In the blue corner we have The Meg or Megalodon, a giant shark that existed millions of years ago and at sizes reaching almost 60ft (although this being Hollywood that size is now 90ft) by far the largest predator to have lived. In the red corner, hailing from Derbyshire, weighing 185 lbs and prone to bouts of ill tempered violence we have Jason Statham. Who will come out alive and what will be left with them?! This question, alas, takes almost half the films running time before we get into the nitty gritty of actually finding out. It is a premise ripe for tongue-in-cheek fun, yet despite all the excitement leading up to The Meg’s release about the potential of Statham punching a giant shark for 90 mins we mustn’t forget that to make an actual workable film you need more than that. After all Jaws (to which this film makes far too many overt references to) is about much more than 3 men in a boat hunting a shark. Unfortunately The Meg never quite grasps what sort of a film it wants to be.
Take the first 45 mins or so, largely keeping things to a strict seriousness we meet a collection of excitable scientists as they venture into the deepest parts of the ocean from a brand-new multi-billion dollar research rig, funded by Rainn Wilson’s wisecracking rich guy. One such expedition results in a submersible becoming trapped deep below and the team calling on Statham’s now washed up deep-sea rescue expert Jonas. Outside of the sheer ridiculousness that he is playing a guy called Jonas and is built more akin to a burly street brawler than a man of science, Statham plays things pretty straight in these early portions. Drunkenly stumbling to sell the idea that he is washed up before becoming remarkably clean in less than 5 mins of screentime. You see Jonas has had a run in with The Meg previously, as seen in a remarkably brutal prologue, resulting in him letting his fellow rescue team perish in order to save others. In a sign of the films lack of intelligence, many unfairly malign him for it despite it being pretty clear he made the right call. In fact this appears to be a running gag for Statham as another decision he makes later in the film that saves others gets him chastised with no real sense of logic.
Soon enough Jonas has met the team, including potential love interest Suyin (Li Bingbing trying to invest some sparks with Statham despite the noticeably large age difference), and their loyal leader played by an always likeable Cliff Curtis, before venturing down into the depths. Coming face to face with the Megalodon as he attacks their crew. In a sign of the seriousness the filmmakers take this material we witness the first of at least 3 moments whereby a character sacrifices themselves to save others. All this is watchable, thanks to the likeability of the cast and some strong effects work, but is all a little dry (yes the irony is intended). Things at least pick up when The Meg rises from its protected sanctuary under the ocean into regular waters. There Jonas and his team are in a race against time in stopping this thing causing havoc.
Although not that you’d know the stakes when the film largely avoids showing any of the outside world beyond this small team. Not that I’d ever want to compare this film to Jaws, that’s both unfair on that film and this one, but you knew what was at risk in that film, here you never get a feel for the panic such a creature would inevitably bring if unleashed. Still things do improve from this section onwards, director Jon Turtletaub (National Treasure) instilling a palpable sense of tension into his set-pieces. Action sequences that certainly benefit from being filmed in actual seas, the shark is of course all CGI but having the surrounding areas captured in camera gives a surprising weight to the fear. He also builds them nicely by using clear geography, succinct editing and a balanced pace. Highlight by far being the moment the shark actually threatens a larger community when it attacks a nearby party beach. Sadly the lack of blood, and by it’s very nature the sheer size of the creature means the threat feels less intimate, less terrifying. Also in treating things with far too much seriousness it never even conjures the madcap violent absurdity similar sequences nailed in films such as Piranha or Deep Blue Sea.
Don’t get me wrong there are moments of levity throughout, notably from Statham’s lovingly deadpan reaction to things, but its tone is still too monotone and straight to fully exploit the insanity of its concept. The darkness is outweighed by some light and playful interactions between Jonas and Suyin’s young daughter (as in Fast and Furious 8 Statham seems at his best when bouncing off a minor), yet tonally things never truly gel. By the last act we get at least a sense of just how fun the film could be, as Jonas finally goes head to head with The Meg involving underwater vehicles, harpoon guns and an airborne Jason Statham. It is silly, pretty much like the rest of the film, but owns its silliness in a way the early portions fail to do with their straight faced dryness. It certainly won’t bore you, and is competently made but The Meg is proof that amazingly outlandish concepts such as a bald bruiser having a punch up with a ginormous shark are devilishly hard to get right. Statham versus a giant snake for round 2 maybe?!
Verdict: The Meg never quite lands its emotional or comedy moments amidst a tonal hesitance, leaving nothing but a few tense action scenes and Jason Statham being Jason Statham. Disappointing.