The Meg in The Meg
I often worry that culture, as a whole, is bankrupt; that I’m never going to see a truly groundbreaking movie, that I’m never going to hear music that sounds like nothing else, that I’m never going to read a book that isn’t just a variation on a book that already exists. I worry whether the next 20 years are just going to be minor variations on a theme until I watch everyone I know and love drown from the cataclysmic weather events that they keep telling us are just around the corner. I think the culture is doing fine as a whole these days, but I also feel that it’s likely we’ll look back on it in hindsight and find a grey morass of unbroken sameness. Fortunately for me and for all of you at home, the biggest shark ever is now even bigger, so stop worrying.
Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is a rescue diver turned unconvincing drunk following a bungled rescue mission that left his two best friends dead. Taylor is convinced that the mission failed because they uncovered something unholy and prehistoric down there, a theory that most dismiss until scientists working on an offshore facility come face to face with what appears to be a giant prehistoric shark. Jackass financier Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), head scientist Minway Zhang (Winston Chao), his oceanographer daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) and a bunch of lesser defined scientist types (played by Cliff Curtis, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Jessica McNamee and Olafur Darri Olafsson) bring in Taylor to help them tame the beast, which soon proves to be a near-impossible task.
Moby Dick, this is not. The Meg isn’t a disaster movie or a horror movie. Instead, it’s trying to stake its claim in the semi-viable genre of shark movies. Director Jon Turteltaub treats the bottom of the sea as if it were space, like some lost episode of a Star Trek series in which the randomly selected cast is even less defined than usual. The Meg subscribes to the Jaws playbook in some way, waiting as long as possible to unleash the beast, but any other comparison to the Meg Daddy of all shark movies is purely coincidental. The Meg resembles nothing more closely than an Alien knockoff — albeit significantly wetter.
It’s getting increasingly difficult to write blockbusters that don’t also centre around the characters yelling indecipherable science-adjacent exposition, but The Meg represents some kind of high-water mark in the tossed-off nonsense category. It has perhaps the most utilitarian, devoid-of-personality screenplay I’ve seen in a major blockbuster in years. It’s an endless miasma of rapid-fire shark facts and onomatopoeic yelling punctuated by some of the flabbiest and most low-effort bits of witty dialogue and one-liners imaginable. For a movie that seems to have a healthy idea of how silly its premise is, The Meg squanders much of its running time on the bare minimum.
The action scenes, at the very least, fulfill their potential. Put together without much verve but with great enthusiasm by Turteltaub, they fulfill the promise of giant-shark-based carnage and then some, eventually taking our oversized pal to a crowded Chinese beach where lots of scantily-clad beachgoers (and the now-seemingly omnipresent sight gag of a chubby kid eating a popsicle) are inevitably terrorized by the shark. These scenes are the closest The Meg ever comes to having a discernible personality, as it spends the rest of its time lost in a cookie-cutter, quadrant-pleasing, Chinese-audience-chasing haze of generic water-treading.
Even the cast seems adrift in this thing. The Meg has the well-scrubbed, internationally appealing feel of a Dwayne Johnson vehicle; much like Skyscraper, it was financed with Chinese money and set in China in order to increase appeal to what has become the second most important film market in the world. Though Chao and Bingbing feature prominently, it seems more likely that the filmmakers want to cast as wide a net as possible, and the final cast is a jumble of broad-appeal performers that aren’t given much to do. Even Statham seems curiously neutered and charisma-challenged as the flawless, nigh-emotionless Taylor, an interchangeable lead for an interchangeable character in a movie that’s nothing but moving parts that are easily swapped for the generic brand.
Say what you will about the Transformers movies — they’re shit, but they’re personable shit. What’s most dispiriting about The Meg is not that it’s a dumb movie about a giant shark, but that it’s the dumb-movie-about-a-giant-shark equivalent of having to mow the lawn after being asked three times. It’s efficient without having even a minute amount of passion behind it. The cast seems bored and indifferent; the dialogue seems to have been mostly placeholders they forgot to replace; the editing is haphazard and lazy; even the giant fucking shark seems like it would rather be elsewhere once it saw what it actually signed up for. The Meg is both too dumb to be fun and not fun enough to be dumb. Maybe the culture is broken; if we only have a few decades left on this Earth, why the fuck are we spending them on giant shark movies that are this disillusioned with the idea of a giant shark movie? ■
The Meg opens in theatres on Friday, Aug. 10. Watch the trailer here: