Big, glossy and stupid, The Meg is exactly what you would expect from what can essentially be log-lined as ‘The Stath versus Jurassic Shark’. If only it were more fun. Yes, star Jason Statham is involved in ludicrous sea-faring action. Yes, there’s plenty of crowd-pleasing spectacle in the Sanya Bay resort conclusion. And yes, the giant prehistoric megalodon eats people and destroys benign marine life in the process. But the carnage amounts to little more than sound effects and suggestion, more toothless than jawsome, while the exposition-packed script is cheesily dreadful.
Bearing absolutely no relation to Steve Alten’s 1997 bestselling airport novel Meg (which currently boasts six book sequels, who knew?), National Treasure director Jon Turteltaub’s tame stab at monster-movie glory begins with expert deepsea rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) aborting a mission. He’s convinced a mammoth 70-foot predator, thought to be extinct for two million years, is on the warpath. The subsequent loss of life – and his scoffed-at claims – cost him both dishonourable discharge from the Navy and his marriage, and he ends up drunk in a fishing community. (Listening to the Thai version of Toni Basil’s 1981 pop hit ‘Mickey’, so things aren’t all that bad.)
Five years later, billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has financed an undersea observation programme based on the Mana One research facility off the coast of China. A submersible exploring the depths of the Pacific Mariana Trench is attacked by a huge sea creature resembling the one Jonas formerly described. Disabled by the assault, and with his ex-wife seriously injured on board, Jonas is recruited by oceanographer Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) to save the crew from what seems to be an unstoppable threat.
With the rescue out of the way within the first hour, it would be unfair to reveal what happens next in the drawn-out proceedings that repeatedly jump the shark. But if you’ve never seen 1961 monster movie Gorgo, if you can resist counting the minutes for evil Capitalism to rear its ugly head, and if you don’t have an aversion to the sentimental matchmaking by moppet prodigy Shuya Sophia Cai, you’re likely to go home entertained.
The ‘swimming with sharks’ tricks of the Spielberg trade are all present and correct in Turteltaub’s more waterlogged replications, but they just about hit the suspense spot. There’s an epic quality to many of the set-pieces, including Statham escaping from enormous jaws of death as his teammates reel him in, the helicopter strike on a whale mistakenly thought to be the Meg, and the feeding frenzy finale in Sanya Bay, where the shadow of the beast swims under bathers in Fruit Loop-style lifesavers.
But if it’s tension, teeth and terror you’re after, you really are looking in the wrong place, despite the unexpectedly neat tribute to James Cameron’s The Abyss when the sub penetrates the ocean’s murky pits. No shark movie has ever matched up to Jaws and, bizarrely, The Meg fails to fully have fun with its fish-out-water clichés, aside from the Pippin the dog moment that finishes off the marine mayhem.
With a poorly used supporting cast – chums Ruby Rose, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy and Robert Taylor barely register as anything other than, well, chum – it’s left to Statham and the Chinese superstar cast to carry the partners-in-brine plot. But they’re saddled with some bland lost-in-translation humour and hilarious errors of science fact, and barely keep their heads above the water.
Over 20 years in development, with such illustrious names as Jan De Bont, Guillermo del Toro and Eli Roth once attached to direct, the film’s fundamental mistake is clearly evident here. The Meg should have been a zippy, bloody 85-minute B movie, not the bloated behemoth it has been puffed up into with all the intelligence of a sea cucumber.
The Meg is released in UK cinemas on Friday 10th August.
Sign up to the Radio Times newsletter for the latest TV and entertainment news