The Meg (2018)
★★★ / ★★★★
There is something inherently wrong about the way some critics and reviewers criticize this picture. That is, they claim that it would have been a better film, or more enjoyable, had it been dumber. This ludicrous way of looking at the work—any work—is wrong on two fronts. Would we have gotten the likes of “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Alien,” “The Fly”—now considered to be classics of the genre, to name a few—had they simply strived to be dumb but entertaining? Of course not. They stand the test of time exactly because they are entertaining and smart. Behind them are concrete ideas. In addition, looking at the film as is, its dumber moments—all action, no substance—are actually weakest points of this creature-feature.
Notice how the first forty minutes or so are not interested in showing needless kills. Instead, screenwriters Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber wish to inspire a sense of wonder in the audience by taking us within the deepest trenches of the ocean. With director Jon Turteltaub at the helm, he allows the camera to capture strange creatures of the deep. The split-second shots that linger just enough elevates the material. The tease allows the audience to wish to look at the various living things just a little longer. We stare into the darkness, we marvel at the quiet stillness, and we consider the fatal pressure that threatens to crush submersibles like an empty soda can. This is a hallmark of great science-fiction.
The first third offers such a surprisingly ambitious experience that it made me consider that perhaps children might enjoy it. Yes, it is a movie that showcases a prehistoric shark that eats people, just like how “Jurassic Park” has a T-Rex that eats people, but it offers enough quieter moments that tickles one’s curiosity. I was impressed with its patience, its willingness to not treat every character as countdown toward being fish food. This is no “Deep Blue Sea” in that we know exactly who, and how many, are going to survive by the end. At the same time, however, it is neither as tension-filled nor gory as that film.
Perhaps the lack of unwavering suspense is due to the Megalodon not being especially smart. Whenever bait is around, we know precisely how it will behave. Although a formidable villain because of its sheer size and strength, it is not especially cunning or intelligent. Still, the fact that it is capable of capsizing a sizable boat is certain to induce gasps of horror. Even when it is apparently dead, the threat remains that maybe it is merely pretending. Perchance putting your head in its mouth full of teeth for a silly selfie isn’t a very good idea.
Jason Statham leads the cast of deep sea scientists and explorers who discover that the Mariana Trench is deeper than initially expected. Within these deeper levels are creatures unknown to science—including creatures that are believed to be extinct. Statham fits the role like a glove—he is smooth, athletic, charming. He oozes the qualities of a hero destined to save the day. Statham is no stranger to roles like this and so I wished there had been more wrinkles to Jonas Taylor. When we meet him, it is hinted that he drinks a lot. If the writers had given us a hero who happened to be an alcoholic, that might have been an intriguing avenue to explore. But the screenplay is not interested in taking too many risks.
The special and visual effects are impressive—to a point. The research facility, submersibles, and computer screens are beautiful, detailed, and convincing. Again, I wished to examine them for a few seconds more. But when the camera goes underwater, the images look murky at times. It is difficult to see where the ancient shark is coming from, especially during scenes set in deep ocean where it is utterly dark. An argument can be made, however, that it might be done on purpose to create a sense of realism. In the ocean, when you dunk your head underwater and open on your eyes, it is usually murky. (With the exception, for example, of some beaches in Hawaii, especially those that only few tourists visit.) Considering this perspective, I can appreciate it.
This notion that movies—even B-movies—would be more fun if they were dumb is exactly why we consistently get trash from Hollywood. The release of this film, which offers more ambition and brain than the trailers suggest, underlines our lack of consistency. If we do not raise the bar, and raise it consistently, then we have only ourselves to blame when the machine gives us exactly what we claim to want: big and dumb movies with little to no value.