After escaping an attack by what he claims was a 70-foot shark, Jonas Taylor must confront his fears to save those trapped in a sunken submersible. (from IMDB)
One could thank the likes of Steven Spielberg's JAWS for creating what fans affectionately consider to be "shark movies," but it's also because of that film that it's been really challenging for any other filmmaker to make another good, strong entry into this very niche little quasi-genre. While I admit I've only seen a couple shark movies, 2016's The Shallows raised the bar for what one probably could or should expect from such films in this day and age, and it was a film that took the "one-man-show" formula of movies like Gravity and All Is Lost to the beach for a survival film led by the beautiful Blake Lively. My wife's a huge fan of sharks and these kinds of movies in general, so it's safe to say I've seen her favorite film--JAWS--a few times (even if I, admittedly, choose to avert my eyes more than once during the anything-but-PG PG-rated film). But JAWS works so beautifully because of its strong cast, brilliant direction, real locations, an unforgettable score from the great John Williams, and for being different and unique. Anything after it--including its three sequels--haven't been able to capture that lightning in a bottle once again.
For JAWS, one of its biggest criticisms has always been how fake the shark looks in the movie. But with all of the aforementioned factors that help make it such a classic, it sells the animatronic shark enough to make the movie truly harrowing and affecting. In 1997, author Steve Alten penned Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, going for a bigger approach, telling a science fiction story about a prehistoric megalodon shark terrorizing mankind. For years, a film based on the hit book was talked about, but it hasn't been able to make it into production... until 20 years later. Now, The Meg is taking a bite out of the big screen... or is it?
Where JAWS struggled with its mechanical shark, The Meg seems to struggle with... well, pretty much everything. I haven't read the book (my wife did a few years ago, though, and really liked it), but upon hearing a movie was coming together, I had hopes for a good summer blockbuster. However, with action star Jason Statham in the lead, there wasn't much hope from the start that there'd be a movie to take very seriously here. JAWS had its fun moments, but for the most part, it took itself very seriously. Sadly, The Meg plays out more like a cartoon--and not a great one. Director Jon Turteltaub is no amateur when it comes to filmmaking, but it feels like nothing really comes together quite right for The Meg. His biggest hit would probably be 2004's National Treasure, with other decent movies under his belt as well, like its sequel, Disney's The Kid, While You Were Sleeping and Cool Runnings. It's unlikely, howevever, that he'll be remembered for The Meg (at least, not in a good way).
My biggest gripe with The Meg is its unwavering reliance on computer effects to stitch this movie together. While this is understandable and expected for something like Star Wars or any given superhero movie, the way Turteltaub uses it for The Meg feels gratuitous. It becomes more of a crutch here than a strength. Wide shots that show the above-water oil rig that serves as the base for the underwater exploration base is painfully obvious to be a CG effect; it just never meshes with the environment. And when we get to any underwater scenes involving any underwater creatures, the audience is expected to "ooh" and "ahh" at the sight of any given creature, but it's so blatantly obvious to just be a computer effect that it would seem foolish to marvel at something so clearly fake. Sadly, the titular character--the giant megaladon--never once looks realistic. Scenes are rendered not even remotely thrilling or intense because it never feels believable that the megaladon is actually there and coming after them. The FIN above the water is even a digital effect--and it looks like it! The characters on screen are often making light of situations, or feel altogether like caricatures of characters, which just adds to the synthetic tone of the movie. By the time the megaladon terrorizes a beach full of people in brightly colored inner tubes, making it look like a bowl of Froot Loops for the shark to munch on, it makes one wonder if Turteltaub just gave up trying to make the movie scary and figured he'd just have fun with it. Statham does his best being himself, but he feels so out of place in this movie (as does most of the cast, really). He's good in movies that seem to fit what he's best at, but for The Meg, his usual shtick just seemed kind of silly. On top of that, the story calls for a strange romance to bud between his character, Jonas, and Suyin, which starts off as hatred and seems to only begin developing when she sees his chiseled form in a towel. Seriously, folks, The Meg has all the traits of what used to be big in 90's films like these -- but all the bad ones. (Have we learned nothing from our mistakes over time?)
The Meg is one of those movies that's easy to list everything wrong with, but still isn't quite a total loss. For the most part, the film is still watchable. It scratches the itch for fans of sharks and even any of the central cast -- even if it may leave you wanting more. One comment I read about the film is it'll make you want to watch JAWS again, and it probably will if you were hoping to see a better movie than this. While Statham tends to stick out like Swartzenegger often did in similar roles, he also has that same kind of on screen presence (maybe sans some of the charm). If you long for the days of silly 90s action films, you're in luck. It's also nice to see Rainn Wilson in another role, even if it isn't a likeable one. And if you're hoping for a high body count with the meg chowing down throughout the film, you should also get your fix here.
You may be surprised to hear that the film is bloody and sometimes gory, but not in ways you might expect. The worst seen may be when a dismembered, bloody arm is pulled out of the water, but it's shown a bit at a distance and doesn't even have the same effect as that one arm reveal in Jurassic Park. The other really gruesome moment is when we see a large, wounded, oozing whale with gaping holes all over its carcass during one sequence. It's pretty graphic, but it also doesn't look especially realistic. A person is seen hanging onto the side of it, with their hands grasping onto the edge of the wounds, but when that person is inevitably eaten, we only see the (digital) shark envelop the person's body, leaving a dismembered hand behind (it's shown at an angle that hides any blood or gore out of sight). There's also a scene where a bloody, semi-gory shark is seen hanging from the deck of a ship. Lastly, a character is accidentally impaled by a small piece of a ship (like the size of a screwdriver), and there's a little blood around the wound on their clothing, but that's it. There isn't any real sexual content beyond Statham's Jonas being shown in a low-set towel (for which Suyin gets flustered over), and some immature giggling by a couple guys over the word "insertion" being spoken during a serious underwater procedure. Otherwise, there's a handful of language that includes several uses of the "S" word, some blasphemy, and some other colorful language.
If an over reliance on digital effects doesn't bother you, or better yet, they're not obvious to your eyes, then The Meg would probably be a good option for any shark lovers out there. However, if you tend to find films with weak characters, average direction and a forgettable score to not be enough to get your butt in a theater seat, it's sad to say you wouldn't be missing much.- John DiBiase (reviewed: 8/16/18)
Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not exclusively on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion and experience of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's overall rating.
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