3 out of 5 stars.
Thanks to the Syfy Channel and the “Sharknado” movies, we’re living in a new golden age of cheesy monster flicks, and as evidenced by the popularity of these low-budget movies, the more far-fetched and, quite frankly, intentionally bad, the better. Big budget Hollywood films that are released in theaters are usually held to a higher standard, but if we see a movie about, say, a giant shark, we’re going to have certain expectations. The movie “The Meg,” which is directed by Jon Turteltaub and based on a novel, delivers some of the thrills we look for in B-movies, but also tries too hard to be smart and serious when it doesn’t need to.
The film begins aboard the Mana One, a fancy underwater research facility funded by billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). Morris arrives to inspect the facility the day a group of researchers begin probing the depths of the ocean. But when their sub is seemingly attacked by a huge creature, leaving them stranded at the bottom of the ocean, there’s only one man who can rescue them: Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a former rescue diver who, five years ago, saved a group of scientists from what he claimed was a giant shark attack– but at the expense of losing other lives, and resulting in others ridiculing his actions and believing he’s paranoid. He’s washed up on a beach in Thailand when the head of the Mana One, Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) calls him back to action.
The first part of the film revolves around rescuing this sub and diving in, however shallowly, into Jonas’ past. It’s all more serious than what the marketing for the film would lead you to expect, which isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t a lot of fun for a movie about the resurgence of a giant prehistoric shark either. In fact, we just barely get a glimpse of the meg in this part of the film, which normally might build more suspense and tension, but we already know it’s a huge shark– that’s why we came to the movie, after all– so it doesn’t serve that purpose very well here.
It’s the second part of the film where the meg begins exploring its surroundings more that things get a little more interesting, and there are some fun and exciting action sequences involving everything from a shark cage to helicopters to Jason Statham straight up swimming against the massive shark. Statham plays his usual reluctant hero type here, and his presence and delivery of certain dialogue does elevate the material somewhat. Many of the other characters are typical genre throwaways. Wilson is the selfish one who only cares about money; Page Kennedy plays DJ, the comic relief, while Ruby Rose is Jaxx, the mind behind the station’s technology. It is nice to see Li Bingbing’s oceanographer Suyin, along with her young daughter Meiying (played by Shuya Sophia Cai) as the other lead alongside Statham, but otherwise, these characters have no substance– they’re just along for the ride (and to give the meg something to chomp on).
“The Meg” boasts some nice special effects, and it is enjoyable summer movie fare. But for a film about a giant shark letting loose, much of the action feels rather restrained. There’s even a shortage of zippy one-liners. Much of that could be due to the film having a PG-13 rather than a R rating, and also that it is directed by Turteltaub, the filmmaker behind such family-friendly action/adventure movies as “National Treasure” and “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” In striving to please everyone, it falls short of expectations, trying to straddle both the seriousness of 1950s sci-fi movies and the cheesiness of Syfy. This is one of those rare instances where I almost wish the movie was a bit dumber, but either way, you really can’t go wrong with spending a hot summer day watching a killer shark movie.
Runtime: 113 minutes. Rated PG-13.