Like its titular giant shark, The Meg is a lumbering behemoth of a movie, rising from the murky depths of mediocrity to gorge itself on box office cash in unreasonable quantities. And like that eponymous megalodon, it’s the kind of thing that should, for all intents and purposes, have died out long ago. The Meg has something of a storied production history, having languished in development hell for two decades before finally bringing its Jaws-meets-The–Abyss inanity to megaplex screens with the help of a significant dose of Chinese funds. Under the dubious ministrations of noted hack Jon Turteltaub, The Meg has finally surfaced to the resounding antipathy of audiences and critics bored enough to open their wallets.
Let’s get this out of the way: The Meg is a movie about Jason Statham fighting a 90-foot shark. He doesn’t quite get into a fistfight with it, of course, but you’d be surprised at how close the film comes to exactly that. When Statham states, in a throwaway line about an improbable romantic entanglement, “This may be the worst moment of [his] life,” the unintended subtext is palpable. And while that may be the most believable line reading that Statham can muster, who can really blame him? Turteltaub has delivered a film deficient in both style and substance, one that can’t decide whether it’s a straight-faced action blockbuster or high camp, thereby falling short of success in either arena.
While The Meg might not be as excruciatingly simplistic as last month’s Skyscraper, it equals that film in its blatant pandering to Eastern markets. As is becoming the trend for such movies, The Meg arbitrarily inserts Chinese characters into its narrative and appropriates Asian settings to cater to the foreign box office whims of its production studio — in this case Warner Bros with financing from Gravity Pictures, a wholly owned subsidiary of the aptly named China Media Capital. And by all metrics, this approach has succeeded, with the film taking the top spot this weekend on a domestic gross of $44.5 million while taking in $50 million in China. For those still struggling to understand the significance of the Chinese moviegoing dollar, $50 million only garnered The Meg a distant third-place opening in that market.
If The Meg is neither as dumb as it wants to be or as clever as it thinks it is, it’s still not entirely unentertaining. It moves along at a reasonable pace, and although its act structure is irredeemably flawed, its narrative thankfully eschews excessive exposition that would have been to absurd to include in the first place. Why is Rainn Wilson here as some sort of venture-capital-bro billionaire? Who cares? Giant shark! The film is so awash in tonal dissonance that, by the time the third act’s comedy-heavy set piece gets underway, it’s as if we’ve been transported into a different film, as though the process of Frankensteining dozens of scripts was unable to conceal the scars where they were joined. To say that The Meg jumps the shark would be to do a disservice to both sharks and jumping, but as far as abortive action spectacles go, it could be less watchable. Am I damning by faint praise? Perhaps.