In a pivotal scene from summer’s latest blockbuster, “The Meg,” Jason Statham (playing rescue diver Jonas Taylor, looking fit as ever in an extra-tight wetsuit) hurls himself into the ocean with nothing but a speargun and swims toward a humongous prehistoric shark.
As his colleagues look on anxiously from the relative safety of their boat, Statham makes his way toward the titanic man-eating creature, humming the tune from “Finding Nemo” (just keep swimming, just keep swimming). His goal? Tag the beast’s fin so his team can track its whereabouts.
Mind you, beyond having a taste for human flesh, this 75-foot shark known as The Megalodon is light- and sound-sensitive. So any quick movement can trigger its killer instincts. But into the ocean goes Statham anyway.
Yes, this movie is every bit as ridiculous as you’re thinking. But what did you expect?
For the past few years, theatergoers have been given an array of saltwater treats to tide us over between Shark Weeks. We’ve seen a wounded Blake Lively defeat a killer shark with the help of a seagull in “The Shallows” (2016) and watched as Mandy Moore and Claire Holt faced the horrors of the deep after their diving cage drifts to the ocean floor in “47 Meters Down” (2017). 2018 gives us “The Meg,” which calls back to another absurd yet iconic open-water flick, “Deep Blue Sea” (1999), about genetically modified sharks who stalk LL Cool J and company in an isolated underwater facility.
If you liked that one, you’ll be all for this Statham vehicle.
“The Meg,” an American-Chinese Warner Bros. collaboration directed by Jon Turteltaub and based off a book by Steve Alten, focuses on oceanic research facility Mana One, run by scientist Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his oceanographer daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing) and financed by kid-like billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson). Zhang and his team are attempting to dive farther into the depths of the Mariana Trench, where they believe there is an undiscovered ecosystem. So they send a submarine with a crew of three to test the waters and soon discover that, yeah, there are new life-forms on the deep, dark ocean floor, including a gigantic, smart, relentless shark who attacks their sub.
After the attack, the three find themselves trapped underwater, stranded with little oxygen. That’s when Taylor (Statham) comes in to hopefully save the day. Alas, like a moth to a razor-toothed flame, he too gets wrapped up in the discovery and destructive nature of the prehistoric Meg.
“Man vs. Meg isn’t a fight,” he says at one point, “it’s a slaughter.”
Throughout the movie’s hour and 53 minutes, there’s action (helicopters galore!), terror (tiny dog vs. giant shark!) and love (wet and shirtless Statham!). Plus, 10-year-old newcomer Shuya Sophia Cai steals every scene she’s in as Suyin’s daughter Meiying, a curious little girl whose one-liners and mischievous looks melt even the heart of steely Statham.
The best part comes toward the climax of the film when The Meg is headed straight for the shore where hundreds of vacationers are wading in the water, sitting in neon inflatable tubes or lying on rafts. A la “Jaws,” it starts out with a dog named Pippin enjoying a swim before all hell breaks loose. The Meg enters the scene, dragging floats, eating swimmers and generally terrorizing children. It’s somehow visually stunning, incredibly scary and absolutely hilarious all at the same time.
(Just keep your eyes on ice-pop kid and you’ll get it.)
In terms of the shark itself, the film’s special effects are pretty solid, despite the fact that the animal appears primarily as a fin rising up on the horizon. But don’t worry, you get your classic Statham vs. His Enemy moment, because what would this film be without an iconic underwater brawl scene?
All in all, “The Meg” is exactly what you want it to be: a thrill ride full of deep sea adventure and beyond-cheesy dialogue. (“Not only did we fail, but we failed science,” Dr. Zhang sincerely mutters to laughs from the audience.)
If you’re looking to be entertained from start to finish, well … the movie’s opening scenes try too hard to get you invested in its lackluster ― and soon to be dead? ― characters. So give it 30 minutes or so before throwing in the beach towel; the last hour is the show you were waiting for.
“The Meg” hits theaters Friday.
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