Why It's Time for That 'Fast and Furious' Spinoff

The Meg_Rampage_Split - Publicity - H 2018
Courtesy of Warner Bros.
Jason Statham ('The Meg') and Dwayne Johnson ('Rampage') have spent the year starring in high-concept films that likely leave audiences yearning for something more familiar.

[This story contains spoilers for The Meg.]

Next year, fans of the Fast and Furious franchise will presumably flock (or so Universal hopes) to the first spinoff in the series, focusing on tough-as-nails federal agent Luke Hobbs and reformed British baddie Deckard Shaw, played by Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham, respectively. In what amounts to a very unique coincidence, both Johnson and Statham have taken their year off from making a Fast and Furious entry by separately appearing in two Warner Bros. pics that could have easily been goofily B-level genre films. But neither of those movies, Rampage and this week’s The Meg, are able to live up to their potential.

Both Rampage and The Meg are based on pre-existing material; Rampage was inspired by an old video game, while The Meg is based on the first in a series of novels. The premise of Rampage is pure cheese, as it is for The Meg. In the former, a primatologist has to come to the aid of his primate friend George, who has been accidentally dosed with an experimental pathogen that makes him massively large. In the latter, a deep-sea diver comes face-to-face with a 90-foot type of shark that was thought to be extinct for thousands of years. In some ways, the setup of The Meg is slightly less ridiculous than that of Rampage, but the presence of the always-charming if never terribly believable Statham makes it feel awfully silly.

The Meg wasn’t based on a novel by Michael Crichton, but it feels heavily inspired by his mix of a high concept and some pseudo-science. Here, Statham’s deep-sea diver is recruited to help save a trio of divers, including his ex-wife, who are working on a massive underwater marine-biology outpost hundreds of miles off the Chinese coast. After the rescue is complete, the eponymous giant shark is able to make its way to the surface to kill everything in its path. The first two-thirds of the film are mostly confined to focusing on the people at the underwater outpost, who have all been brought together by an American billionaire (Rainn Wilson) with murky motives. Once the Meg makes its way to the mainland, there’s finally a hint of the truly wild selling point of “Jason Statham vs. a big-ass shark.”

Rampage had similar problems. It should have been a can’t-miss and cheesy film; Johnson, like Statham, is very good at selling the utterly loopy in genre fare when he has to, and Rampage had the ingredients to be enormously, enjoyably dumb. Both pics could have reached such gleefully goofy heights, but they each seem wary of going that far. The Meg specifically seems reminiscent of the 1999 cult genre film Deep Blue Sea, if the latter hadn’t been willing to kill off Samuel L. Jackson halfway through. (The rest of the movie is decent enough, but that scene will always be its highest point.)

Rampage, as was detailed in a Rolling Stone profile of Johnson in advance of the film’s release, was meant to end differently. George, the good-hearted primate who gets transformed into a would-be King Kong, was meant to die in the final action sequence, before Johnson decided his fans would be disappointed with such an ending. Though that may be true, the way George’s non-death is handled in the final product is kind of frustrating. (The fakeout-death trope is, in general, long past overdone.) In The Meg, there’s no character as emotionally key to the story who nearly dies; however, for a film about a killer shark who enjoys eating everything, it’s one where the killer shark doesn’t really kill a lot of stuff.

This may sound like a bloodthirsty request, but though there’s a great deal of suspense surrounding when or if the Meg will attack the human characters, very few of them are bitten by the big one. One of the humans sacrifices himself to the shark to save others, another one is felled by the aftermath of the Meg attacking his ship and then there’s the billionaire, who’s eaten after trying to kill the Meg incognito for selfish reasons. But compared to both Deep Blue Sea and the iconic Jaws, there’s not a whole lot of killer-shark-attacking in this killer-shark-attack movie.

Both Johnson and Statham can weather the success or failure of films like Rampage and The Meg. No doubt, the upcoming Hobbs & Shaw will perform very well at the box office; their oddball chemistry in the last Fast and Furious film was fun to watch and hopefully fun to replicate. (Though it remains inexplicable that anyone forgives Statham's Deckard Shaw for killing Sung Kang's Han, but that’s a conversation for another day.) Johnson and Statham could keep making movies like Rampage and The Meg work, but it's a problem when these films are only willing to get so goofy, instead of going whole hog.