The Meg is the kind of birdbrained B movie that condemns audiences before they’ve walked in the door. Love it and you’re a moron; hate it and you’re a snob. The term ‘guilty pleasure’ is sometimes deployed as a kind of peace offering for filmmakers who never intended to make a ‘good’ movie in the first place, and for audiences who care only about being entertained. In this context fair enough: nobody goes to see a giant shark movie to reflect on the human condition.
Where director Jon Turteltaub goes so badly wrong with The Meg is to treat a knowingly stupid premise – about a ‘megalodon’ that survived from ancient times to terrorise Jason Statham and his deep sea diving pals – with dreadful seriousness. Did the director really believe he was making the next Jaws? In his eyes this film is genuine slow-building spectacle, not frivolous entertainment. Turteltaub sucks the fun out of his own silly movie well before any killjoy critic could get their hands on it.
abides by the Spielbergian ethos of delaying the reveal of the beast for as long as possible
Instead of following the fast-footed creature feature trajectory – opening with a taste of carnage to whet appetites, slowing to establish plot and character, then returning to full tilt boogie – Turteltaub abides by the Spielbergian ethos of delaying the reveal of the beast for as long as possible. Thus: a giant monster shark movie with, for a disconcertingly long time, no giant monster shark. As early as the prologue, which culminates with a person yelling “WHAT DID YOU DO?” (to which the audience inevitably thinks: less talk, more shark) the director establishes an annoying tendency to cut away from the action.
Rescue diving protagonist Jonas Taylor – who must track down and destroy the megalodon – is played in a characteristically churlish manner by Jason Statham. He suits the film in the sense the saturnine star is never any fun to be around. Statham appears to have dedicated his career to exploring Woody Allen’s famous comment about how life is 80% showing up. Except for Statham “life” can be substituted for “success” and “80%” raised to at least “95%” Is it possible for an actor to have any less charm than he?
The Meg’s screenplay (co-written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber and Erich Hoeber, adapting the book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror) initially presents Jonas as a poor man’s Jeff Goldblum – circa Jurassic Park – bleating rhetorical questions such as “did you ever think mother nature knows what she’s doing?” But the writers can’t even commit to their own characterisation. Pseudo scientific becomes pseudo philosophical (“it’s not about the people you love, it’s about the people you save,” belches Jonas) which becomes another opportunity to place the protagonist and his crew in harm’s way, bobbing in the water like fish food.
Which, to be fair, is what we wanted all along: precarious situations; gnarly thrills and spills; high-powered schlock. The Piranha 3D and 3DD movies delivered these things by the boatful. They have the summery glaze of a Coca-Cola commercial and were edited with a hell-for-leather style that doesn’t take the audience’s attention for granted. They weren’t great but they weren’t boring. Nor totally devoid of substance: 3DD, based in and around a public swimming pool where lifesavers have been replaced with strippers, is a cynical ‘thin end of the wedge’ story about crass commercialism.
The Meg is a big fat shark movie about big fat nothing. Momentary amusement can be found pondering the fate of a small dog as she paddles her little heart out, trying to escape a shark-shaped blob of CGI in the water. And the film’s final set piece – based around a heavily populated beach – comes close to offering the kind of mayhem we were all hoping for. But with Turteltaub making slow and delicate dabs on the canvas, in the apparent belief that he is painting his masterpiece, The Meg is a lousy combination of idiotic and self-important.