Shark films are fishy business. Few have managed to harness the horror of being stalked through the ocean by ten tonnes of teeth and fin; fewer still have hit the lofty critical and commercial heights of Jaws. The announcement of The Meg back in spring 2018 looked like it might change the fortunes of the genre – finally, a shark film with a budget; $150 million, if reports are to be believed.
Anyone expecting a teeth-and-flesh depiction of the primal fear of a shark attack, though, will be left high and dry – The Meg makes even Deep Blue Sea look positively cerebral. It doesn’t go for grisly scares or the fear of seabound isolation like The Shallows, and while there are nods to Jaws throughout – jetties dragged into open water, buckled fishing lines at the back of a fishing boat, a snack-sized dog called Pippin – it couldn’t be further from the classic Spielberg movie’s slow-and-steady tone. Nope, it’s Jason Statham fighting a fucking massive shark. Nuance has been cast adrift, here. There’s a nonsensical plot about undiscovered ocean trenches, past military operations gone wrong, and – of course – a budding romantic sub-story, but following it is relatively pointless – The Meg is set-piece after set-piece, shark snack after shark snack.
“It’s Jason Statham fighting a fucking massive shark. Nuance has been cast adrift.”
If a fin flick comparison is to be made, it’s the inexplicably successful Megashark series that The Meg most closely resembles, only with 10 times the special effects budget. It’s a knowingly dumb action romp throughout, complete with Statham riding the titular massive fish (yup) and, at one point, the sharky threat even doubling in size (no, really). Scares are at a minimum, with director John Turteltaud eschewing Spielberg’s ‘less is more’ Jaws approach for the polar opposite. At every turn, he opts to throw more into the cooking pot – as the film moves towards its final act, the threat descends up a bafflingly popular resort beach, which has seemingly attracted tens of thousands of swimmers. Quite how the logistics of such a beach would work, we’re not sure, but it makes for suitable popcorn fodder nonetheless.
Even if you leave your brain at the door, there are parts of The Meg that sink. The sheer amount of shark on screen – both in its comical size and the frequency of its screen-time – quickly deadens the impact of the titular Megalodon, while recent news that Turteltaud originally wanted to file The Meg as an R-rated flick, only to be talked down by the studio, is a crying shame – it could really have done with a few more scares to break up the one-dimensional, shark-chases-man, man-chases-shark tone. By the halfway point, the sheer size of the fish isn’t enough to carry the remaining hour, and there’s little else to go on – those aforementioned sub-plots are little more than vessels for campy one-liners, all of which contribute to The Meg veering far too close to Carry on Go Fishing on more than one occasion.
The Meg, then, feels like a missed opportunity. Not quite scary enough to capture the fear of a shark attack, and not quite imaginative enough to command attention through its countless ‘look how big this shark is’ set-pieces, it’s a six-year-old’s screenplay with a big studio budget.