For wetter or worse, The Meg is one of this summer’s most anticipated movies. Warner Bros. marketed it as a shameless popcorn flick, and poked fun at itself at every promotional opportunity. The tagline easily could’ve been “#NOTADOCUMENTARY.” And, frankly, considering this is a story about an ocean science station owned by billionaire Rainn Wilson that accidentally unleashes a prehistoric shark only the Transporter can vanquish, leaning into the silliness was 100 percent the right call.
That said, the potential for failure looms large over any big-budget feature, regardless of how cleverly studios try and manage expectations. Despite how much it warned that it was going to be ridiculous, The Meg still needed a decent amount of substance to compensate for the fact that the main attraction (v. big shark) had already been spoiled by trailers and posters. That’s an uphill battle for sure, but at the end of the day, there’s more to enjoy in this movie than there is to malign.
Its most impressive victory is that, despite splashing the monster all over its advertising, The Meg still mines some good thrills out of the star creature. Seventy-five percent of the film features action vets Jason Statham and Li Bingbing miraculously — yet, weirdly believably? — out-maneuvering, outrunning and out-thinking the megalodon using whatever harpoons, poisons, unbreakable shark cages or cutting-edge mini-subs are at their disposal. And while the movie doesn’t spend a ton of time building suspense around the creature, it does use the first 30 minutes to make sure we know exactly what this thing can do and how afraid of it we should be. Fear is instilled in us, however bluntly, and that plus excellent special effects make sure you’ll jump and yell more than you want to admit. Also, the film sneakily includes a pretty decent twist in the first half that proves it has more to offer on the monster front than what the marketing presented.
And while no one is seeing this movie for command performances, it’s worth noting the humans are more than serviceable. Statham plays retired diver Jonas Taylor and rides the sweet spot between action star and self-parody that had him eclipsing Melissa McCarthy in Spy. He delivers arguably the biggest laugh of the movie when he paddles toward the beast to try and shoot it with a tracker while humming, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”
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