Shark movies are probably the biggest guilty pleasure films out there. With the exception of Jaws, pretty much none of them are any good, but a lot of them are entertaining in how bad they are, with some films deliberately leaning into them (e.g. the Sharknado films, which are unwatchable in my opinion). In recent years though, there has been an attempt to make shark movies effective again, with films like The Shallows and 47 Metres Down. Now, shark movies have gone back to the blockbuster scene with The Meg, which had the potential to be a good bit of fun. However, The Meg ends up being too serious to be an effective film.
The film focuses on a research station, Mana One, set to explore a part of the ocean below the Marianas Trench, where the researchers end up finding a Megalodon, the largest shark in existence. With some of the researchers trapped in close proximity to the shark, rescue diver Jonas Taylor is recruited to rescue them, having previously encountered a similar shark, which ended up killing two of his friends. However, the shark ends up getting loose and it’s up to the crew of Mana One to find and kill the Megalodon before it reaches populated areas. Now the plot of the film is fairly standard as far as shark movies go in general principle, but with these films it’s the execution that matters. Unfortunately, the big issue here is with the tone. Most of the film just takes itself too seriously, only a handful of scenes taking the tongue in cheek tone that was needed for the film to work. This ultimately makes the film fairly boring for long stretches, something which is a killer for shark movies. This isn’t helped by the fact that any attempts to give the film a greater degree of thematic depth to bolster the film end up detracting from the film since none of these elements are really followed up on. There are ideas of Taylor having PTSD from his previous encounter with the shark and the idea of humans not meddling with mother nature, but these elements are brought up once and then never really mentioned again, making it so any impact of these scenes is lost. What I will say though is that there is a good bit of tension throughout the film, which I will get into later.
The characters meanwhile are another reason why the film doesn’t really work. The performances from the cast are fine for the most part, the highlights being Jason Statham and Rainn Wilson, who are clearly the ones who best understand the kind of tone that was needed for the film, and Li Bingbing who gives the film some dramatic weight, but the characters are so poorly written that the cast have nothing to work with. I’m writing this review about 3 hours after leaving the film and I’ve already forgotten anything that Ruby Rose, Winston Chao and Cliff Curtis did that had a meaningful impact on the plot or characters in the film. The characters are just so bland that I have no emotional connection to any of them.
The technical aspects of the film are what make it work though. As a director, Jon Turteltaub is someone I’m a bit hit or miss on. I really enjoy the National Treasure films and Cool Runnings, but 3 Ninjas and The Sorcerer’s Apprentice are pretty bad. Here though, he puts his talents to good use, creating some solid moments of suspense, knowing how best to use the shark, mainly in terms of when to actually show the shark and when to keep it hidden, which gives some tension to the earlier action scenes when we can’t see the shark. This is aided by brilliant sound design that gives you an understanding of the movement of the shark even when you can’t see it. The cinematography meanwhile, when focusing on wider shots of the underwater world, mainly in the framing of Mana One (which is a great piece of production design) and for action scenes with characters in the water, are well framed and have some really impressive visual moments, giving character to the film where the script falls short.
Overall, The Meg is neither good enough nor bad enough to be really entertaining. There are some moments where the tone works and Jon Turtletaub is trying to make the film work, but the script plays the events of the film straight and doesn’t give the characters enough depth to make them interesting. I wanted to be more entertained by this, but I just left bored.
My Rating: 2/5