Film Review: The Meg

For everyone who’s ever wanted to see Jason Statham fight a giant prehistoric shark (and who hasn’t…?), this movie is for you.
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Director Jon Turteltaub gives us the real movie of the summer (sorry, Avengers: Infinity War) with The Meg. Is it a particularly great movie? No. Does it have some pretty major structural problems? Yes. Does Jason Statham fight a giant, prehistoric shark in it? Yes. Verdict: See The Meg. The Meg will cleanse your soul.

The first of those major structural problems comes in the first 45 minutes, specifically how they are mostly A) Meg-less and B) Statham-less. Sure, we get an early scene where Statham—playing deep-sea rescue expert Jonas Taylor—encounters the Meg during the course of a rescue op that results in the deaths of two of his comrades. Flash-forward, and we’re treated to a solid half-hour of…marine exploration lab drama? Thegall.

Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), who owns the state-of-the-art lab, shows up to watch a team of scientists—Taylor’s ex-wife Celeste (Jessica McNamee), Toshi (“Heroes”’ Masi Oka) and the splendidly named The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson)—take a submersible to unprecedented depths to test oceanographer Zhang’s (Winston Chao) theory that there’s actually a whole other patch of ocean under the Marianas Trench. There is. The Meg—or “megalodon,” a giant prehistoric shark assumed extinct for millions of years—is there. It attacks. Finally, station manager Mac (Cliff Curtis) calls The Stath to engage in the giant-shark-fighting God put him on this Earth to do.

In that opening act is a microcosm of The Meg’s major problem: It’s great when Statham fights a shark and isn’t great when Statham isn’t fighting a shark. That latter category includes scenes with his ex-wife that add nothing to his character and a burgeoning romance with fellow scientist Suyin (Li Bingbing). Hell—The Meg didn’t even need to waste time and torpedo momentum by giving us Taylor’s backstory. He’s gritty, he’s brooding, he lost part of his team and has to redeem himself. Yawn. We get it. It’s the same backstory as every action hero ever. Give us Statham stabbing a shark in the face.

And stab a shark in the face Statham does. The scenes where Taylor and his ever-shrinking team pursue The Meg, attempting first to sedate it (for science!) and then to outright kill it, are goofy, splendid fun. As Statham does, he plays it straight, his trademark brow-furrowed intensity against an utterly ridiculous backdrop adding levels of comedy to what could have been your standard man-vs.-giant-beast actioner. In Statham growling “Man versus Meg isn’t a fight. It’s a slaughter,” there are shades of Nic Cage’s immortal line from Turtletaub’s National Treasure: “I’m going to steal the Declaration of Independence.”

The Megcould have used some tightening. There is no excuse for this movie to be over 90 minutes long. It could have taken a machete to just about everything not Meg-related, in fact, though some non-Statham actors—specifically Shuya Sophia Cai as the little girl who lives in the marine station and Page Kennedy as DJ, who is down for exactly none of this giant-shark nonsense—acquit themselves well. There’s enough good in the Statham-vs.-Meg action to make this movie worthwhile. Just spend the first 30 minutes in a bar, and get to the movie late and moderately buzzed.