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"THE MEG"
(2018) (Jason Statham, Bingbing Li) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Sci-fi/Action: Scientists and deep sea explorers mistakenly release a 70-foot prehistoric shark, and only one man can stop the creature.
PLOT:
Deep sea diver Jonas Taylor (JASON STATHAM) undertakes a rescue mission in the Mariana Trench where he and his men are attacked by a giant prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon. Jonas is forced to make a command decision that costs him half of his crew. Haunted by the incident and dishonorably discharged from the Navy, Jonas' marriage to Greenpeace pilot Lori Taylor (JESSICA McNAMEE) falls apart and he goes into seclusion.

Five years later, a billionaire named Morris (RAINN WILSON) is funding a deep-sea expedition in that same part of the ocean spearheaded by scientist Zhang (WINSTON CHAO) and his daughter, Suyin (BINGBING LI). Lori pilots a submersible with researchers The Wall (OLAFUR DARRI OLAFSSON) and Toshi (MASI OKA) into the unexplored reaches of the Trench previously thought unreachable. While down there, they rouse the same Megalodon that Jonas encountered. The shark attacks them and incapacitates their ship.

Over the objections of the research station's Dr. Heller (ROBERT TAYLOR), the still-traumatized Jonas is recruited to mount a rescue mission. Engineers and mission specialists Jaxx (RUBY ROSE), Mac (CLIFF CURTIS), and D.J. (PAGE KENNEDY) help guide him down to the marooned sub, but it soon becomes clear that their collective meddling has freed "The Meg" and put much of coastal Asia -- not to mention Suyin's precocious, 8-year-old daughter Meiying (SHUYA SOPHIA CAI) -- at risk.

OUR TAKE: 4.5 out of 10
I heard some people in my recent preview screening and read some people online saying that it's unfair to compare "The Meg" to "Jaws," because "Jaws" is a classic that can never be equaled in many movie fans' minds. "What?! Should they never make another shark movie?!" is the common refrain. Actually, "The Meg" doesn't have the "Jaws" comparison to worry about. No one's expecting this to top Steven Spielberg's 1975 classic in terms of narrative tension, acting, and writing. What the filmmakers really need to be worried about are the comparisons to those wonderfully awful and awfully wonderful "Sharknado" movies!

Because when your posters and trailers and commercials basically tout Jason Statham Vs. a Giant Prehistoric Shark, the crowds you're going to get are going to expect an over-the-top, cheesy fun action-horror spectacle. "The Meg" has its moments of fun. And it certainly delivers some spectacle (especially if you see it in IMAX). But it's a bit of a confused movie, too, that makes it hard to recommend.

I am going to go out on a limb here and say that Statham was miscast. Oh, he does his best -- eh -- "Jason Statham" in this flick. But the whole time he's on screen, the moviegoer's natural instinct is, "I want to see him karate chop the shark! I want to see him punch the predator right between his black, doll-like eyes!" Imagine if Statham was cast in Sam Neill's Dr. Grant role in "Jurassic Park" or, sure, Roy Scheider's Chief Brody part in "Jaws." We'd have a whole different set of expectations for those characters and those movies. And we'd never really fear that either was gonna get chomped on by a raptor or a Great White.

One of the Chrises -- Pine or Evans -- would have been better served starring here, I think. Because the film is actually a bit more serious-minded (in stretches, at least) than your pick of the "Sharknados" or the underrated "Piranha" remake of a few years back. When people are eaten in the film, it's kind of sad. Because it's all CGI and the Meg can move with the speed and agility of a video-game/cartoon character, the people are eaten up in the blink of an eye. No one suffers like Quint or the flirty blonde did in "Jaws."

The film is much closer in pace and spirit to 1999's "Deep Blue Sea" in which Thomas Jane was the everyman lead hero and there was a great, big, shock kill about halfway through that still ranks as one of the best on-screen deaths of the past two decades. For the most part, the film strikes a serious tone in the classic monster movie plot of scientists burrowing too deep into the Earth and unleashing a long-dormant, ancient monster. The classic stereotypes of the genre are all presented here in an international box-office, demographic-friendly cast, with China's Bingbing Li as the plucky heroine, Page Kennedy as the "Aw, hell no!" black guy, Australian hunk Robert Taylor as the pessimistic man of science, schlubby Rainn Wilson as the ignorant billionaire only out for profit, and so forth.

There are moments where the characters grieve, moments where they are temporarily paralyzed due to past traumas and fateful decisions, and moments where the cutest kid y'alls ever did see is placed into mortal jeopardy. But then there are some goofy one-liners that are meant to cut through the tension, but land sort of flat. There are lots of dueling accents and people who have accents in real life trying not to have an accent in this movie.

And -- and -- and I really wanted the shark to have more personality! More menace. I either wanted to completely fear and root for his death or I wanted to feel for him like I always do Godzilla and King Kong and hope he gets in a few good licks before meeting his doom. He's almost too big. When he eats people, he indeed pretty much just swallows 'em whole in an instant. Even the movie's little dog eventually gets spared!

Ah well. If you want a serious shark movie, go with "Jaws" or "The Shallows" or "47 Meters Down." If you want a good shark flick, I recommend "Sharknado 4: The 4th Awakens" as it has both David Hasselhoff AND Bo Derek (and don't sleep on 2010's "Piranha 3D" which begins with Richard Dreyfuss dying horribly). But if you want something in between that isn't greatly scary or all that goofy, this is your undemanding flick. I give it a 4.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed August 7, 2108 / Posted August 10, 2018


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