Above: Jason Statham in The Meg.
BitDepth#1159 for August 23, 2018
There are things you should expect from a “summer” movie, a film created by Hollywood to take advantage of teenagers with time on their hands looking to escape heat and humidity for 113 minutes or so.
There have been some poor judgements unspooled for this task, but some truly memorable bits of confection were created in its service.
The American summer vacation gave us Animal House and Vacation from the National Lampoon, Die Hard (yes, it’s Christmas time in the film), Speed and Men in Black.
These are not films that will change the nature of the world or correct its many injustices, but hey, they are nifty to watch. Even today. In the rainy vacation period of T&T in 2018.
Films about finned horrors from the deep properly began in June 1975 with Peter Benchley’s Jaws, brought to the screen as an instruction manual in mounting terror by Steven Spielberg.
The Meg, a new entry in the monster-from-the-depths-of-the-ocean genre, surged to the screens of cineplexes worldwide over the last week.
It’s a shark film. A big shark film. Part of a noble tradition of misunderstanding these elegant predators of the sea that reached a proud and enthusiastic nadir with the Sharknado sextet of films.
One might have imagined that between the gritty scene chewing of the remorseless Robert Shaw and Tara Reid’s entirely appropriate astonishment at finding herself in a film that’s equal parts madly snapping fish and spectacular bad weather that there might be room for another good film about sharks.
The Meg decides to carve out new territory by taking itself so seriously in the face of overwhelming absurdity that it becomes an exercise in pondering the eternal question of the self-aware exploitation flick, “No, they didn’t.“
Short answer? Yes, they did. Repeatedly.
It should be noted here that even Benchley couldn’t duplicate the success of Jaws. His next book and ensuing film mining the genre he pretty much created, The Deep, is better known for Jacqueline Bisset in a wet t-shirt than for any fearsome ocean creature. And let’s not even talk about the many sequels of Jaws itself.
Jason Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a deepsea scientist/pilot/diver/angry man of some sort who has mastered the fine art of staring with grim disbelief at the goings on, representing the audience manfully.
Statham doesn’t get to kick anybody in the face in the film, though he does get to stab a megalodon in the eye. This is deeply unfortunate, and not only for the surprised monster shark because several of the actors seem desperately in need of a well-aimed foot, at the very least aimed at their posteriors.
BingBing Li, a major star in mainland China, seems unable to submerge herself in her role, which requires her to – unsuccessfully as it turns out – demonstrate lust for Statham’s half-naked, fully pumped body, fear at being knocked around in the ocean depths in a submersible the size of a large car, or, indeed, any emotion that might logically follow the presence of a multi-ton prehistoric shark.
Oh, and that’s the premise of The Meg, the tender, engaging story of the sudden appearance of a long-presumed extinct member of the carcharocles megalodon family, a species of dinosaur era shark that was, let’s just say, really big. With powerful jaws. And big teeth.
So it’s the classic tale of a tiny man with a diving mask versus a 70 foot, multi-ton killing machine, a heartwarming story of courage in the face of overwhelming danger and the totally insane urge to dive into ocean waters that have been verified as hosting eager jaws of certain death.
It’s a film that witlessly wastes Rainn Wilson’s comedy potential and Ruby Rose’s action chick imprimatur on twitchy, uncertain direction and portentious moments that fall determinedly flat.
Why is this creature chasing after people who are krill to its firetruck sized jaws when it’s capable of breaking the spine of a whale?
In place of a serviceable story, we get call backs to Jaws the first and second.
A familiar little boy pleading to go into the water with his iced lolly over his mother’s objections.
A giant fish gliding along under the blissfully unaware legs of paddling swimmers.
A cute little dog in the path of the killer fish.
It’s the worst of all possible worlds, a monster movie that isn’t scary or even particularly funny. Its insistence on dead seriousness in the wake of a formulaic plot make it as pedantically formulaic as an Enid Blyton adventure novel. Hell, it might as well have been called 12 go adventuring and mostly die.
The Meg is scatterbrained science and cynical accounting pressed into the service of a cinematic romance between China and the US that seeks to produce nothing less than its sequel.
A meggie is a gesture intended as a physical prank from Trinidad and Tobago. Usually you think you’re going to see one thing only to find something else entirely.