If you have been reading my reviews here thus far, you have probably gotten a pretty accurate portrait of what I look for in movies. Strong sense of character, great dialogue, good story structure, smart sense of geography. However, I am not made of stone. I love some good movie cheese now and then. A heaping help of movie cheese gets delivered by creature features like nearly no other genre. THE MEG gets this and fills their giant prehistoric shark to the gills with that premium silly goodness.

THE MEG: SHARK!
The real star swims underneath beachgoers in a scene from THE MEG. (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

The Idea Behind THE MEG

Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is an experienced diver and deep sea rescuer. His career comes to an abrupt end when he needs to leave two of his friends in a damaged sub, convinced a giant creature was about to attack. Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor), convinced that Jonas was either suffering from a kind of deep-sea delusional break or being a coward, claims that Taylor made the wrong call. Jonas “retires” to drink and fix a fishing boat on the beach. Mostly drink. The world moves on.

Billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson) has paid for an underwater lab station — think SEALAB 2021 but competent that is seeking to prove that Marina’s Trench actually goes even deeper than originally believed. In order to do so, he has hired Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) and his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li), two of the foremost scientists in the field. Also on-hand are Jaxx (Ruby Rose), DJ (Page Kennedy), “The Wall” (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and Toshi (Masi Oka). To really complicate things, Jonas’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), his close friend Mac (Cliff Curtis), and the aforementioned Heller round out the team.

The theory proves true and a submersible carrying Lori, The Wall, and Toshi pierces the false bottom. Below is all sort of unusual fauna and flora, a breathtaking discovery. The celebration ends almost as it begins, however, as one of those unusual animals seemingly attacks the mini-submarine.

An animal that seems an awful lot like the beast Taylor claimed he had encountered and Heller had labeled him a deserter and madman for those claims. An ancient shark called a megalodon. The trio survives the attack but is crippled, unable to ascend. With no other options, Mac and Zhang lure Jonas out of retirement for the rematch of the century: Statham v. Shark.

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The Writing

Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber — the trio behind THE MEG script — seem to know exactly what kind of movie they are making. They know they have to keep it light and lively when the shark is off-screen and tense and foreboding, with occasional moments of badassery when the shark is about.

As a result, they populate the movie with quick-witted characters who are capable but not so capable as to not joke at inopportune times, become comically or seriously panicked at times, or make dumb and/or selfish choices. They don’t have fully rounded personalities, per se, but they have enough meat on their proverbial bones to register as more than wallpaper. It keeps the picture moving forward at a quick pace without rendering the characters as generic and uninteresting.

From a structure standpoint, the screenplay is a little lumpy. The prelude and introductions to the station take a bit longer than you might expect. As a result, once we meet the Meg, the film has to move. Suspense ends up largely sidelined although the ancient beast still surprises multiple times. Still, the movie wants to be more GODZILLA than JAWS anyway. On this count, the script succeeds. The monster is massive, nearly unstoppable, and yet impressively sneaky. Like I said, the screenwriters get what this movie is.

THE MEG: Jonas
Jason Statham is ready to wreck some ancient shark tail in THE MEG. (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

Casting The Leads of THE MEG

Hollywood has been trying to make us like Jason Statham for a while. I was a bit resentful of it at first. By now though, I give up. I’m all in on Statham.

Why? Well, he has always been an impressive physical actor. The longer he has been in Hollywood, though, the more movies have trusted him to act and, even better, be funny. It turns out he is quite good at both. His dry kind of grouchy humor, in particular, is put to good use here. Also, recently, I’ve realized that Statham interacting with small children in movies is kind of a joy. Seeing him verbally spar with the eight-year-old Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) — Suyin’s daughter — is delightful.

Speaking of Suyin, Li — in her largest American role yet, by a considerable distance — is also game to butt heads with Statham. Her running joke with Jonas about how upset she’ll be if he dies is simple but she sells it with just a look and two fingers. The movie probably makes her have to be rescued too often, but she largely comes off as smart, cool under pressure, and empathetic. You get the feeling that if they did not lure Statham out of retirement, she might have been able to be the action hero on her own.

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Casting the Rest of THE MEG Call Sheet

Without a good and game cast, no matter how nimble the script is, a movie like this can either end up deadly boring, collapse under pretentious, or feel so lightweight that it would float away. Thankfully, this cast has chemistry and skill. Wilson is a standout playing a different kind of creep then we are used to seeing him inhabit. He is not awkward or silly, but slick, arrogant, and profit-driven.

He is not a horrible person, to be clear, but he sees the world around him as a spreadsheet. It is not that he doesn’t NOT care about those around him, just that he cares more about his goals and his money.

The rest of the name cast feels like a group of disparate people who have been working toward a goal together. They have the type of chemistry that feels born of a shared mission, that overcomes their inherent differences. With several deaths, it is important that you feel like the people on-screen miss the departed. The chemistry makes sure you do.

THE MEG: Suyin and Meiying
Bingbing Li and Shuya Sophia Cai share a precious mother-daughter moment in a scene from THE MEG (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

Filming

From his start directing a Barbarian Brothers’ movie, Jon Turtletaub has had a spotty career. That said, with the right material, he can really connect. For Turtletaub, the right material is big budget action cheese (NATIONAL TREASURE) or borderline schmaltzy family fare (PHENOMENOM).

THE MEG is a heaping helping of the first with a sprinkling of the second. It is firmly in the director’s wheelhouse and connects with it hard. Despite the lumpy story structure, he makes the movie feel well-paced. He knows how to film a joke, how to frame an action sequence, how to use the frame to set up surprises, and how to combine all three.

It is true, at times, Meg looks not unlike FINDING NEMO’s Great White Shark Bruce, especially when filmed face first. Yes, the digitally added fish are pretty uncanny valley-esque. I didn’t mind one bit. I know some people are way more particular about CGI, so they may feel differently. For me though, the silly joys of the movie way outweighed the dodgy CGI creatures.

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Striking the Set

Silly, a little dumb but in the best way, and topped with well-crafted action. THE MEG is a prototypical August delight. It won’t tax your brain. It will give your heart a jolt or two, a tug or two, and make your face hurt with smiling at the delightfully ridiculous spectacle of it all.

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