One of the first lines you hear is “There’s something out there!,” shortly followed by, “It’s huge!,” then, “And it’s moving fast!” No, this is not trailer voiceover, but dialogue from The Meg itself, an enterprise that offers comforting reassurance that the wondrous creative fruits of Hollywood-Chinese cinematic co-ventures are continuing apace. When the best thing on view in this waterlogged sea monster epic is topliner Jason Statham’s swimming skill — he first rose to public prominence as a competitive swimmer and diver — it’s clear that insufficient attention has been paid to more mundane matters such as plotting and casting. International audiences will probably enjoy their dubbed versions more than Americans will savor the original-language editions. Spoiler alert! The little pet dog survives in the end.
After watching Statham elegantly dive into the deep and power through a heaving ocean as easily as if he were doing laps at the Beverly Hills Hotel, there can be little doubt that he could beat The Rock, Arnold, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Michael B. Jordan, Chris Hemsworth and just about any other screen hunk you could mention at water sports; in that arena, and probably that arena alone, Statham would rule. Oh, and in one other respect: No matter that his washed-up-drunk-in-Shanghai character is still in a funk over having failed to save the day in a deep sea crisis five years earlier — he still manages to meticulously maintain a three-day growth of beard that allows him to look tough but not scruffy.
Otherwise, it’s Jaws meets The Abyss in this long-awaited (by some) adaptation of Steve Alten’s 1997 novel, simply called Meg (there have been six sequels), centered on a rescue attempt on a research submersible stuck at 11,000 meters down, the deepest point in the Pacific. The human intrusion into this hitherto unreachable ecosystem has understandably attracted the attention of a 75-foot Megalodon, a creature that’s not supposed to exist but which Statham’s Jonas Taylor previously encountered on his career-dashing mission.
The highly international crew prominently includes top oceanographer Suyin (Li Bingbing), whose father Dr. Zhang (Winston Chao) runs a huge oceanic institute and orders the rescue attempt, even though Suyin thinks she can manage it herself; Morris (Rainn Wison), the arrogant and flip financier of the project; lead engineer Jaxx (Ruby Rose); close Jonas pal Mac (Cliff Curtis); and longtime Jonas adversary Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor). Then there’s Lori (Jessica McNamee), the marooned sub’s skipper who, lo and behold, just happens to be Jonas’ ex-wife.
Everything that takes place in The Meg happens as if by push-button. There’s a cut every four or five seconds, which entirely negates the notion that director Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure films) seeks to impose a sense of style rather than a stopwatch to the proceedings; the film truly does seem mechanically made.
Glimpses of the imposing title character are parsimoniously dispensed, ruling out the possibility that the viewer might develop even a vestigial sympathy (as in King Kong) for this ancient creature of the deep that’s obviously led a life as lonely as it is long. In something like Jaws, the shark is evil, a threat to all life and the natural order of things, whereas a freak like the Meg, a survivor from a very distant age, surely enjoys a special status that needs to be respected, something only Suyin seems to recognize.
With hordes of vacationers at a giant Asian beach resort frolicking in the water blithely oblivious to the lurking threat in their midst, the climactic sequence offers the opportunity for some real tension and mayhem. But The Meg doesn’t want to go there, sparing the vacationers any tragedy. As for Jonas, he does have his potential Ahab moment, but he wriggles out of that for the sake of potential sequels, a prospect from which Melville spared himself.
Blandly internationalized, generically derivative, drained of any personality, edited as if by computer and bleached of the slightest hint of emotion other than a holiday card-like sympathy for children and allegedly cute animals, The Meg is a one hundred percent inorganic meal, something made from pre-tasted and then regurgitated ingredients. It’s true that some people like institutional food, but those allergic to cardboard must steer clear.
Production companies: di Bonventura, Apelles Entertainment, Maeday Productions, Flagship Entertainment Group
Distributor: Warner Bros.
Cast: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Page Kennedy, Jessica McNanee, Olafur Darri Olafsson, Robert Taylor, Sophia Cai, Masi Oka, Cliff Curtis
Director: Jon Turteltaub
Screenwriters: Dean Georgaris, Jon Koeber, Erich Koeber, based on the novel Meg by Steve Alten
Producers: Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Belle Avery, Colin Wilson
Executive producers: Gerald R. Molen, Wei Jang, Randy Greenberg, Catherine Xujan Ying, Chantal Nong, Barrie M Osborne
Director of photography: Tom Stern
Production designer: Grant Major
Costume designer: Amanda Neale
Editors, Steven Kemper, Kelly Matsumoto
Music: Harry Gregson-Williams
Casting: Mindy Marin, Poping Auyeung
Rated PG-13, 113 minutes