At one point in Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg, Jason Statham free dives off the back of a boat to save someone in peril. Rainn Wilson looks on in awe and then says “Hell yeah!”. I found myself hard-pressed to disagree. Hell yeah, Jason Statham. Hell yeah, Jon Turteltaub. Hell yeah, The Meg.
The Meg is a ridiculous B-movie that sits in and enjoys that fact immensely. Filled with self-aware humor, multiple man-on-shark fights, and a bevy of jokes spewing from it’s stacked supporting cast, this is a movie swinging for the fences of audience enjoyment. And it succeeds. Some ballyhoo has been made of the desire to make this film R-rated, but after seeing it, I know this would have been the wrong choice. An R-rating would have cut off a huge portion of the audience that this film is ostensibly made for: ten year olds. Seeing this movie with a good number of kids in the audience was incredibly affirming. They hooted and hollered in all the right places, and shouted in surprise and dismay in all the others.1 A strong feather in this movie’s cap is that it never bothers itself with logic or exposition long enough to even approach being boring for a kid. It’s a slam bang moving picture from the first.
Set primarily in and around a deep sea research facility that would put both Sealab and SeaQuest DSV to shame, The Meg is about that time-honored tradition of Humans Going Where They Don’t Belong and bringing something back with them…this time, that thing being a 90-foot prehistoric shark. When hijinks (submarine attacks and dangerous rescue missions) ensue, the team aboard the “Mana One” research lab have no choice but to call in Jason Statham, playing one of my other favorite archetypes: The Only Man Alive Who Can Pull This Shit Off.
Statham’s (re)introduction to the movie lets you know a lot about its desired tone. In self-imposed exile and ostensibly supposed to play as his version of the opening to Rambo III, Statham, instead of stick-fighting and residing in a temple, rides a moped around Thailand while waving to children, wearing a nice hat, and being chastised by his neighbors for drinking too much.
Once Statham is convinced to dry out and return to service, the movie blasts off in a series of escalating rescues and daring shark attacks. Ably backed by a supporting cast featuring the likes of Bingbing Li (a badass oceanographer who Statham has to form a grudging respect and relationship with over the course of the movie, as they trade off saving one another in various scenarios), Ruby Rose (little used but rocking her moments), Rainn Wilson (providing some great comic relief while never falling into boring evil corporate guy tropes too heavily), Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka, and the scene-stealing Shuya Sophia Cai.2 It’s a stacked cast, with everyone feeling like they fit together, light banter, inside jokes, and heavier beats passing easily between them. The interplay between the group is such an entertaining part of the movie that it leaves you wanting to see more adventures from this group in the future (and maybe wishing a few of them hadn’t gotten eaten).
The Meg is chock full of death and dismemberment, but it never wallows in the entrails (well, okay, it does literally wallow in the entrails at a few points). The finale is an absolutely insane ballet of submersibles, swimming dogs, homemade torpedoes, and one of the greatest shots I’ve ever seen in a movie. The film is both fun and funny. It’s self-aware but never reductive towards it’s own premise. Like the best scientifically bonkers movies, it never gets tied down in details. Everything is neat and tidy, ridiculous as it is. Even character deaths are treated with enough dignity to not be dismissive while never getting too caught up in melodrama. Harry Gregson-Williams delivers an incredibly solid score for the film. No joke: when the titular shark is introduced, it’s not with a dread two-note number like old Bruce…The Meg gets a full blown hero melody as it fills the screen.
Turteltaub has never lacked for a sense of playful energy in his best efforts, and though The Meg is reminiscent of so many “Sci-Fi Original Movies” I watched as a kid, that playfulness, as well as the performances, carry this movie to a higher plane. The Meg is a fun and silly movie that will leave you wondering when the next journey for Jason Statham and his Multicultural Science Adventure Squad will be.
- I say “they” even though I was doing plenty of noise-making myself. I’m not ashamed to admit that one reveal even got an involuntary “WOO.” out of me.
- She has some great bits with Statham throughout. Clearly he needs to team up with children more often