The Meg is too afraid to cash in on the campy potential of its mega-shark antics
Despite the fact it began with a film regarded by many as one of the greatest blockbuster films ever made, Jaws, the shark horror subgenre is one long associated with unabashed corniness. Even films in the category that have earned praise possess notable elements of camp, from the much-loved 90's cheesefest Deep Blue Sea to the lushly shot recent release The Shallows. So when the announcement came around that perennial grumpy action star Jason Statham (the Fast and the Furious franchise) was starring in The Meg, an adaptation of a popular paperback about a massive prehistoric Megalodon emerging from the depths to once again terrorize the ocean, nobody was expecting an Oscar winner. They were expecting a no-holds barred celebration of genre film ridiculousness, the sort of tongue-in-cheek B-movie that Piranha 3D brought back to prominence. Disappointingly, The Meg is a film afraid to fully give in to its wacky premise, and the result is derivative and rather boring drop in the shark movie bucket.
Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, an alcoholic deep sea rescue diver haunted by the death of his friends in a rescue attempt years earlier. Taylor became isolated from those he cared about when he swore the rescue went awry due to some massive creature attacking the ship, and as a result spends his days drinking away his sorrows in Thailand. He's called back into action when a research vessel, which of course has his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee, Battle of the Sexes) on board, is similarly attacked and his former friends start to believe he was telling the truth about the deep sea beast he believes ruined his life. This sets up the ultimate showdown of bald asshole vs. big shark.
The problem is that neither Statham's hero nor the shark he's hunting are particularly inspired, or even fun, in any way. Statham is admittedly breezier here than he usually is, finding some lightness in the snarky quips that define his character, but at the end of day he's still your atypical action protagonist. The big bad shark itself isn't noteworthy outside of its size, essentially just serving as more expensive version of the boring killer sharks you'd find in straight-to-DVD like affair. While The Meg is noticeably better looking than those sorts of films, setting itself up for blockbuster worthy rehashing of their dumb fun, it just ends up being boring due to its reluctance to fully commit to not being self-serious.
Not to mention the tropes it does choose to pick up are eye roll inducing, principally the forced romance between Jonas and Chinese actress Li Bingbing's (Transformers: Age of Extinction) marine biologist Suyin. Despite the fact the film has an array of interesting bit characters to focus on, including a fun little turn from Orange is the New Black's Ruby Rose and a snarky villain in the form of Rainn Wilson (The Office), the film chooses to mostly focus its character efforts on this relationship, which moves so swiftly and with so little chemistry your head will be spinning as to why it's happening at all. It also continues the troubling trope with pairing white male actors with Asian stars, a stereotype with roots deep in good old-fashioned Hollywood racism. Bingbing is certainly charming and capable in the role, so why the character needs to be defined by her relationship with the men in the film, from Jonas to her predictably strict father, is explained only by the fact that the script is lazy.
The Meg is ultimately exactly the film you expect it to be, for better or worse. If you want a big, dumb shark movie that recreates plot points you've seen time and time again but with better visuals, then this is your ticket. But if you're hoping for a zanier, more confident take on the endless battle between man and the beat that made us afraid to go in the water, you're better off leaving this one to sleep with the fishes.