The Meg (2018)

AUGUST 4, 2018


For almost as long as we've had movie websites devoted to rumors and info about upcoming films, The Meg has been in development. It has been kicking around since 1997 at various studios starting with Disney, gone through any number of directors (including Jan de Bont and Eli Roth), and pretty much seemed like a movie that would never actually get made, like The Crow remake. But score one for persistence, as it's finally been made with director Jon "Where the hell is National Treasure 3" Turteltaub and a cast led by Jason Statham, in his first top-billed role for this type of big budget summer blockbuster (the costs are reportedly around $200m, and to think, Sony once refused to let him star in the $40m Ghosts of Mars because he wasn't a big enough draw). But only because the shark is unbilled.

The shark, of course, is the REAL draw here, and it's certainly an impressive sight. Due to the PG-13 rating we aren't always treated to the full view of its carnage, but the VFX wizards have put their full resources (and budget) into making sure it looks good when it makes its big appearances, so that you fully believe Statham could, at any moment, kick it in the face. And unlike the giant shark in Jurassic World and its sequel, it doesn't just pop up for two scenes (that get spoiled in the trailer anyway), there are a number of face-offs between it and Statham's crew throughout the movie, building to the big beach scene where it has a smorgasbord awaiting it. Again, it's PG-13, so don't get TOO excited (Piranha 3D it ain't), but it caused enough damage and racked up enough of a body count to satisfy me.

But to be fair, adventurous fun is the goal here, not blood and guts, and last I checked Jaws didn't have much of that sort of thing either. And unlike most shark movies, the heroes feel somewhat responsible for the thing's wrath of terror, as it was trapped under a layer of (science mumbo-jumbo) in the Mariana Trench, perfectly happy with the other fish that were down there, but then the scientists come along and put a hole in that layer to go explore. The Meg (short for Megalodon) attacks them and breaks through the hole, so it's on them to stop it before it reaches the mainland. Along with Statham (a rescue diver with the obligatory tragic past) there's the researchers who run the underwater station, the rich moron that paid for it all, a computer hacker (because of course there is), a security kinda guy... it's very Crichton-y with regards to its crew, and like the best Crichton novels it's not readily apparent who will live and who will die.

Except, of course, Statham, who has one too many close encounters with the shark that really should have been trusted to another character. The end of the film, when he goes on a potential suicide mission, has the necessary suspense, because maybe they WILL kill off their action icon hero (worth noting that this was in development at Disney around the same time as Armageddon). But early on, when they're just trying to put a tracker on it and things like that, there are two sequences in a row where Statham's pretty much the only one in immediate danger, and it doesn't quite work. Cliff Curtis is introduced as Statham's "old buddy" type and is seemingly the muscle for whatever problems usually arose before they unleashed a prehistoric shark, but for some reason I don't think he ever once goes in the water, which is a waste - he's exactly the kind of actor who could have this kind of glorified cameo role and die first, but also stick around until the climax and maybe get offed there.

But again: FUN! You don't WANT any of these folks to die, because they're all pretty charming and they have a good camaraderie. I wouldn't say I got sad when anyone died, but I never rooted for their demise either. Even the requisite asshole guy, a doctor who thought Statham was crazy when he claimed he saw the giant shark in the first place, has his merits and ultimately makes peace with Statham (it's more satisfying and believable than Dom Toretto forgiving him, at least). And the actors all seem to be fully aware what kind of movie they're in; they're not winking at the camera exactly, but there's a slight twinkle in their eye as they give their occasionally ridiculous dialogue the gravitas it needs - they're all more Sam Neill than Jeff Goldblum, in other words. And Statham gets to use his underutilized comedic chops on occasion, which seems to please him, and he also gets to make cute with the mandatory little kid, reminding me yet again that he's pretty much the only one of these "Expendable" action guys who hasn't made a kiddie flick ye (but keeps dipping his toes in with things like this and the baby sequence in F8).

The 3D is also quite fun, and worth the extra 3 bucks or whatever it is now. The conversion tech has come a long way in the past 8-9 years, so it's largely free of those weird errors that take away from the fun (like when someone's arm seems to grow 10 feet long because the conversion software screwed up), and there are just enough "in your face" gags to make audiences feel they got their money's worth without the movie becoming a chore in 2D (like chunks of Friday the 13th Part 3, which screened in 3D the night before at the same theater - they're doing a festival). Hell I even ducked at one "comin at ya!" moment, and I can't even remember the last time that happened (though to be fair I rarely bother with 3D anymore), and at times I regretted not waiting until this weekend to see the film in "4D", which adds water spray and motion seats to the deal. I know it's August and your summer blockbuster budget is probably depleted, but I assure you this is a movie designed to be engaged with in as silly a manner as possible.

The screening was paired with Jaws 3D, which was just as horribly dull as I thought it was in 2D (I ended up walking out; the old school 3D gives me a bit of a cross-eye and while it was worth it for Jason's hockey mask debut, it most certainly was not to watch a bunch of people walk around at Sea World), and Deep Blue Sea, which didn't need any kind of gimmick to be awesome. I still consider that the alpha and omega of shark movies that are not Jaws, but The Meg stacks up admirably with it, and as long as you can get past the PG-13 aspect (Deep Blue Sea was gloriously R-rated at times) I think if you're a fan of that one you'll have a good time with this. I don't know how well it'll hold up at home by yourself (and most likely in 2D), but with a packed crowd of people laughing and cheering at the right moments (nearly everything Winston Chao says had our audience howling) it's pretty much the last summer movie that will offer up those kind of popcorn thrills. Maybe it wasn't worth twenty years of development, but hey, at least they finally figured it out and made it work. Take THAT, Dark Tower movie!

What say you?

1 comment:

  1. If I remember correctly didn't cliff curtis's charecter swim to get the little boat as his "big moment"? Before it jumping suddenly and the group is split amongst two little boats


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