By Liam Lacey
The megalodon, a species of large long-extinct shark, is the titular subject of The Meg, the most recent example of an un-killable movie genre known as the creature feature.
Launched forty-three years after Steven Spielberg’s Jaws introduced the summer blockbuster, this big-budget Jurassic/Jaws mashup is loud, wet and bloody with a built-in familiarity in the long-in-the-tooth dialogue (“That thing’s out there!” and predictable beats before each fresh shark attack.
Audiences looking for a so-bad-its-good bit of kitsch catharsis will likely be let down. The Meh – sorry, The Meg – is so calculatedly flattened out for international markets, especially its Chinese financiers, that even the dialogue feels as though it’s in translation.
Director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) bulldozes through a half-dozen action sequences of ever-greater mayhem. The 75-foot shark is typically seen in partial shots, delivered with rhythmically-regular edits - the big dorsal-fin bearing down on some unlucky swimmer or a close-ups of the creature’s maw, chomping and thrashing about.
British action star Jason Statham (The Mechanic) plays Jonas Taylor, a deep-sea rescue diver who hung up his wet suit after leaving some friends stranded on the ocean floor, left as snacks for the creature, which only he witnessed.
Since that time, Jonas has been drinking and suffering guilt in Thailand but once he’s called into action to rescue a damaged submersible more than 10 kilometers underwater, the years of dissipation vanish and he’s back to the actor’s standard bluff and aqua-dynamically buff self.
Jonas is transferred to a deep-sea research outpost near Shanghai where the international crew includes oceanographer Dr. Zang (Winston Chao), his pretty divorced oceanographer daughter, Suyin (Bingbing Li) and her precocious eight-year-old daughter (Shuya Sophia Cai).
There’s the usual team of stereotypes: Morris (Rainn Wilson), a goofy Elon Musk-like billionaire financier, tech whiz/anime heroine Jaxx (Australian model-actress, Ruby Rose) and, for comic relief, the black guy named DJ (Page Kennedy) who’s afraid of swimming.
The team also includes Jonas old buddy, Mac, played by New Zealand Maori actor Cliff Curtis (Fear The Walking Dead) and Jonas’ adversary, Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), who’d previously accused him of simultaneous cowardice and decompression psychosis.
Down on the ocean floor in the damaged craft, there’s Lori (Jessica McNamee), Jonas’ divorced wife, along with Japanese scientist, Toshi (Heroes’ Masi Oka) and plus-sized crewman, The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), all on the menu as the big fish tries to crack open the sub’s shell for the tasty bits inside.
From the initial Statham vs. Shark encounter, the movie spends the next ninety minutes, bobbing up and down in the ocean in various south Pacific locations as characters strategize, flirt, get picked off by the Meg or mime terror at each fresh assault.
The trio of writers have worked to season the script with humour, but the wisecracks feel incongruously wedged into the story. A semi-slapstick scene on a crowded Chinese beach, with the dialogue rendered entirely in subtitles, is a relief from all the gruff attitudinizing.
Years ago, a professor of mine once said that the story of the Biblical Jonah (or Jonas), who was swallowed by a big fish, was a parable of humanity trapped in space and time. Watching The Meg, I think I finally understood exactly what he meant.
The Meg. Directed by Jon Turteltaub. Written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber. With: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNamee, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia Cai and Masi Oka. The Meg can be seen at Beach Cinemas, Cineplex Empress Walk, Eglinton Town Centre, Imagine Carlton Cinema, Imagine Market Square Queensway, Scotiabank Theatre, Silvercity Yonge-Eglinton, Silver City Yorkdale and Cineplex Yong and Dundas.