RogerBW's Blog

The Meg 29 May 2019

2018 SF-horror, dir. Jon Turteltaub, Jason Statham, Li Bingbing: IMDb / allmovie. Five years ago, submarine rescue expert Jonas Taylor had to make a hard decision and leave some of his men behind to save the rest. Now, not only is there another submarine lost, his ex-wife is aboard. (A giant shark will also feature.)

This makes a rather better companion piece to Deep Blue Sea than its official sequel; once more we have a mostly-underwater base menaced by sharks, but with rather more budget available, instead of spending our visual time wading through half-flooded corridors, most of the action takes place takes place in open water. It's a much more sensible venue for human-shark confrontation, and given the size of the titular megalodon it just makes more sense.

Indeed, while there are some obvious howlers, this film is a decent demonstration that you don't need to leave scientific plausibility completely behind to have a good time. Many of the errors are apparently got right in the book, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten; on the other hand, by all accounts, in the book the hero's wife is a backstabbing adulteress, the only other female character is his friend's daughter whom he sleeps with, and lots of time is spent on the hero pointing out repeatedly that he was right (and manly).

When your hero is played by Jason Statham you don't need to go on about how manly he is. And it's great to see an ex-couple not forced into the "will they get back together" story channel; it's very clear that they won't, though they're still civil to each other and even sometimes friendly.

The production designer worked out that, when you have a submerged research base, the lighting should be just a tiny part of the money and energy budget, so why not make it bright and livable? Which means the audience can see what's happening, which given how much it cost to make it happen seems like a reasonable approach.

This is one of those Hollywood films that was clearly made with an eye to the Chinese market; not only is there a significant Chinese cast (particularly during the climactic beach-attack scene), the characters of both Statham and Li both get to do stuff, rather than one of them being the decorative prize for the other one to rescue; they each have an ex-spouse (though only one of them is on screen), they each get to risk themselves to keep everyone else alive. (All right, only Statham gets to go up against the shark hand-to-fin.) Also, big dumb entertainment is the sort of American film that overseas markets tend to go for, and this is very much big dumb entertainment.

Turteltaub is a workhorse director. He's never made anything great, but he's also never made anything truly terrible. He does what he's told, doesn't spend too much money, and doesn't add a lot of personal touches. This is basically turn-the-handle filmmaking; where there's inspiration, it comes from the actors, not from the direction.

If anything I could have done with it being a bit bigger and dumber – I was waiting for a shark-induced helicopter crash as in Deep Blue Sea, and I didn't get one – but Statham, Li, and (very much to my surprise) Sophia Cai as Li's worldly-wise eight-year-old daughter manage to fill the screen and be interesting even as they carry the narrative between comedy, action, romance and very occasional seriousness. Other cast are decent, and the bad people have reasons for doing bad things rather than just "oh, my character sheet says Evil"; indeed, even the plot more or less holds together, allowing the various incidents to be strung into a gradual escalation of tension.

It's mindless entertainment that still manages not to insult the viewer's intelligence, and that's surprisingly rare. Not a masterpiece, of course, but it sets out to do something and it does it.

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