Ever since Jaws splashed onto the screen back in 1975, Hollywood has been attempting to follow its success, and though some films have been valiant efforts, nothing seems to come close to the Spielberg classic. Sure, effects have come a long way over the years, and through the Hollywood magic of special effects they can create a more realistic looking shark, but to be fair, many of the film’s more memorable moments don’t even have the shark on screen. When I first heard about The Meg, it was going to be in the hands of Eli Roth of Cabin Fever and Hostel fame. This seemed to be like a good pairing that would result in a blood-fest filled with shark carnage that would leave shark fans pleased, but eventually the studio decided to pass, and the project seemed almost dead in the water. I had known about the film’s struggles to get made for years but hadn’t known that it went back to the 90’s when the rights to the book by Steve Alten had been first purchased. When the studio signed Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure), it was clear they were aiming to produce a summer tent-pole film, and as my excitement grew, I caved and started reading The Meg series that Alten had published, and I was hooked. I’ve been looking forward to this film for a while. Could it possibly live up to my expectations? …Well, it came close.
The film opens up with Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) as he is on a deep-sea rescue mission. While he and the few members of his crew are searching for survivors on a wrecked sub, there seems to be something in the water with them that is attacking the sub. All we know is that it is something massive, and it forces Taylor to have to make a quick decision that results in several casualties. It’s years later when a scientific research team is exploring the Mariana trench and is planning to dive deeper than ever before, past a layer that was believed to be frozen. It’s when the dive team passes beyond this cold layer that we see some beautiful effects, as this underwater world we are getting to explore with the team is filled with numerous deep-sea dwellers, though it doesn’t take long before the team is attacked. Apparently Jonas is the only one available who can possibly save the deep-sea crew. As it just so happens, one the crew members turns out to be Taylor’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee). This is also the point where it’s discovered Taylor’s claim that the prehistoric megalodon is haunting the deep sea turns out to be true. Why Taylor would make this jump in reasoning from what we saw in the opening scene is beyond me, but I’ve accepted that this is a popcorn ride, not something we’re meant to dwell on.
Morris (Rainn Wilson) is the excited owner of the deep-sea facility that has sunk over a billion dollars into the project and is visiting the facility when all these events transpire. Morris seems willing to shake off the mishap with the dive mission once it is discovered that there is a “meg” out there, and he wants to get the team together to hunt down the shark.
Here’s the biggest issue with The Meg: so much happens in the first act, and we’re introduced to everyone in the cast, but there isn’t anything that you could really call character development. I’m not expecting award-winning writing here, but when the most genuine and fleshed-out character is Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), an 8-year-old who steals just about all the scenes she’s in, well, that’s kind of a problem. By the way, who is looking after this kid? There’s times where she is gone without explanation, then returns with even less explanation. Then there is the forced love interest between Taylor and Suyin (Bingbing Li), which indeed feels forced. Considering how fast-paced this film is, how do these characters have time to develop emotions when every other moment they are avoiding becoming shark food? What’s actually annoying is how little we get to see Taylor and Mac (Cliff Curtis) working together. In the books Taylor and Mac are a strong duo who are always working together to hunt and kill any and all large nuisance sharks. Well, here we just don’t get that chemistry, and it’s a shame if this is a film looking to become a franchise. This is genuinely one of those times where I’m scratching my head as to why they just didn’t stick to the book. There would have been plenty more action, suspense, and gore.
OK, so moving on and getting to what matters most, how is the film when we are actually with the shark? When the film is focused on hunting (or more honestly when the Meg is hunting) the film is popcorn fun — bliss. Sure, we get several winks and nods to Jaws over the course of the film, but there are some solid jump scares in this film. There is a great sequence where we get to see Taylor in the water where he’s attempting to tag the shark. Things get even more nuts when we see a character get into the shark cage to attempt to kill the massive shark. I love the look of the shark, and when we get to see the carnage it can unleash, well, it certainly is worth catching on the biggest screen you can witness this on.
Without a doubt if this film rakes in the cash at the box office, we can be sure a The Meg 2 will follow. Hopefully this time they will follow a little more closely to the source material, because the books are a hell of a good time. Statham shows us he can carry a film as the leading man and can hold his own when squaring off against a giant 75-foot shark. Considering how we’ve been saturated with superhero films, it’s nice to see a franchise that can possibly bloom here that isn’t filled with giant robots or speeding cars. While The Meg doesn’t quite give us a reason to avoid going into the water, it’s at least a good reason to return to the theater and enjoy the havoc this prehistoric creature can unleash as the summer draws to a close.