“Meg versus man isn’t a fight… it’s a slaughter.”
If you’ve been reading my reviews for any length of time (I’m sorry) you’ll be aware that my tastes are broad, but shallow. I love Vampyr and Shock Waves. The Nightmare Before Christmas and Brain Damage. Arrival and Pacific Rim. I enjoy a variety of movies, both good and bad, and that sometimes leads me to make decisions about what to watch that just don’t make sense to normal people.
So last night I had a desire to watch The Meg. It’s not like I don’t have a crapload of giant shark movies to choose from – Asylum alone must have put out a dozen (or two) – but I specifically wanted a big budget monster movie, something Godzilla-adjacent. I wanted a b-movie monster on a blockbuster budget. Lavalantula as written by James Gunn and directed by Michael Bay.
Alright, maybe shooting too high there with Gunn. Anyone, the point is that I had a mighty desire for a giant movie monster, and there was The Meg, just sitting there in the list of available VOD movies. I know I have other choices – Kong: Skull Island for instance, or King of the Monsters – but they weren’t going to be cheesy enough. I knew – in my bones – that The Meg would bring the cheddar. And I was not disappointed.
I watched The Meg on TNT. That’s right. On cable. (Well, YouTubeTV.) With commercials. Edited for time and content. Like I said, bad choices all around. It’s VOD for some streaming services and available for rent or purchase at Amazon, Redbox, Vudu etc. There’s also a Blu-ray release that I’m currently swearing I’ll never buy, but will probably pick up cheap and tell myself it’s “just for the extras.”
To get this out of the way – I kinda loved The Meg. It’s big, loud, and stupid – and it knows it. It IS only a step or two above an Asylum film in content alone, but the budget and the effects/actors/cinematography that budget allows elevates the proceedings. We’re talking Godzilla 1998 level. Any given disaster movie starring The Rock level. (Though I haven’t seen Rampage yet. I need to pace myself.)
Billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) meets the crew of the high-tech underwater research facility he bankrolled, Mana One. Dr. Ming Zahn (Winston Chow) runs the operation along with his daughter Suyin (Li Binbing) and they’re just about to send a crew below the Mariana Trench. That’s right. I said BELOW. They’ve got this theory that the bottom of the deepest place in the world is hiding a secret – a false bottom created by a thermocline between the deep cold water and a warmer location below.
Of course they’re right, otherwise the movie stops dead. The crew – including Lori (Jessica NcNamee), Toshi (Masi Oka), and “The Wall” (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, who has one of the coolest voices) – penetrate the thermocline (they’ll say it six or seven more times, but I’ll only do it once more) and begin to investigate a completely unknown ecosystem deeper than anyone’s gone before.
It’s like an undersea version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Lost World, with the untouched habitat being underwater instead of on a plateau. The movie looks good and I’m a sucker for a high tech underwater base. The characters are pretty thin, but they’re also likeable. I’ll care when they get eaten. A little, anyway. Because they’re not alone down there, there’s something big. And angry. In very short order the submersible is disabled by something they can’t get a good look at.
Guess what it is!
NOBODY has mounted a rescue that deep before. Except one man – Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), whose been drinking his sorrows away since a botched rescue. Seems there was some big, unidentified creature that sank that sub with his friends on board, but nobody, including the current expedition doctor and former friend Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), believes him. Well, he doesn’t do rescue dives anymore, thank you very much. Except that Lori happens to be his ex-wife.
That cheese. So good.
Jonas DOES go to the rescue, joined by Suyin in a vehicle that makes me think they shopped at a G-Force garage sale, and there’s giant squids, personal sacrifice and the release of a giant shark! There it is! Eating whales and trying to bite little girls through the reinforced glass tube walkways that probably seemed like a great idea when they were designing the place.
The little girl, Suyin’s daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), is adorable. Seriously. Like, you want to hate her she’s so adorable, but you can’t. Because she’s adorable.
Statham makes even the most ridiculous concepts (hello Crank) watchable for me, and The Meg is no different. He’s all steely-eyed, square-jawed action hero, but with an edge. Like Morris says when he first meets him “You know, he looks heroic and he walks fast, but he’s kinda got a negative attitude.” Well yeah, except for in his interactions with Meiying. Because she’s adorable.
It’s a giant monster movie, so things will go badly wrong and people will end up on the ocean, trying to survive while a giant, prehistoric shark tries to eat them. And then, just when they think they’ve got things under control, an even BIGGER shark will appear. Because the law of monster movies means you always start with a small one and work your way up to the big bad. Ruby Rose will be there, though I’m not sure why. Same with Page Kennedy.
The factual inaccuracies and plot holes will also proliferate. You will wonder what kind of businessman will spend 1.3 billion dollars on a project that he doesn’t know anything about. The megalodon escapes via a thermal vent exploding, creating a ‘highway’ of warm water through the thermocline (there it is) for it to ride to the surface. So what exactly attacked the sub that Jonas’ friends died on? And how is Jonas in “perfect physical” condition after five years of constant alcohol abuse? Seriously, what does Ruby Rose’s character do, exactly?
None of that matters. It’s a monster movie. Forget it. Enjoy a giant shark attempting to swallow a cage with one of our protagonists inside (and almost succeeding). Laugh at the occasional in-joke or Jaws reference. Get misty (or slightly less gleeful) when a character you kinda liked dies. Shake your head at the way the movie ignores depth and pressure like it doesn’t exist. Then revel in an ocean-liner sized shark heading into people-packed Sanya Bay.
Will our heroes survive, kill the shark, fall in love and go on to be wonderful parents to that adorable child? Some of that WILL happen!
The Bottom Line
The Meg was just about everything I wanted it to be – big, loud, dumb and with a great monster eating people right and left. It doesn’t quite hit the level of self-awareness to make it a truly great b-movie (hello Piranha), and a PG-13 rating limits the gore quotient, but it’s not above poking fun at itself and giving us a few character moments in between giant shark attacks and square-jawed, steely-eyed action stuff.
Don’t underestimate the desire for big-budget monster movies. The Meg was a surprise hit, making more than twice the estimates for its opening weekend and going on to rake in a half-billion dollars. A sequel, Meg 2: The Trench, is in the works.