You’d be hard pressed to think of a more sellable elevator pitch than “Jason Statham Vs. Dinosaur Shark.” A cup of star power, a teaspoon of Sy Fy channel and a bucketload of CGI. What could go wrong? Unfortunately, veteran shlock master Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure, 3 Ninjas) is all too concerned with that question. He can’t seem to decide exactly what he wants to do with a B-Picture that should write itself. He debates between a spooky gore fest, a campy thrills and chills stunt show and a deliberately paced ocean exploration flick but ultimately doesn’t take a deep enough dive into any of them.
His biggest asset is Jason Statham, who’s increased awareness of how silly his hyper machismo persona is has made him a considerably better leading man. He’s still the bad ass we know and love, but he gives us that service with a smile. Even when he’s brooding under a beer bottle in the first act, deeply tormented by the loss of his crew members years earlier, he’s cracking jokes as fast as bottlecaps. It’s the perfect performance for something this goofy, especially when he gets to relish in firing off a classically goofy moment like telling the “ugly bastard” to chew on his submarine.
The same cannot be said for the rest of the cast, who alternate between being underwritten and annoying. The worst offender by far is Rainn Wilson’s cocky billionaire who funds the expedition, who exists either to crack one liners scarier than any fish in the sea or to point out things the audience can already see. Cliff Curtis and Ruby Rose get hardly anything to do, while Bingbing Li’s fun chemistry with Statham is often undercut by how little she measures up to him in the action sequences. While the script repeatedly insists that she’s a very accomplished and capable person, Turteltaub constantly makes her a damsel in distress for Statham to dive into the water and save.
The Meg is only as entertaining as the movie it’s trying to be at the time. The first half is dismally paced, with Turteltaub attempting to mimic Steven Spielberg’s knack for creature hiding as our characters take a long, long, long dive to the secret undersea world while our lovely shark resides. The problem is, we know exactly what this thing looks like, and are never under the illusion that it has any more majesty beyond being a giant CGI creature that eats stuff. So, when she spends 40 minutes essentially being the world’s hungriest bumper car, toying around with the submarines, it feels like filler. Although, filler would imply that she eats something, and that comes later.
It picks up a little momentum in the middle as Statham and CO try to fight The Meg on her own turf, but Turteltaub is oddly squeamish about embracing his creature’s abilities. It takes a long time for anybody to even get injured by her and when she does start eating folks, it’s mostly a bloodless affair. It only starts to provide an adequate amount of goofiness towards the end, where Statham and Li take The Meg on in small weaponized submarines that feel like something out of Star Wars. Sub Wars, if you will.
This would’ve likely been best served as a ninety minute, blood spattering, joke cracking roller coaster. While it obviously has some awareness of this, it still has a fool hearted notion that it should be all things to all people. I guess that makes it easy to swallow, and The Meg would certainly approve of that.