Discerning genre geeks face a weird dilemma when it comes to shark movies: basically, Jaws is one of the best movies ever made (obviously) and the basic concept of “shark vs. people” is of course very appealing to those who like horror, action, or quality b-movies in general. So why are decent shark movies so damn rare? It’s not exactly brain surgery here, but despite the massive success of Jaws, there have only been a small handful of half-decent flicks on the Shark Attack shelf. You’ll find plenty of people who like Jaws 2, Deep Blue Sea, Shark Night, and The Shallows — and if you dig into the indies you’ll find some good stuff like The Reef and 47 Meters Down — but let’s face it; shark movies you’d sit through more than once are pretty few and far between, which is sort of a shame.
So obviously as a fan of all things shark-related I sat down with Hollywood’s latest effort and prepared myself for a goofy good time. The Meg, after all, is about a giant, prehistoric shark that makes its way into populated waters and the only thing that can stand in its way is ass-kicker Jason Statham and an amiably eclectic group of sidekicks and supporting characters. Much like Shark Night, The Meg has a very firm sense of humor about the ridiculousness of its premise, and it’s that sort of “we’re all in on the joke” approach that makes The Meg unexpectedly amusing, even during the talky bits.
Based on the (fun!) novel by Steve Alten, The Meg feels like little more than a SyFy Channel movie with much better actors and a much bigger budget. So, of course, there are some confusing editorial missteps, a few flat line readings, and a handful of digital effects that look about half-finished. But at its best moments (and it does have several) The Meg is simply a broad, simple monster movie with a solid sense of humor, some basic but likable characters, and one really epic monster.
Fans of stoic action star Jason Statham will certainly enjoy his work here, as he’s asked to be a bit lighter and more pleasant this time around. Hell, the man actually smiles a few times, as if to remind us “Yep, this is the guy you want as the hero in your giant shark flick.” Fortunately Statham is flanked by a solid handful of support; Bingbing Li, Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Rainn Wilson, Page Kennedy, and Robert Taylor each add their own little spice to the stew in between all the Megalodon attacks and tracking beacons and imploding submarines, but The Meg exists for pretty much one reason: to put a giant freakin’ shark up on the big screen, and to do so with a relative amount of logic and sense. (“Relative” being the key word there.)
And let’s make no mistake. The Meg does struggle with a few of the talky bits. It’s as if the filmmakers know their story is pulp nonsense, yet they still have to give us 45 minutes of (fairly entertaining) set-up before we can get to the (PG-13-level) carnage, if only because that’s how most monster movies are structured. But then we’ll cut to some really nifty underwater sequences and everything picks up steam again.
To its credit, The Meg is at its best when it’s evoking disaster movie tropes and the sort of kinetic chases and escapes that we all know from quality adventure flicks. As a close cousin to horror, The Meg barely registers a blip on the radar, but as a knowingly goofy and amiably laid-back adventure movie matinee, I think The Meg is frequently a whole lot of fun. Simple, predictable, and often familiar, but hey. Fun is fun.
And since nobody’s ever going to top Jaws as far as scary shark movies go, I have no problem with knowingly pulpy ones like The Meg. I’d probably even line up for a sequel.