Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Film Review - The Meg (12A)

One fish did all this?
Everything you need to know here is on the poster. It's Jason Statham versus a bloody big shark. Yes - the man from the nonsensical-but-fun Expendables and Crank franchises is tangling now with a prehistoric beastie from the deep. You want Godzilla-scale monster action, you've got it. You want a gruff but likeable leading man, tick that box. You want entertainment where the most thought required is how to get the popcorn from the carton to your mouth, this is your film. (I don't judge - some Friday nights this is exactly what's required.)
Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a deep sea rescue diver who (like Dwayne Johnson in Skyscraper) is reeling from a mission gone terribly wrong. To add insult, no one believes his crazy story about a sea creature big enough to snack on a blue whale. But when scientists in an underwater research facility go poking around in a newly discovered (and unfathomably deep) ocean trench off the Chinese coast, the beast strikes again. Who they gonna call? The 'Stath', of course, who reluctantly returns to face his new fishy nemesis the megalodon - a species of shark thought extinct some several million years. At which point it all gets very chompy and equally daft.
The Meg is one of the few summer blockbusters not part of an established franchise, but for all the nonsensical fun it provides, this is scarcely an original idea, and I'm not talking about Godzilla.
There's only ever been one genuinely great shark movie, and that was gifted to us by Steven Spielberg in 1975. Still, there have been some enjoyably preposterous sharky outings since Jaws, the genetically enhanced predators of 1999's Deep Blue Sea springing foremost to mind. More recently there's been a slew of straight-to-video or TV sharksploitation tales, like the joyously titled Sharknado (and its five sequels). And 2016 brought us The Shallows, a stripped-down suspence thriller that actually attained some Jaws-level claustrophobia.
The Meg is, in contrast, an all-harpoons-firing big-budget studio shark-pic. It's proficiently made throughout and splashes along with such a rapid stroke that you don't worry too much about how derivative it is. All its glossy production and impressive tech can't disguise how shamelessly this movie steals from the Spielberg classic, albeit with finesse and some additional big money-shots. (One overhead shot of massed swimmers is particularly striking.)The characters are diverse but under-drawn, so that you never get particularly invested in the relationship-based subplots. Nor are the jokey bits particularly funny. But none of this is why anyone's watching, right? We want jeopardy and we want spectacle.
The film is duly crammed from its early stages with well-crafted shark-on-Statham action, all of which is as hilariously outlandish as you might hope. The big lad from Lock, Stock and Snatch delivers a beefy, no-nonsense performance that refuses (like Dwayne Johnson in Rampage) to be dwarfed by a massive people-devouring CGI co-star. The UK's favourite B-movie action hero also manages considerable charm when bonding with potential love interest (Bingbing Li) and her winsome daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai). If there's one thing this guy knows, it's how to play to his strengths - he was a Commonwealth Games diving competitor once, so it feels like the water is welcoming him back.
The Meg promises a limited range of pleasures and delivers on them, gaining some extra points for achieving an international feel the way Rampage did (as a US/Chinese co-production it's aiming squarely at two vast cinema-going markets). It's a well-packaged entertainment, big, brash and disposable - and ultimately one more reminder of how good Jaws really was. Have fun, and then revisit those New Jersey waters with Chief Brodie and the boys. Now that's a real shark experience.
Gut Reaction: Interest held, partly due to being kept on high cliche-alert, and provided with more than a few dumb laughs. Oh, and a bit sorry for the shark - it was minding its own aquatic business until those scientists showed up...

Where Are the Women?: There are three female characters on the team, all of whom are made to look capable rather than stupid. This is progress!

Ed's Verdict: 6/10. Well I gave Rampage that score, and The Meg exists on precisely the same level of big, stupid fun. A perfectly serviceable weekend diversion, but enough with the brainless monster flicks, Hollywood. Please.

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