Dir Jon Turteltaub, 113 mins, starring: Jason Statham, Rainn Wilson, Jessica McNamee, Bingbing Li, Robert Taylor, Ruby Rose
The Great White in Jaws is just a minnow by comparison with the enormous creature terrifying humanity in Jon Turteltaub’s fitfully entertaining The Meg. Summer wouldn’t be summer without at least one new shark movie but this film can’t work out how far to put its fin in its cheek. It begins like James Cameron’s The Abyss but ends in the kind of toothless high campery found in last year’s Baywatch.
Ironically, The Meg is far scarier and more suspenseful before the main attraction puts in its first appearance. When the creature is sensed on the sonar system or is felt crashing into a submarine, it has an unbridled menace. However, seen in close-up, trying to sink its molars into an eight-year-old girl through supposedly impregnable glass, its fright factor is much reduced.
Redoubtable action star Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a deep sea “rescuer” traumatised by an encounter with a creature from the deep some years before. He saved some of his colleagues but others died and his account of the mission isn’t believed by even those closest to him. Jonas has therefore retreated to Thailand, where he has become a drinker.
When a marine expedition 200 miles off the coast of China goes wrong and a vessel is stranded many miles below the ocean, Jonas is the only one who has the knowledge and gumption to rescue the crew, which includes his ex-wife. He is summoned reluctantly out of retirement.
The most baffling aspect of The Meg is the way the filmmakers deliberately undermine their own story. They’ve clearly spent a large slice of the film’s reported $150m budget on the special effects, which are often impressive enough, but the dialogue and characterisation would barely seem adequate in the cheesiest B-movie. The terrifying shark is upstaged in the final reel by a tiny lapdog with a bow on its head.
The film was made as a joint venture between Hollywood and the Chinese and is clearly hoping to make a killing in the Chinese market. Presumably, that is why the very sappy romantic sub-plot involving Statham’s character and kickass marine biologist Suyin (Li Bingbing) is thrown into the mix. He courts her by rescuing her time again from the “Meg”.
We hear a lot of pseudo-scientific guff about this megalodon belonging to a species of shark thought to have become extinct two million years before but that has survived in its own eco system many fathoms deep. It is over 75 ft long and can bite a boat in half.
Statham’s character may be called Jonas but don’t expect him to be swallowed by a whale. Nor is he the type to bear an Ahab-like grudge against the creature which gobbled up so many of his old friends. In Thailand, he does nothing but drink beer. In theory, he should be horribly out of shape and a bit of a bum. In practice, when Dr Heller (an old adversary) gives him a quick examination, he is pronounced instantly to be in tip top condition.
Statham shows the same stoical courage in the face of the shark as he does in uttering some often utterly laughable script lines. He always keeps a straight face and a wryly self-deprecating demeanour. He’s as muscular as ever, one reason Suyin can’t help from ogling his abs when he walks out of the shower.
The British actor is now in his 50s but shows every sign that he will match the Duracell-like longevity of other, even more venerable action stars like Denzel Washington and Liam Neeson. The Meg plays to his strengths. He’s a former member of Britain’s national diving team after all – the water-based stunts seem to come naturally to him and he knows how to handle a harpoon gun.
The film has some decent jokes along the way. The end credit is worth a chuckle; we have gags about humans eating shark fin soup and sharks snacking on humans in response; the clowning from Rainn Wilson as the cowardly, bloodthirsty American billionaire who’s underwriting the marine research is funny enough and there’s some enjoyable slapstick mayhem in which characters escape the shark’s jaws by inches.
You can’t help but marvel, though, at the blithe indifference the protagonists show when their close friends or family members are chomped to pieces by the enormous shark.
The film’s eco credentials are very thin. No one here shows any more than the most token desire to protect the creatures they’ve exhumed from the depths of the oceans. The prehistoric sharks behave according to their nature. The humans, though, seem to take a wanton pleasure in trying to destroy them. If depth charges don’t work, they’ll skewer them in the eye, put trackers on them, tangle them up in wire and generally torment the poor creatures.
Then they all want to take selfies next to the carcasses and to steal the teeth. They don’t show much common sense either. Like householders who spot a mouse in the kitchen, they can’t even conceive there might be more than one of the varmints to deal with.
“Man vs Meg isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter,” a character suggests but there is only ever going to be a single winner in this particular contest – and sadly it isn’t the creature with the fin.
The Meg hits UK cinemas 10 August.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies