Hey, remember way back in 2009, when the marketing campaign for Joe Carnahan’s The Grey began promising a badass action flick with Liam Neeson shard-punching wolves in the snow, only for the movie itself to turn out to be a badass existential character drama instead? Well, The Meg ain’t that. Jason Statham fights a shark.
It’s actually fair to say that The Meg has a weight of concept heaped upon it matched only by perhaps Snakes on a Plane more than a decade ago. Jason Statham fights a shark. It’s a concept you can fit in a tweet with room leftover to cram in some end credits to boot. It may, in fact, not quite be as fun – or, indeed, rewatchable – as Samuel L. Jackson taking on cobras on a passenger jet, but don’t think it’s a damp squib – The Meg’s got more than enough bite all of its own.
The knowingly mindless fun of National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub’s latest begins with The Stathe’s underwater rescue expert Jonas surviving an underwater encounter with an unseen creature nobody believes he saw, choosing instead to pin the death of a colleague on pressure-induced insanity. Five years later (the magic buffer period for these kinds of things), Jonas finds himself drafted back into service when a deep sea research vessel finds itself stranded at a previously-unheard of depth in the Mariana Trench – a depth from which a long-extinct megalodon soon emerges to threaten anyone and everything in sight.
Impressively enough, the entire rescue element – serving rather efficiently as not only its own self-contained mini-movie, but also rather stealthily introducing what’ll later seem like potential sequel elements – makes up only the first act of this rather polished and slick comedic creature feature. That structure holds firm for the bulk of The Meg, each act paced with a distinct sense of urgency and knowing prowess, yet singularly self-contained. If Chapter 1 is “Cliffhanger underwater”, Chapters 2 and 3 would best be described as “meta-Jaws” and “the action you showed up for.”
True to form, Statham certainly doesn’t disappoint in the action stakes, and his quippy one-liner driven shtick gets taken for a full-blown joyride here. He’s aided, of course, by a cheekily self-aware screenplay by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber that nails that shtick perfectly, but still finds room to deftly handle some truly bonkers exposition and gift a likeable set of supporting players their opportunity to take centre stage.
Make no mistake, everyone in The Meg – Statham included – is absolutely playing to type. Rainn Wilson’s a smarmy billionaire, Ruby Rose plays her stock badass, and Cliff Curtis may “just” be playing the well-worn “Cliff Curtis character” he’s adopted numerous times throughout his career, but, as with everyone present, the script’s so knowing about who’s playing whom that there’s something downright celebratory about it.
The Meg periodically threatens to slide into increasingly goofy terrain, but there’s a strong tonal balance at play both in front of and behind the camera that keeps any such mishaps at bay – presumably the reason why it’s so much funnier than it should be that Statham, at one point, simply begins referring to a prehistoric shark as “The Meg” as if that’s not only a thing, but something so common you’d say it down the pub when you and your friends are just casually talking about megalodons. As you do.
The tongue in cheek nature of it all just adds to the fun when The Meg jumps heavily into its high-octane set pieces. Some minor CGI quibbles aside, it’s a wild ride. One you can’t boil down to anything more complex than “So. Much. Fun.” admittedly, but The Meg has no designs on being anything other than an action-packed, lighthearted summer thrill ride. Admirable enough ambition, to be sure, and, in a summer in which The Rock’s fought a giant wolf and a giant alligator, The Meg still stands out to prove itself the meanest monster flick on the block.
The Meg is in cinemas nationwide from Friday, August 10th; rated 12A. Check out the trailer below.