Brothers and Gravity Pictures, a Chinese company. And with that comes a fascinating depiction of the crew of scientists, coming from all racial backgrounds. Its leaders, other than Morris, are two generations of scientists, Zhang Minway (Winston Chao) and Suyin (Li Bingbing). Quite the father and daughter exploring team.
That doesn’t work out, and the crew now has to mitigate this problem. And they have to do that before it perfunctorily goes to a beach full of commoners. Morris’ plan to track the thing is out of the way. Now the crew, but mostly Jonas and Suyin have to swim a lot while wearing skintight diving suits. Which now leads to the movie’s latent purpose – to show off Jason Statham’s hot body.
Countering the realistic attractiveness of the humans is the megalodon. Credit where it’s due to whoever designed the thing, which looks rougher than other real scientists’ visual renditions of it. That is nice of them to visually delineate the differences between man and beast. But all of this amounts to servicing the alpha beast versus alpha male, in which man supposedly wins. And it’s kind of tiring to see that trope in movies.
Other sequences are ok. The worst case scenario, where the megalodon rushes to a Chinese beach. It has some competent film-making from John Turteltaub despite that beach having too much going on. But it also crowds the beach with the most annoying stereotypes. C-pop blares as young perform what might as well be a mating ritual. This might make the audience root for the megalodon, which is never a good sign in movies.