The most famous line in Steven Spielberg’s iconic Jaws is “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”
Hollywood has always taken the view that bigger is better, and if a twenty-five foot Great White is good, than a ninety foot, prehistoric megalodon must be even better. The presumed extinct, prehistoric shark grew to lengths of ninety feet. Of course the bigger boat you’d need would probably be a destroyer, but you can almost imagine the pitch meeting. There’s even a book to adapt, Steven Alten’s 1997 Meg.
I was once told by a studio insider that the idea of using a megalodon was pitched for Jaws 2 by none other than original Jaws author Peter Benchley himself, and rejected at least partially on the grounds that the special effects seemed too daunting. But that shouldn’t be a problem now, right?
Or maybe not. Plodding, pedestrian and predictable, The Meg doesn’t even match the scare quotient of the Jaws sequel with Michael Caine, which means it gets the 3 a.m. time slot during Shark Week. The titular meg is 100% CGI and looks it, and a bigger, uglier shark isn’t necessarily a scarier shark.
Jason Statham plays Jonas, a movie hero who specializes in deep water rescues. The movie opens with flashback prologue in which a past rescue went bad, and Jonas has to leave some men behind on a disabled sub to die. Naturally, a Megalodon was to blame, because, well, it’s a movie about a Megalodon. Fast forward five years (it isn’t actually that fast – nothing in this movie is), Jason, now a full-time drunk on an island, is called out of retirement because his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee of Battle of the Sexes, CHIPS and The Vow) is trapped in a disbled deep sea exploration vessel.
Yes, this is one of those movies where although the time in which the trapped people can be rescued is measured in hours and yet the hero travels large distances in the time it would take to insert a commercial break. That should make FX’s work easier, which is good, since they’ll probably be showing this by next week.
Anyone who’s seen a movie set in a deep water research facility knows that nothing is going to go right, but the characters in these movies go ahead and pocket the signing bonuses anyway, and there’s always one who can’t swim. That doesn’t necessarily excuse making them all cardboard cutouts, but The Meg doesn’t offer any characters you won’t feel you haven’t met in another movie.
The Meg squanders a perfectly good international cast as the human shark snacks, including Chinese actress and singer Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis (AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead), Taiwanese leading man Winston Chao, Australian model, actress, recording artist and veejay Ruby Rose, American TV veteran Page Kennedy, Australian TV and movie actor Robert Taylor, busy TV actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson and the popular Masi Oka (TV’s Heroes). They’re all upstaged by ten year old Chinese actress Shuya Sophia Cai, who along with a dog-paddling Pekinese, steals the movie.
There’s no shark but lots of talking in front green screen underwater windows for what seems like forever, as the audience is likely to think they’ve accidentally walked in on a clunky remake of The Abyss. Some viewers, old enough to remember Jaws 3D may also start to wonder. No, Spielberg didn’t actually show the shark for the first half of the original Jaws, but that’s actually a dated tactic at this point, and director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) is no Spielberg. Turteltaub is out of his depth with suspense material, and consequently treads water. Saddled with a thoroughly paint-by-numbers script, he doesn’t have a lot of opportunities to actually scare anyone, but he doesn’t make much out of the ones he gets. Even the most casual viewer will not only be able tell when the giant shark is showing up, but where in the frame it’s going to show up.
As audiences are getting more and more used to the video game look of CGI special effects, they’re increasingly unable to tell good effects from bad. For the record, the shark effects in The Meg are no better than par, and there are surprisingly few of them. In shots of the meg with nothing near it for perspective, the shark doesn’t even look that big. The action sequences are not especially riveting, and they’re close to bloodless. Not to advocate for excessive gore, but audiences are used to more than this in SyFy’s Sharknado movies, and Spielberg poured it on a lot more in original Jaws back in 1975 when he had to make a PG rating.
Derivative, dull and ultimately dimwitted, The Meg offers absolutely nothing new, and does a barely adequate job with what it does. The inevitable shark-at-the-beach sequence is a nothing but a self-conscious nod to Spielberg, and is far less entertaining than its counterpart in the much lower budget Piranha 3D, which now regularly airs on cable. The Meg will join it there soon.