It may seem the best of summer is behind us: the World Cup paraphernalia has evaporated from shops and Love Island couples are already announcing their breakups.
Yet, it seems the latest offering from “WTF-movie” icon Jason Statham, The Meg, promised a ludicrous tail end treat for the drowsy sprawl of summer. The hilarious trailers promised us the ultimate big-budget Man vs Giant Prehistoric Shark movie, but has the Stath delivered the goods?
The opening scene plunges into the melodrama of Statham’s Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver in the throes of an underwater crisis. Statham utters laughable clichés such as “There’s something out there” and “We got this!”, while seemingly itching to break the fourth wall and wink into the depths of the camera.
From here, the film then doggy-paddles through the first act as a misfit ensemble of unremarkable characters and their synthetic dramas is introduced, while the audience becomes impatient for the Meg to swim onscreen and shed some blood. Statham growls his dialogue and engages in a flirtation with researcher Suyin (Li Bingbing), that is apparently conducted in a hermetically concealed chamber maintaining the vacuum of chemistry between the two. There are more sparks between Statham and the shark than between Taylor and his love interest.
Emulating the ancestral titan Jaws in its reluctance to reveal the carnivore, The Meg fails to sustain the icy terror Spielberg struck because the gargantuan Meg just isn’t particularly scary. In fact, it becomes less threatening with each glimpse we get of its fluctuating dimensions.
As ever, it is man’s hubris that precipitates the catastrophic consequences. The Meg follows a submarine to the swanky research facility in the South China Sea, escaping its icy subterranean realm and miraculously avoiding the bends, only to emerge at sea level eager to wreak carnage on our heroes. This prehistoric predator first materialises from the murky depths in a shot of looming intensity reminiscent of Bruce’s entrance in Finding Nemo.
At first it seems Statham intends on defeating the Meg by whipping off his shirt and tensing his abs.However, the film unfolds into a series of comically brainless plot points and set pieces, including Statham taking on the Meg solo, armed with nothing but a harpoon gun and his muscle definition. There’s never a moment where Statham’s heroic credentials are remotely in doubt; at on point, he performs mouth-to-mouth on Suyin while the actor playing the qualified doctor sits impotent at his side, having done chest compressions, leaving the heavy duty lifesaving part to Jason and his flexing pecs.
The film is an American-Chinese co-production with clear concessions made to appease both audiences, from lashings of CGI-shark mayhem to the clear advert for Chinese beach tourism that caps off the third act. Having watched the film in Shanghai, I was given a glimpse into the Chinese reception of this Hollywood/Chollywood fusion and, given the fact one woman starting giggling while watching videos on her phone a few rows over, I am not sure the high-octane sequences had the desired effect.
However, the cinema was packed with punters so perhaps such joint U.S. and Chinese productions could become a mainstay of blockbuster output if they continue to draw the crowds and the cash.
At times The Meg threatens to veer into the absurd; it takes a sheer effort of will not to collapse into giggles when Statham first rasps the word ‘megalodon’. Yet, in amongst Statham’s growled lines of haggard dialogue is a teasing possibility that he, and perhaps the film as a whole, holds his tongue firmly in cheek. Perhaps director Jon Turteltaub and Statham are in on the joke, as the film is at its most entertaining when it not only embraces, but revels in, the unrestrained impulse of silliness.