Killer shark films are so common these days that their overall quality has drastically declined. A genre that was popularised by Steven Spielberg with Jaws, a masterpiece, is now one that hosts films like Sharknado and Shark Night. It is both an atypical example of a genre that has fallen out of public favour and one that has now embraced its own ridiculousness through parodies. Along comes The Meg, which takes this type of film and transfers it to the framework of a contemporary summer blockbuster. Based on a book of the same name that had been stuck in development hell for years, the results is no Jaws but is also no Jaws: The Revenge.
At a research facility in China owned by millionaire investor Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), an underwater exploration mission goes wrong when an unidentified creature crashes into the submersible. Crew member James Mackreides (Cliff Curtis) suggests bringing in old friend Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who encountered a similar situation in the past. After Jonas arrives, the group soon discover that the unidentified creature is a shark, specifically a Megalodon, thought to have been extinct for millions of years. The team begin work on attempting to kill the shark before it can put anyone else in danger.
The Meg has flaws, which is something anyone going to see it will expect. There are many clichés in the characterisation and plotting, many characters are standard and underdeveloped and there are a lot of silly moments. Despite these issues, it still manages to be entertaining and very watchable. In some respects, it is what Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom should have been, as it walks the line between serious and parody much better than that film. Though a lot of The Meg is played straight, there is some welcome humour at times that demonstrates the film makers self-awareness. There are also some fun homages to other shark films and a hilarious final title card.
Much of the film’s watchability comes down to some of the actors, especially Jason Statham. Statham is one of the best action leads of our time and he adds credibility to even the silliest of material. He is by far the most likeable and relatable character and despite having an incredibly cliched backstory, does not use that as an excuse to give an effortless performance. He genuinely looks like he is having a lot of fun. The other actor who steals the show is Rainn Wilson, as he manages to blur the line between giving a comedic and serious performance well. Despite playing a character who is greedy and uncaring on paper, he ends up being one of the most likeable characters through his performance. Every other actor is average at best, but they do at least carry their scenes.
The script also does something commendable: it treats casualties properly. Whilst many blockbusters would be content to show carnage and destruction with no mourning, The Meg averts this with its individual deaths and does take the time to address them. In general, there is a focus on sacrifice and the moral dilemma of the needs of the many v.s. the needs of the few, which is refreshing to see. The deaths themselves also both predictable and unpredictable, but they are mostly the latter, which did surprise me.
The filmmaking is also surprisingly strong, as whilst National Treasure’s Jon Turteltaub has not been making films for several years, he proves himself to be very apt at handling a film of this nature. The budget is put to good use as the special effects look quite impressive and the direction manages to successfully make the Megalodon threatening. There are a lot of thrills and tension present in these scenes and Turteltaub does as much as he can to make them entertaining, even when they do become occasionally implausible.
There are a few issues that do hold the film back slightly. The running time is slightly overlong at 113 minutes, because of this it takes a while to see the shark in its full glory and for the action to properly pick up. There are also some subplots that do not get enough screen time to be interesting, such as Jonas’s relationship with his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) and his past conflict with Dr Heller (Robert Taylor).
The Meg succeeds at being both genuinely thrilling and stupidly entertaining. This is down to the good performances and direction, as well as the well-balanced tone. Despite the cliched and flawed script and the lengthy run time, it is better than it had any right to be, so that alone makes it worth the watch.