Discover and then destroy.
An adaptation of Steve Alten‘s Navy deep-sea diver/paleobiologist Jonas Taylor-led series of novels has been in the works pretty much since the first installment was published back in 1997. There have been six literary sequels written since then as the property changed hands from Disney to Warner Bros. and directors from Jan de Bont to Eli Roth to Jon Turteltaub. That second name is interesting because Alten’s book is described as a science-fiction horror. So to read that Roth left over “creative differences” can’t help but make me wonder if the studio was pushing hard to lessen that aspect in order to increase the cheese. Hiring Turteltaub (of National Treasure fame) would seem to corroborate this hypothesis along with its trailer going full speed into playfully comedic territory.
Unfortunately, however, that’s not what The Meg ultimately delivers. Instead it arrives as a sort of hybrid of these two tones as though Dean Georgaris infused the dramatic suspense while Jon and Erich Hoeber provided the humor. So just like that trailer, things begin overwrought and serious until hitting the beach to let primped puppies and sex-starved co-eds usher in much needed levity. Unlike having the trailer make this switch about thirty seconds into a ninety-second spot, the film takes ninety minutes to get there. By that point the desire for comedy had come and gone. The sheer repetition of watching a team of professionals try and fail to take down their monstrous pursuer ten times with the utmost severity had bludgeoned all hope for “fun” to death.
Besides the boredom setting in from the multiple rescue attempts that leave them in the same place with less characters breathing, having the start lean into its action for thrills isn’t a bad choice. Things actually play out in a nice throwback way to old disaster flicks similar to Skyscraper a few weeks ago. There’s something familiar and welcome about the heightened melodrama of watching Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) make an impossible call that ensures everyone he dove to save will live at the cost of his two friends’ lives. Clichéd or not, we understand his motivations during and after this choice. His belief that something huge in the water was to blame labeled him crazy. So he retired to a drunken stupor, wallowing in self-pity and guilt.
Fast-forward five years to an ambitious endeavor by Winston Chao‘s Zhang to reach the Mariana Trench’s supposed floor and discover it is merely a layer of freezing cold gas hiding a world of marine life long-since thought extinct. The three-person team on the initial expedition is attacked by something too big to be “known” and the only person who has ever survived the depth of their location is Taylor. Luckily Zhang’s first-in-command (Cliff Curtis‘ Mac) is Jonas’ old friend. Unluckily, their chief medical officer (Robert Taylor‘s Heller) is the same guy who declared this would-be hero unfit after the aforementioned tragedy half a decade ago. Since Taylor’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) is one of the people who needs saving, however, he agrees to get back into the water.
Also populating the research station known as Mana One is Zhang’s marine biologist daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li) and his young, precocious granddaughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai). There’s an engineer (Ruby Rose‘s Jaxx), rover pilot (Page Kennedy‘s DJ), and man of the hour (Rainn Wilson‘s Morris, the billionaire financier of everything) amongst others as well. These are who will put their heads together to track, capture, and/or kill what they discover to be a Megalodon. Some will risk their lives, others will risk theirs to save them, and a few more will wish they never agreed to take this job. And as Zhang regrets the carnage as yet another hubristic act of man that he sanctioned, Morris grabs hold of his hubris with dollar signs in his eyes.
Turteltaub orchestrates some effective action sequences, each ending in a close call to give everyone pause as far as trying again if not actual tragedy. Statham’s Taylor is the de facto macho man with nothing to lose (until a budding romance with Suyin everyone knowingly pushes him towards) who dives headfirst into danger with little coaxing. There’s a chase scene where he must tag the beast with a harpoon sans protection (wetsuit and goggles only) and another where Suyin volunteers to trap herself in a new fangled shark cage whose inability to break may be its downfall. None of it possesses the terror of Jaws, though. We assume most of these characters will die—that’s why there are so many of them. So think Deep Blue Sea instead.
Where that one wore its cheese on its sleeves, The Meg almost feels like it doesn’t think it possesses any. This is the film’s fatal flaw because its drama isn’t good enough to sustain itself. The decision to kill one person at a time forces there to be too many interactions with the creature that only water down its true ferocity. And it renders the pacing into a stagger of fits and stops, every pause setting up the next set-piece rather than authentic character development to earn our invest beyond the theatricality of it all. So when the tone shifts upon finally arriving at a populated area for real violence, we’re left wondering why it took so long. The marketing campaign therefore just advertises the final twenty minutes.
It’s a tale of two movies: a suspense thriller that doesn’t quite embrace its horror premise and a light blockbuster actioner with idiots getting their comeuppance as stereotypical romance under duress transports us back to 90s chauvinism under a filter of flimsy sensitivity (Oh, but Jonas adores children). The film is a product of its origins. It’s source material was born in that decade and it tried to take form shortly after. Had it been released back then it wouldn’t have been subjected to the necessity of our changing times these past three decades to retool without cohesion. You can do it all if you do so from the start. The clear division in style here only highlights an inability of knowing exactly what it wanted to become.
 © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., GRAVITY PICTURES FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY, AND APELLES ENTERTAINMENT, INC. Photo Credit: Daniuel Smith Caption: (L-R) PAGE KENNEDY as DJ, RUBY ROSE as Jaxx, LI BINGBING as Suyin, JASON STATHAM as Jonas Taylor and CLIFF CURTIS as Mac in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Gravity Pictures’ action adventure “THE MEG,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
 © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., GRAVITY PICTURES FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY, AND APELLES ENTERTAINMENT, INC. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: A scene from Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Gravity Pictures’ science fiction action thriller “THE MEG,” a Gravity Pictures release for China, and a Warner Bros. Pictures release throughout the rest of the world.
 © 2018 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC., GRAVITY PICTURES FILM PRODUCTION COMPANY, AND APELLES ENTERTAINMENT, INC. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-R) SOPHIA CAI as Meiying and JASON STATHAM as Jonas Taylor in Warner Bros. Pictures’ and Gravity Pictures’ science fiction action thriller “THE MEG,” a Gravity Pictures release for China, and a Warner Bros. Pictures release throughout the rest of the world.