Meg 2: The Trench (2023)

AUGUST 7, 2023


I was recently talking to someone about why sequels are such a tough nut to crack, because a movie's grosses aren't equal to the people who actually liked it and will return for more, but common wisdom means spending *more* money on a followup, meaning you have to earn new viewers (and then some) to make up for the ones who won't be fooled again. And also, everyone who loved a movie did so for different reasons, and unless you're making the exact same movie it's impossible to satisfy all those needs; having more of one thing means having less of another. So it's a shame I hadn't already seen Meg 2: The Trench at the time, because it was a perfect example of that very dilemma. If your favorite thing was Jason Statham, you'll be stoked to learn he's even more Statham-y in this one! But if your favorite thing was Li Bingbing or Ruby Rose, I got some bad news! And if your favorite thing was the sharks themselves... well, they're back, of course. Lateral move there.

The first film was a surprise hit in 2018, so naturally a sequel would follow (Statham's busy schedule and covid made it take longer than it presumably would have), but one concern is that despite the grosses, it wasn't a beloved movie. The main issue folks had (including me, though I mostly still had a good time) was that it took far too long for the shark to get to a populated area, and its PG-13 rating kept it from being as carnage-heavy as you might as well be when it's a big/dumb/loud summer movie. So how do you do a sequel that addresses those issues for those who had them, but apply the "if it ain't broke" rule for those who didn't have any problem with the pacing or gore levels?

Turns out they just kind of played it safe in every department except for the choice of director. The first film was directed by Jon Turteltaub, a perfectly serviceable guy who makes normal/enjoyable movies like the National Treasures and Phenomenon; an odd choice for a killer shark movie to be sure, but the exact guy you need for a megabudget film that can more or less appeal to everyone. This time they got Ben Wheatley, who is the complete opposite of Turteltaub, in that his films serve very niche audiences and are even hit or miss among those folks (I like Kill List and High-Rise, but found Free Fire and In The Earth to be rather interminable), making him an equally odd choice for this kind of movie but for very different reasons. Alas, Wheatley didn't make a movie for his fans; there's a few inspired touches here and there (the practical mouth chomp seen in the trailer among them) but if you told me it was Turteltaub again I wouldn't have doubted it. But hey, Wheatley makes interesting things and if taking a paycheck gig like this means "from the director of Meg 2" secures funding for something he and his fans are more into, that's fine with me.

Anyway, as the title implies, our characters spend more of the movie in the trench this time, having designed some new submersibles that allow them to quickly penetrate the thermocline layer that keeps the trench's inhabitants from going up to the surface, without leaving the big hole that allowed the Meg to escape last time. But once they're down there they discover an illegal drilling operation, and the evil guy running it sets off a few bombs to try to kill Statham and all his pals, which naturally fails but the explosion manages to cause a giant hole in the thermocline, allowing even more stuff to get through. But it also broke our heroes' submersibles, so they have to walk to the drilling operation's base and find a different way to get to the surface. All this stuff takes up around a third of the runtime, and while it's exciting enough on its own (it's like a cross between The Abyss and Poseidon Adventure), there is precious little shark action within it, so if you felt the first film didn't have enough of that sort of thing, I have to warn you that they offer about the same exact amount this time. There are more Megs, sure, but it doesn't matter much in the grand scheme of things, and they never do anything together besides provide overhead shots of their fins traveling across the screen. There are little "Raptor Sharks" to allow for some on-land action (I don't know what they are exactly, but they swim like fish but can run around on land too and there's a "the grass parts as they approach the humans" scene straight of Lost World, so "Raptor Sharks" is my term!), but this stuff is rarely anywhere near as satisfying as seeing the big one do its thing.

But like I said, if you are a fan of Statham, they have upped the "Statham movie" quotient considerably. In the first film his role coulda been anyone believable enough to swim/drive boats/occasionally fire a weapon, but this one seems tailored for his usual screen persona. In the opening scene he sneaks onto a ship that's been illegally dumping toxic waste into the ocean and gets to kick a few asses, and then once they get to the drillers' base he gets an extended one on one fight with the bad guy that could have been in any big action movie from the 80s and 90s. And then the movie settles into full on Die Hard mode for a bit, as the bad guys take control of Statham's company base and it's up to him and a few others (including Cliff Curtis, among the handful of returning cast members) to take them out. Shark? What shark? I'm having fun with all this stuff! But I can definitely see it being a make or break moment, especially for those who were hoping that the sequel status plus a genuine horror guy with Wheatley would mean more chompy chomp.

Finally, the sharks all beeline to a populated area, this time something called "Fun Island" which is a destination resort for partying 40 year olds, it seems. They get around the obvious geographical handicap by having what seems like a half mile long bridge out to a quartet of tanning/pool/tiki bar type "pods", i.e. somewhere the sharks (and the giant octopus, whose appearance is barely longer than it appeared in the trailer; I'm not even sure if Statham is aware of its existence) can logically swim to/under in order to claim victims who are too far from the beach to just run to safety. The body count SEEMS higher, but it's like Cropsy doubling his count in The Burning with the canoe massacre - a shark eating five people at once doesn't make up for the time it could have been eating people one by one. And Wheatley seems afraid to kill off many named characters; I don't think a single "good guy" character dies in the second half of the film, saving all the carnage for bad guys (duh) and anonymous beachgoers.

Then again, maybe they just wanted to ensure they had options for returning characters for Meg 3, since a few of the folks who survived the first film are MIA here. Bingbing's character is killed off without explanation (a memorium photo is the extent of it) and her brother (Jing Wu) steps in to fill her duties at the company (we are told he was off trying to find his own path prior to this film, hence why no one mentioned him before). But Ruby Rose's character is gone, more or less replaced by Skyler Samuels, as is Statham's ex wife (Jessica McNamee), though we get a suitable replacement with Melissanthi Mahut as Rigas. Bingbing was originally announced as returning, so I'm not sure what happened there, but there are moments in the film (that I can't spoil, but vague hints for those who have seen it, Samuels' involves a video call and Mahut's involves a choice near the escape pods) that would have landed much better with Rose and McNamee's characters intact instead of these "find and replace the name" substitutes we have no history with (Mahut even has a line suggesting she WAS around last time). Nothing against the performers (indeed, as a Scream Queens stan I was happy to see Samuels), but I'd be willing to bet that the first draft(s) had the OG characters in these spots and not much time was spent differentiating them when the actresses couldn't/wouldn't return for whatever reason. Cliff Curtis gets more to do though, so that's nice.

As for the 3D: it was OK, nothing essential. I wanted to see it in 4DX for full ridiculousness, but after hearing so many disappointed takes from like-minded pals who saw it earlier, I decided I'd settle for standard 3D at an AMC, where I could A-List my ticket rather than drive all the way downtown for a full priced ticket. Now that I've seen it, I can't say I regret my choice, but I wouldn't have been angry either. It was a pretty good movie, just like the first. I assume it's a catch 22 kind of thing; the FX are terrific and thus the movies cost a lot, which means they can't go R or they'll have no shot of getting their money back. But the FX on an R-rated movie budget would suck, and then we'd complain about that too. So, at least for me, the decision to go full on action movie to fill time is a good one, as you get a different (cheaper) form of excitement. It's a shame a lot of the money shots are in the trailer, but there's one part that isn't, involving a Statham one-liner, that made the entire thing worthwhile to me. I guess it comes down to whether you want shark action, specifically, or just B-movie nonsense of all kinds. If the latter, I think it's an improvement on the original. If the former, I can definitely understand why folks feel let down that this followup has nearly all of the same issues in that regard.

What say you?


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