Movie Review: The Meg

A giant shark is on the loose in a decent-enough international block buster

The Meg
Directed by Jon Turteltaub
With Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis

If you have been missing giant killer sharks on the big screen, The Meg will likely satisfy your cravings. The premise is that somehow a nearly 25-meter-long prehistoric shark called a Megalodon has been unleashed into the Pacific Ocean near China.

It is a late summer action films that delivers firmly on its promises for escapism without being particularly memorable or original. Its over-the-top approach is a plus, as viewers can just sit back in amazement at some of its ridiculousness and not worry that the plot isn't very realistic.

The Meg is also one of several recent big-budget Chinese-American co-productions aimed at being popular in both markets. China is soon to become the world's largest market for films in terms of box office receipts, and more movies are having characters and plots tailored for success there.

The Meg isn't exactly a remake of Jaws, although inspiration from the classic 1975 horror film and its sequels, including Jaws 3-D, can be seen throughout. The main action takes place on a new high-tech deep-sea research station and has echoes of James Cameron's 1989 film The Abyss. It also has elements of space station disaster films like Life.

Action star Jason Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a world-weary rescue diver. He claims to have encountered a giant undersea monster in a rescue several years before the main action in The Meg, but most people considered him to be mentally unstable and became reluctant to work with him.

Statham has become the go-to guy for action films, but usually plays variations on the same character — a tough guy with a troubled past and quick-witted mouth, usually but not always with his heart in the right place. He doesn't push the envelope this time at all.

The rest of the casting in The Meg is quite eclectic, to increase the film's box office potential in various markets.

The staff on the station includes Suyin Zhang (played by Suyin Zhang) and her precocious 8-year-old daughter, Meyling (Shuya Sophia Cai). Conveniently for the plot, Zhang is single. The ever-cute Meyling works to get her and Jonas together. The romantic elements are a bit cloying, but they nicely offset the big action scenes and helo to add a bit of a human touch.

Singer and actress Li Bingbing is a big star in the Asian market, known especially for costume fantasy films, and has had roles in Resident Evil: Retribution and Transformers: Age of Extinction.

Rainn Wilson, known for the US version of the TV series The Office, is cast a bit against type as Jack Morris, a billionaire who has funded the research station but at times seems clueless and morally challenged. He is not exactly a parody of a rich investor but comes close.

Famous for Orange is the New Black, actress Ruby Rose also has a big following in Australia where she was also a model, DJ, recording artist, television presenter and former MTV VJ.

New Zealand star Cliff Curtis, who starred in the TV series Fear the Walking Dead, among many other things, gives capable support in the action arena.

Director Jon Turteltaub, whose previous credits include the two National Treasure films, manages to keep the suspense level high as various tricky rescues take place and the giant shark rampages against the space station, vessels at sea, random people and whatever else it encounters.

In quiet moments, there are breathtaking panoramas of ocean life seen from the various tunnels and windows of the station, or from other undersea vessels.

But there is also the inescapable feeling that all this has been done before. Whenever a mini-sub or research yacht heads out, trouble is sure to follow on cue. But it is well-staged and well-edited, and the characters are developed enough that the audience can feel invested in whether they survive or not.

The script has its share of clever lines and moments. There are also some conflicts among the characters, but not overblown so much that it distracts from the giant shark.

The filmmakers, with a budget of about $150 million at stake, took few real risks. The solid but predictable action, low-key love story and high-level CGI effects should pay off in the international markets that The Meg is clearly aimed at.

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