The Meg - 'a 75ft shark like Jaws on steroids - very silly but fun thriller'
A 75ft shark rampages around the Pacific like Jaws on steroids in this very silly, but rather fun, thriller, writes Paul Whitington
When it comes to shark pictures, go big or go home is my motto, and it's certainly been embraced by the makers of The Meg. After the madness of Sharknado, in which a freak storm whipped up a ball of furious man-eaters and dumped them on downtown Los Angeles, the earthier charms of The Shallows, where a Mexican great white took chunks out of Blake Lively, and the sublime sleekness of Jaws, you wouldn't have thought there'd be much new to add to the aquatic sub-genre. But that's where you'd be wrong.
Tens of millions of years ago, when T-Rexes prowled primordial forests, the oceans contained untold terrors, including the Megalodon, a 60ft killing machine that chomped all in its path. They're all long gone now of course - or are they? When marine scientist and diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, right) attempts to rescue the crew of a submarine stranded 10,000 metres beneath the waves, his craft is struck by something very large. He's convinced it's a giant shark, but everyone dismisses him as a loon, and he ends up swilling beer and muttering bitterly to himself on a Thai beach.
But five years later, when scientists from a high-tech underwater Asian Pacific research facility are exploring a hidden ocean habitat at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, their submarine is hit and disabled by a giant fish. On board is Jonas's winsome ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee), and only one man can save her, if he can sober up in time.
When Jonas is finally persuaded to dive down and attempt a rescue, he comes face to face with the Megalodon, a livid, 75ft predator that zooms around the deep seabed eating everything in sight. And when they escape, the Meg follows them to the surface, having apparently taken offence at something that was said.
Back at the research centre, which is run by a well-meaning scientist called Dr Minway Zhang (Winston Chow) and his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing), the excitement at having discovered an extant prehistoric beast is quickly replaced by terror. This thing cannot be reasoned with and starts bashing a hole in the facility's wall before haring off across the sea to munch its way through fishing boats and passing whales.
But while Jonas and his fellow marine scientists decide that the fish will have to be killed, the research centre's billionaire backer Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) reckons there's money to be made out of this monster, who meanwhile has its knife and fork out and is heading for a packed Chinese beach resort.
Where once Steven Spielberg struggled nobly to conceal the flaws of a malfunctioning robot shark, Cgi has made it very easy to create convincing-looking killer fishes. Jon Turteltaub and his writers have the good sense to delay the Meg's entry: early on we catch it only in murderous glimpses and when it rises to the surface, it's so big it makes a noise like a gliding boat.
The Meg is based on a book, the rights to which were bobbing about in Hollywood for almost two decades before Warner Brothers bought them off Disney. This film is a Chinese-American co-production, which means lots of money for Cgi and fancy neon-lit shark cages, and the casting of stars like Li Bingbing to attract Asian audiences. Which is all well and good, but someone decided it would be necessary, in this stilted international environment, to clean up Statham's act - he is the Laurence Olivier of screen swearing, but in this film is disarmed of any of his trusty F-bombs.
The film gets a little bogged down in the middle when a chase for the beast across the Pacific seems only marginally less pedestrian than the one in Moby Dick. And that moment when the Meg stalks a preposterously crowded Chinese beach is rather thrown away: I would have liked to see him run amok for slightly longer. But The Meg's essential silliness is its secret weapon, and Statham, as ever, is an oddly likeable deadpan character.
Films coming soon...
The Equalizer 2 (Denzel Washington, Bill Pullman, Melissa Leo); Christopher Robin (Ewan McGregor, Hayley Atwell, Mark Gatiss, Jim Cummings, Toby Jones); The Guardians (Laura Bry, Nathalie Baye); The Eyes of Orson Welles (Mark Cousins).