Review by C.J. Bunce

The trailers didn’t lie.  With only a month to go, The Meg might be the most fun movie you’ll see this summer.  The Meg has everything: a stellar international cast with plenty of chemistry, big action scenes, great sets, and even some drama.  For Jason Statham fans, look for another must-see Statham movie with his tough-as-nails deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor getting in and out of some big crises.  For fans of underwater adventure movies like The Abyss, Leviathan, and Sphere, a better movie has arrived.  A combined production from China and the U.S., it also pushes past last year’s much bigger budget action film The Great Wall–the combination of the two cultures from these films is setting up the future of action films.  If you liked the Pacific Rim franchise, recent Godzilla movies or Battleship, you’ll probably find The Meg a better all around production.  For an only PG-13 rating, it’s loaded with blood, chum, and other viscera (the newfound terror gobbles up plenty of characters both major and minor), but it balances that out with some good worldbuilding, likeable characters, and plenty of humor along the way.

The trailers also didn’t give anything important away.  Beginning with a John Hammond-esque deep-sea research base, we meet a perfect set-up of international personalities, led by Chinese superstar Bingbing Li (Resident Evil, Transformers series) as a scientist working with her father (1911 and Eat Drink Man Woman’s Winston Chao) on breaking through a new-found barrier to the deep sea.  The movie is really two films–the first a slowly-building drama detailing the background and players in the research facility, and the second a 1980s/1990s Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis, or Steven Seagal action-rescue movie (think Cliffhanger, Under Siege, Striking Distance, Executive Decision), sensibly swapping out the much younger Statham (who played Stallone’s #1 guy in The Expendables series), the modern incarnation of this brand of action star.  For the action, we learn Statham’s Taylor quit diving for a rescue operation five years past that didn’t go as planned.  He returns thanks to an old friend working at the facility (played by Fear the Walking Dead’s Cliff Curtis) when Taylor’s ex-wife, played by Australian actor Jessica McNamee, is piloting an exploratory vessel, along with scientists played by Japanese-American actor Masi Oka (Heroes, Hawaii Five-O) and Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald, BFG), which runs aground with the help of a mysterious creature.  Rounding out the cast is The Office’s Rainn Wilson as the show’s Hammond, an Elon Musk-inspired exec who funded the facility, Rush Hour’s Page Kennedy as another scientist, and the new lead of the CW’s Batwoman, Ruby Rose, whose character designed the facility.  Rose proves in The Meg she’s got the right stuff to dawn that red cape.

Based on Steve Alten’s 1997 science-fiction/horror book Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror, this fish tale is somewhat Michael Crichton-lite.  It’s surprisingly better than all the Jurassic sequels, as well as Crichton’s lesser action film adaptations like Congo and Sphere.  But the marketing may have set expectations off-kilter in one regard:  The shark–the megalodon–of the title may have you thinking Jaws or Sharknado.  It’s neither.  Think Godzilla and King Kong and you’ll be much closer.  The chemistry among the cast is what makes The Meg really stand out.  Statham and Bingbing Li (only six years apart in real life) make a great pair I’d love to see again.  Statham and Curtis seem like they really have been pals for years.  Young actor Sophia Cai may be the next best child actor, holding her own with both Statham, Li, Kennedy, and the rest of the crew.  The camaraderie of everyone involved and top-level production values (thanks to King Kong and The Lord of the Rings’ Oscar-winning production designer Grant Major) beg for a sequel or series.

With all the great, giant action sequences, one of the best scenes must include the sound effect used by the production when the big sea beast comes upon a vacationer running inside a human-scale version of a hamster ball.  There are many gold nuggets peppered throughout, not the least of which is the actual shark–the first time we get to see a large shark in a big-budget action movie in man-eating mode (recall we barely see the shark in Jaws because the production had so many problems getting the prop to work and CGI wasn’t available back in 1975).  This shark chews on big ships and shuttles like a dog on a chew toy and swallows a swarm of innertube-hugging beachgoers like a bowl of Fruit Loops.  And the CGI is solid–it will not leave you feeling you are watching something fake.

The Meg also has a couple of cringeworthy elements, like characters taking on their roles as (very) big game hunters.  Mankind’s history of destroying life is not ignored here.  Yet the story is quite good at delivering the appropriate level of biblical justice along the way.  As Chao’s character says at the end of one rescue, the operation was not a success, at least “not for science.”  But everyone is fair game when a giant sea monster is involved: adults, kids, other animals, even a little dog.

The sets are superb, a very Jacques Cousteau exploring vibe.  You might not think costumes would stand out in a film like this but the seafaring wear by Amanda Neale (Avatar, The Adventures of Tintin, The Lord of the Rings) looks great.  The overall film is gorgeous thanks to cinematographer Tom Stern (director of photography and cameraman on films from The Hunger Games to dozens of Clint Eastwood dramas).  Although the music doesn’t become its own character as in Jaws, Harry Gregson-Williams’ (The Equalizer, Chronicles of Narnia, Cowboys and Aliens, Total Recall) score pushes the action forward.  Director Jon Turtletaub can add this one to a strong list of his beloved classics National Treasure, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, The Kid, and Cool Runnings.

I am usually not a fan of expletives in books or movies, especially used in excess.  It is nearly always an indication of lazy writing.  Not so with The Meg.  Something big readying to chomp your leg off as you’re being reeled into a boat?  Yep, that is exactly what expletives are for, and Statham makes great use of them here.  Plenty of close-calls on this ride will have you flinching, too.

The 51-year-old Statham is practically a youngster as action stars go, compared to 72-year-old Sylvester Stallone, 71-year-old Arnold Schwarzenegger, and 63-year-old Bruce Willis.  Statham is taking on the roles they once performed, and he demonstrates in The Meg he has plenty of action films left in him.

This has been a great summer for fun at the theater, beginning with Solo: A Star Wars Story, followed by Ant-Man and The Wasp, and now The Meg.  It’s a big adventure, it’s fun, and with a mix of drama and humor it’s good in surprising ways.  Don’t miss The Meg on the biggest screen you can find.  It’s in theaters now.

 

 

#filmrev

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