Veronica Rampant here,
Let’s be honest. You know what this movie is. It’s Jason Statham fighting a giant prehistoric shark. If you’re not on board with that, why would you even buy a ticket to THE MEG? (Unless the title made you think it was a Nora Ephron biopic about Meg Ryan, which, honestly, could be an issue.) The real question is: is this movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant prehistoric shark as glorious in real life as it was in your imagination? YES. YES IT IS. So, grab your popcorn and settle in for a big, dumb, fun summer movie that hits all its marks while still managing to surprise and delight.
THE MEG takes place on a science station in some deep Mariana Trench type place in the middle of Fuck-All Nowhere, the Ocean. The movie doesn’t waste any time with a lot of exposition about the science station - or science at all, really - but as we follow the characters into the station, we gather that this is the vanity project of some Elon Musk-type billionaire with geeky interests and too much money on his hands (played to douchey perfection by Rainn Wilson). This would explain why a science station would hire a Greenpeace activist as a pilot, and why the whole operation seems to be run with, shall we say, less than military precision, and an intense focus on new, state-of-the-art tech (spoiler: the cutting edge, shark-proof diving tank that Jason Statham has a “bad feeling” about? Yeah, it’s not gonna work out).
It seems that Rainn Wilson didn’t really know what he was paying for, either, because the brief exposition we do get is something like: “Oh hey Mr. Billionaire, you’re just in time! We’re sending a state-of-the-art manned craft down below the Mariana Trench to see if anything is below the sub-zero strata at the bottom.” And Rainn Wilson, instead of going “Hm, are you sure that’s a good idea? Maybe you should start with an unmanned craft and a camera, like James Cameron did in THE ABYSS?” Goes: “Awesome! That sounds like a great business opportunity!” (It does? To who? Never mind. Hold my beer! For science!)
Minutes later, things go straight to hell, and they have to call in the fixer of all things below sea level: Jason Statham, who is currently drinking himself into a stupor in Malaysia because, as we learned in the inciting incident, the last time Jason had to rescue a craft from the bottom of the ocean, people died, he went insane, and he’s still living with the trauma. He’s sworn off doing any more underwater rescues, and is super okay with refusing this particular hero’s call, until we find out: that pilot from Greenpeace? The one who’s trapped at the bottom of the ocean? Yeah, she’s also Jason Statham’s ex.
That’s the first act, and you think that you know where this movie is going to go after that. But the best part is: you do, and you don’t. Sure, you get all the fights with giant Megalodons you want, and Jason kinda sorta has to redeem himself and deal with his trauma. But his relationship with his ex is… kinda friendly, actually. And the doctor who tried to get Statham committed… apologizes to him. I was expecting a non-stop camp fest like Piranha 3D, where the bodies kept dropping and the gore goes increasingly over the top. But the comparables for this film are probably closer to something like DEEP BLUE SEA or the aforementioned ABYSS, or even ALIENS. Not that there’s a lot of depth to the writing– there’s not. But it manages to subvert your expectations and achieve a level of – dare I say it – emotional maturity that I did not expect from a “Jason Statham vs. a giant shark” movie.
That’s not to say there aren’t plenty of exploding helicopters, too. But it feels like the filmmakers knew exactly how goofy a premise they were dealing with, and how sophisticated their audience was, and instead of going for a “wink-wink” self-conscious SHARKNADO, they decided to do something REALLY interesting: They played it straight, but just didn’t spend any time on things like science, setup, or character development. They got a cast of fan favorites to play the hapless crew (Statham, Wilson, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, and Masi Oka a.k.a. “That guy from Heroes.”) Then they sank the budget into really good CGI, fights, and creating an underwater world that is truly beautiful, and that makes this worth seeing on the big screen. They don’t waste time with questions nobody cares about, like “who is babysitting Su Yin’s daughter? Whose idea was it to bring a little kid on this trip, anyway?” they just show her playing with her light up ball on a deck, in a scene that is sure to become iconic. You’re definitely smarter than this movie, but not so much smarter that you can see where it’s going and get bored. It’s FUN. By the time we get to the obligatory “shark tears up the crowded beach” scene – you’re SO EXCITED to see it that it feels actually really fresh.
In a summer full of franchise blockbusters, THE MEG is a rarity: an original action movie with a giant shark and a PG-13 rating. If there’s any justice in the universe, it should be a big summer hit.