Shark movies have an important place in film history. Jaws, the first-ever summer blockbuster, changed the film industry forever. Despite having a much bigger shark in it The Meg will certainly not make as big a splash as Jaws. The new action movie is perfectly dumb in the best possible way, though in an unexpected twist, the giant shark is really itself just bait to get moviegoers to see a Jason Statham movie.
In the movie, an extremely loose adaptation of a decade-old book, Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a former rescue diver who got out of the game after narrowly escaping what he claims was a gigantic, submarine-destroying shark. Because he made the hard call to leave two of his friends behind, rather than risking everyone’s deaths, he’s a disgrace, and nobody believes his claim that a Carcharocles megalodon — an extinct 60-foot-long ancestor of the great white — was responsible.
Everything changes when an enterprising Chinese scientist, backed by a douchey billionaire, sends a submersible expedition deep into an unexplored ocean trench. The crew, led by Jonas’ ex-wife (of course) are attacked by a Meg, and Jonas is the only person who can rescue them from their damaged sub. However, when they get back up to the surface, one of the sharks followed them, and it’s up to Jason Statham to kill the monstrous fish.
That’s really what The Meg is, a battle between shark and Statham. Shark movies can run a wide gambut between scary (Jaws) and goofy (Sharknado), and The Meg fully embraces the more ridiculous side of that scale, albeit with a much higher production budget than a silly TV movie.
Every character is quick with a wisecrack or tension-breaking joke the instant they’ve escaped the shark, so there’s no lingering feeling of dread of any sense of real stakes. It’s just a series of setpieces where Statham and his co-star Li Bingbing throw down with a jumbo shark. When it’s time to get serious, the characters speak in grave tones about their detailed plans to combat this deadly shark in a way that’s comically out of place in such a indulgently silly plot. It helps that Li, a Chinese mega-star who will no doubt help The Meg in the Chinese market it’s so clearly gunning for (every Japanese character from the book was changed to be Chinese in the film), enunciates the hell out of every syllable of her silly dialogue. Audiences really have to pay attention to how absurd this all is.
The Meg takes itself seriously only for comedic or entertaining effect. Several laugh-out-loud moments in the movie aren’t jokes, exactly, so much as they’re just eye-rollingly blunt, like the reveal that the stranded submersible pilot is Statham’s ex-wife, or any time Li and Statham flirt. These moments are jarringly straightforward for what’s otherwise a live-action cartoon, and the contrast is a hoot. Statham acts like a human wakeboard, barely escaping the big shark’s chomping jaws before fighting the Meg in a fantastical, high-tech submarine later on. My dude also stabs a shark in the eye as it leaps out of the water and holds on, like the over-the-top badass he is.
There’s an ocean’s worth of intense Jason Statham action, but The Meg doesn’t really have enough sharks to be a fulfilling shark movie. There’s suspense as the Meg lurks in murky waters, and the shark does chow down on a whole bunch of people, but the giant maneater feels more like a set piece for Statham to throw his charisma and body against rather than a terrifying oceanic killing machine. Maybe this is because the shark is too big, and the PG-13 film too bloodless. The kills are over in an instant because the Meg is big enough to swallow people whole, making that classic, terrifying first bite that Jaws nailed so well in its opening scene impossible. The way the CGI shark is designed, with extra ridges and a boxy frame jam-packed with spiky teeth, is a bit over the top, which makes the animal feel less real and, therefore, like less of a threat.
There also just aren’t that many opportunities for the Meg to act like a shark, since it’s almost totally limited to multiple rounds of combat against Statham and his team. The one time it goes after civilians, plowing through a crowded Chinese beach that’s so full of tourists in inflatable inner tubes it looks like a bowl of fruit loops, the scene ends too soon. Statham has to fight that shark again, after all.
Lest you smell blood in the water and think that this means The Meg is a bad movie, worry not. It’s an extremely dumb movie, but that had to be the intention from the start. The film is also very different from the original book, which does feel much more like a traditional shark movie. It gets mileage out of Statham’s star power and tendency to do insane things in crazy action movies, rather than established shark movie tropes. So, even though at one point Statham literally jumps the shark, The Meg is still refreshing summer fun.
The Meg hits theaters on August 10.