Loosely based on a series of trash sci-fi horror novels, The Meg surges into as many multiplexes as it can muster this weekend hoping to offer the kind of Jaws-lite jolts that enraptured a generation back in 1977. It’s also very conspicuously the type of American-Chinese co-production that we’ll undoubtedly see more of given the choppy waters of the US box office.
Jason Statham – complete with his unique brand of Anglo-American sneer – is the action star selected to battle nature’s finest, this time in the guise of 75-foot prehistoric predator Megalodon. Long-thought extinct until an underwater research facility in the South China Sea enters its ancient hunting grounds, this enormous relative of the Great White takes its revenge on 21st century humanity – well, anyone in or around the sea at least – with Statham’s grizzled diver Jonas Taylor and his band of merry character archetypes in hot pursuit.
It takes a good 25 minutes before we catch our first full glimpse of the film’s toothy antagonist. Thankfully, it’s at this point that the tone shifts from semi-comedic boffin banter to full-on shark-pocalypse. Director Jon Turteltaub (Cool Runnings) proves as comfortable at directing large-scale, weighty set-pieces as Statham is reeling off one-liners in the face of near-certain death. Unfortunately, the rest of the human cast has little to offer besides being picked off in increasingly more elaborate ways – though the true horror is reserved for Jonas and marine biologist Suyin’s (Chinese star Li Bingbing) attempts at flirting. Even the shark seems embarrassed,
Anyone even vaguely familiar with the Jaws/Piranha/Sharknado franchises will feel right at home in The Meg’s second half, as thoughts of tranquillising the beast for scientific study quickly give way to, in Statham’s own vernacular, making it “bleed”. A coastal resort packed with selfie-stick wielding tourists is soon in Megalodon’s obsidian sights, offering up a handful of the film’s best moments – and a star-making turn from Kelly the Dog as Pippin the Pekingese.
The Meg’s international box office – particularly that of China, Japan and South Korea – will likely have the deciding vote in whether or not Statham and company will return to cinema screens to fight even larger leviathans in the future. However, there’s just enough thrills and gills here to satisfy both monster-movie junkies and advocates of multi-million dollar US/Chinese co-productions.