Movie Review: “The Meg”

“There’s something outside the ship!”

So begins the submersible thriller “The Meg,” a schlocky but mostly self-aware man vs. beast blockbuster whose villain is a killer megalodon newly released from the depths of the Mariana Trench. More “Deep Blue Sea” than “Jaws,” the movie is as free of narrative surprises as it is from genuine scares, satisfying expectations and reinventing no wheels. But at least it goes through its motions with a smile and a wink, and it’s a lot breezier than the lead-footed “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” There is little to praise but equally little to chastise.

This must sound like a tepid anticlimax for a release that has been anticipated for more than 20 years. (It’s been languishing in development hell since 1997.) Based on Palm Beach County author Steve Alten’s cinematically readymade novel Meg, the adaptation inevitably jettisons the teachable science of Alten’s source material, and it eschews character building in favor of, well, chewing characters.

This coterie of folks, of whose slower, older and more avaricious brethren will become megalodon food, includes the Chinese director of an underwater research station (Winston Chao); his comely and conveniently single daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), a veteran deep-sea explorer; her foregone love interest Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), a cocksure wild card with a controversial history with the beast in question; and the station’s bean-counting capitalist investor (Rainn Wilson). When an expedition of the ocean floor goes awry, and at least one mythical meg surfaces where it isn’t supposed to, this unprepared gallery of scientists, divers and supermen are forced to contain the uncontainable before it enjoys a decadent lunch of Chinese beachgoers.

There’s nothing truly awful in “The Meg,” only retrograde and gauche. Its nadir is when Li Bingbing’s accomplished marine scientist is forced to collapse into a swooning puddle at the first sight of Statham’s immaculate washboard abs, a sequence that plays like a relic from an unenlightened ‘80s comedy. (The script, written by three dudes, fails the Bechdel test spectacularly.)

The movie contains a few scattered overtures about man’s inhumanity to nature, and our preference for destruction over preservation—half-hearted glances at moral reflection that feel precious in a film that thrives on the shadenfreude of watching flailing bodies being devoured like rabbit pellets.

Rather, “The Meg” is most enjoyable when it lets humor overtake solemnity, and quippy banter trump apocalyptic rhetoric. At its heart, it’s a Roger Corman film with a $150 million budget.

B movies are cherished tradition by certain pockets of film lovers. “The Meg” should wear the label proudly.