The Meg (2018)
Pleased to eat you.
I’ve watched a lot of shark movies. You wouldn’t really know it just browsing entries here - most of them are what I call “tub movies” - in which you loaf around in a bath, hot tub, pool, or whatever bucket of water you can fit your fleshy self in and flip on a movie. I’ve seen sharks in tornadoes, genetically mutated sharks, sharks in the sand, sharks in the snow, giant sharks, and cg sharks so bad they wouldn’t scare a two year old. When I saw the initial trailer for The Meg, I said to myself “yep, gonna watch that eventually.” While I took on the long wait for rental to be available, I didn’t hear the greatest things about it from the more review-oriented folks, and the few actual people I knew that saw it seemed to have a fun enough time. Well, it’s time to see if this ginormous toothy boat of a flick can swim or sink.
Shark movies aren’t really known for their plot. Although a bunch of them are classified as horror, I don’t really feel that it’s a freebie to not have a plot, but at the same time I’m the kind of person who fully recognizes that you can only really do so much with an animal that can’t leave the water without putting your pants on you head and claiming the rain is meatballs - I’m looking at you Sharknado. Still, most have at least some form of hook to try and lure you in - and here you would expect it to be the giant sized shark, but I would argue it’s actually the main name most would recognize - Statham. Undoubtedly, a large reason a lot of folks saw it, and probably equally as responsible for as many people thinking this movie was going to be more than it was, the main served as the bait to attract the masses - that and the co-production with China, introducing a lot of Chinese actors into the mix as well. It could be argued as to if that is good or bad, but I’m all for a bilingual cast as long as some words pop up to let me know what they are saying. Now, outside of the mix of actors, there really isn’t much else to it - a lot of the movies in the water, outside of a pretty beach with a lovely statue, so it’s a pretty solid trailer-seller in my opinion. The trailer shows you all the hooks - big shark, mixed actors, spooks and even a few jokes.
Now, the big shark looks pretty good here. Again, take in mind that at this point I’ve seen the spectrum of shark movies and scenes - down to a guy dressed as a zombie fighting an actual real shark (poor bugger). Yes, it does some things that full nerds might get taken out of the movie by, like floating stationary to size up a bite, or things that the common person might get hung up on - like seemingly being picky with it’s food choices, but considering it’s a tale of fiction means it doesn’t have to be one hundred percent on the ball with that stuff as long as it entertains. There are some down right beautiful scenes in the underwater environments at the beginning, to the point where I had the thought that man, it’d be really rad to have a VR rail experience to check some of this stuff out. It’s like Avatar, if that movie didn’t spend it’s entire run time on the eye-candy. That said, beyond that intro act we get mostly normal things we’ve seen outside of the shark, but the shark still looks good then. At it’s worst, it’s still better then a lot of the bests I’ve seen elsewhere in the toothy maw of the genre. Despite being PG13, we also get some blood in here, as well as various water critters getting either chomped up or blown up. Summer blockbuster shark movie wouldn’t be a bad mentality to approach this one with.
The costume department doesn’t get to do a whole lot outside the ordinary here - some wet suits really being the most elaborate costume available. That sad, each character has their own look, even if it’s something as simple as their hair style, and lady’s will be happy to know they still managed to work in at least one scene of Statham without his shirt on. More time was probably spent with the props and sets, where we get such things as rad and sleek submersibles, more generic looking submarines with high-tech interiors, the underwater research station and even the fancied-up shark cage. It’s nothing so outlandish that it seems unrecognizable, but at the same time has that distinct clean and fancy science fiction edge. Of course, there’s the before-mentioned underwater scenes laden with effects work to really make them pop, but there are also some more normal underwater shots as well, complete with some little details like discarded tubes of sunscreen when you get to the beach scene.
Granted, we can’t sit through an entire two hour movie just watching the shark and sets. The actors do a good job applying an ample amount of ham as needed. The movie doesn’t play itself as a comedy like Sharknado or most the other SyFy / Asylum entries, but it still has a sense of humor. Characters will make jokes that feel rather genuine, and might even get a laugh out of you - comedy being subjective, as always. Admittedly, not every character knocks it out of the park like there’s no tomorrow - although it’s not always due to bad acting. A great example of this is the remote pilot, who comes off as the over-active worrier type who can get grating after a little while when he finally hits the spaz button - the actor plays it great, but the character itself makes you want them to shut up. Character depth is surpisingly there for a bunch of the characters, particularly for a shark film that isn’t named Jaws, and there’s even some history that plays back and forth between characters and the main, as well as some play between the two leads. It’s one of those instances where most the cast, including side characters, are all rather enjoyable and it helps get you slightly more invested in the movie itself if not the characters because you have fun watching them.
Beyond the number of times I laughed intentionally, the other thing that surprised me was a jump scare that came out of the deep blue and made me jump. For whatever reason, I had no clue such a thing would be coming despite in hindsight it seeming so obvious, but it’s played out so well that my brain didn’t have time to even catch up until after that fact when I chuckled about it. A good portion of the rest of it boils more down to who will live or die tension than outright horror, but any shark movie that is willing to show a lot of it’s fishy nemesis will fall prey to that same current. You want to see the shark, because it’s a shark movie, but the more it’s there the less it feels tense and it only becomes effective if you are scared for the people around it. The likeable cast helps to some extent - if someone falls in the water, you might be thinking “Oh no, not them!” and it does play well with that mechanic quite often - but for those who aren’t feeling attached or liking the characters, the scariness will fall flat. Thankfully, at times the movie works almost more as an action movie, so that’s a nice trade off.
I could talk audio - and it did a fine job, although perhaps nothing as iconic sticking in my head as the Jaws theme - but largely the folly and background scoring are all just doing there job and keeping me in the movie having fun. It knows when to be tense and quiet, and it knows when to play that exciting, thoughtful, or spooky music - it just didn’t stick around for me. I think the bigger thing is the length. Its two hours long, and I want to say it could be shaved down, but at the same time I did have fun with the movie as it went. I enjoyed the finale especially, with some almost Moby Dick vibes in there, but unlike normal I really can’t point out the scenes that could be ripped out of the movie. Perhaps it’s more because it’s entertaining and fun than that it’s necessary, or perhaps two hours is exactly where this runtime needed to sit. It should have been very easy for this movie to overstay its welcome, but it didn’t.
In the end, it’s another in a long line of films that a large number of people complain about (5.8 on IMDB), that I just don’t really get why they are complaining as much as it is. I think a lot of folks went into this movie with incredibly high expectations given the attachment of Statham - but they should have went in expecting a good time. The cast is enjoyable, the effects are pretty good, and it’s overall a pretty darn fun ride. It could have had a more unique plot hook, or perhaps a more concise story, but nothing it did here is enough to make it seem like the bulk of viewers couldn’t enjoy their time with it on at least a rental or caught on television way. It doesn’t nail the same chilling child-hood damaging lines as something like Jaws did back in the day, but it’s far better than a vast number of it’s tool-headed cousins in the genre.