Films are often praised for doing what they advertise on their tin – simplicity is no sin in and of itself. When that tin looks like it’ll contain a monster film of questionable quality, though, this straightforwardness is still a burden.
Cockney wedge Jason Statham is our hero, a wisecracking and nominally harrowed ex-diver named Jonas who is convinced that the ocean depths hold bigger beasties than experts are willing to countenance. When Rainn Wilson’s eccentric billionaire Morris funds a hugely expensive exploration of the Mariana Trench’s depths, Statham’s gravelly prophecy comes true.
The father-daughter combo of Winston Chau as Zhang and Bingbing Li as Zuying are leading sweeps of the seafloor, and the latter’s hunger for discovery contributes to the provocation of what turns out to be a ruddy great shark, the megalodon that gives the film its title. Cue an hour or so of harem scarem action as various humans are chased and harassed by an improbably large nasty.
The Meg‘s setup and exposition are rather po-faced and, weirdly, credible, but the time it takes to eke story details out before committing to the shark’s screen dominance is tiresome. The film’s script is significantly weak, and a largely pedestrian set of actors don’t do much to elevate it. Statham is expectedly convincing in his action and stunt work but his deliveries are ho-hum, gruffness giving way to wit at random moments.
Li’s Zuying is spirited and sarcastic in a way that feels more deliberate and written, though, and her young daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai) is a cheeky presence who enlivens scenes. The rest of the supporting cast are solid enough in tokenistic roles, but the film is sensibly geared around Li and Statham, its two most memorable personalities.
Its other central figure is, of course, marine. The Meg‘s main failure is that its shark menace is largely size-driven. This creature is given no characteristic patterns, no innate desires. It is apparently driven to ravage all moving life around it, and at other times is enraged by lights, but its behaviour basically follows the needs of mediocre writers.
Set-pieces in which Statham and others have to free-swim away from this 70-foot monster, confront it in a plastic shark cage or corral it using lithe submarines are fun enough. They even manage a sense of tension at points. Sadly, though, they feel ultimately cartoonish and unconvincing – a CGI shark chasing CGI characters at distances determined by a visual designer, lacking the sense that such chases could ever be physically possible.
The Meg may have aspired to match the standards of b-movie greats, or, with its heavy Chinese investment, to corner a distinct international market. It does not appear to have aimed to genuinely challenge the great shark movie monolith of Jaws – a script and cast this unremarkable make its limited hopes clear.