Thursday, 16 August 2018

Review: The Meg

The Meg (3D)
Cert: 12A / 113 mins / Dir. Jon Turteltaub / Trailer

Of course, it was around 60 seconds into the opening titles of The Meg that I realised my error. I'd booked for the 3D screening*1. A presentation format which does not mix well with settings consisting of underwater-murk. It does not mix well at all. At all.

So. If Skyscraper was Jurassic Park with a building (it was), The Meg could well be Skyscraper underwater. Eccentric billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson) has funded 'Mana One', a state-of-the-art oceanic research laboratory in China, managed by Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao) and his oceanographer daughter, Suyin (Bingbing Li). Morris visits the facility to check on its progress, but during the inspection a scout-submarine is stranded on the seabed after being attacked by a megalodon, a 75ft and thought-to-be-prehistoric shark.

In order to rescue the crew, the team on the Mana One decide to call in the only living man capable (and insane enough) to do the job - Jonas 'I don't do that shit no more' Taylor (The Stath™). Sheer coincidence has it that Jonas' ex-wife is one of the submarine's three inhabitants, because that's the kind of movie this is. Don't worry, that is not the most eye-rolling part of the film. Anyway, The Meg is pissed off, The Stath™ is pissed off, let's sit back and watch the underwater fireworks...

As a Summer action film aimed at people who don't like films, the Stath's™ is a role where he gets to mansplain most of the major plot points and the supporting characters are scriptually obligated to thank him for it. Great work, I'm sure. The overblown nature of our hero's macho-grumpiness and survivors-guilt is only matched by his contracted shirtless scene. That said, all credit goes to our leading man's game-face as he delivers some of the year's most excruciating dialogue. And it's good to see that The Stath™ has gone full-method on this one, with his accent in the waterlogged adventure duly operating under maritime law. By which I mean it does not fall under the jurisdiction of any single country…

The rest of the cast are airdropped into roles so unremarkable that the term stereotype seems unfeasibly generous, with monotype being closer to the mark. Suffering the most at the hands of a four-strong casting team who apparently hate actors is Ruby Rose as the emo-haired hacker Jaxx, who spends most of her time not at a keyboard. Because when the third xXx movie offers a performer a more interesting gig than a shark-flick, it really is time to switch agents.

None of this is why the audience are here of course; they're waiting for the monster. And director Jon Turtletaub doesn't drag out the reveal of the star attraction, nor skimp on it afterward. The shark looks good and the effects teams have done a solid job of delivering a sense of scale - no mean feat given that there's not too much visual size-comparison in an underwater setting. The jump-scares are thoroughly telegraphed in accordance with both the genre and the 12A certificate, but they deliver for audiences who are willing to play the game. What's more, although The Meg itself is a computer-rendered simulation, its relentless primal anger may well be the most emotionally-sincere performance of the whole film*2.

But can a 21st century shark-screenplay at least resist the temptation of a crowded beach panic scene? Can it fuck. With the arrival of act III, the ocean depths no longer hold the film-makers' attention and The Meg has decided to go the shoreline for a Chinese. Although this results in a popping zorb-ball which provides one of two moments that actually utilise the 3D format.

Credit where it's due, The Meg is marginally better than 47 Metres Down since it's not trying to disguise its ridiculousness. But it's not as good as The Shallows, on account of The Shallows being a shark-film that's not about sharks.

Very much by-the-numbers, and almost entirely what you'd expect from a film where The Stath™ punches a giant fish for two hours, what you get out of this will depend very much on the baggage you take in with you. Your humble correspondent was laden with bored cynicism and was rewarded accordingly*3.

The Meg is largely okay at what it does, but what it does is not largely okay.

The best line comes from The Stath™, naturally:
"This is possibly the worst moment of my life."

I know buddy, I know...

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Most modern disaster movies, the type of which increasingly star The Rock.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
You may as well.
Any sense of grandeur you get from watching a 75-foot shark on a 75-foot screen is going to be lost when this washes up in your living room

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
See above.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
We very well might.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Masi Oka stars in this, and he was a digital effects artist in episodes I, II and III.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
This doesn't really deserve a 4, but if I give it a 3 that puts it below my score for 47 Metres Down, and the truth is it's not that bad.

*1 The 3D being in such high audience demand that of the four screenings of The Meg at my local today, only one was in the stereoscopic format, and that was in the smaller 137-seat screen. And 19 of those were occupied as the BBFC card came up. It's certainly appears that you can count all the people still interested in 3D on one rescue-sub... [ BACK ]

*2 Actually that's not entirely fair. The amount of screenplay-influence wielded by the Chinese production companies means that - in addition to the story location - Winston Chao and Bingbing Li get to carry out borderline-obscene levels of overly earnest familial, moral and environmental preaching, in a style that's completely detached from a monster/disaster movie. [ BACK ]

*3 And while I'm almost certain it was just me, I couldn't help but think that those two speeder-submarines used for the finale looked an awful lot like the Jedi Starfighters from the opening battle of Revenge of the Sith. That said, on more than one previous occasion on the seabed I'd thought "Monsters out there, leaking in here... all sinking and no power? Whena yousa thinking weesa in trouble?"... [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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