“I’m Paul Barlow, and this is my daughter Jo.”

“Malone.”

“You got a first name?”

“Yeah.”

The Meg

When elite underwater rescue guy Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham, GHOSTS OF MARS) tries to save his friends from a damaged nuclear submarine, he makes a controversial decision to shut a door and leave behind some of the crew, saving eleven others from an explosion. His career and life are ruined by that hard choice. And also because he believes the sub was attacked by a monster and everybody thinks he’s nuts.

Years later he lives in Disgraced Hero Exile in Thailand, drinking all day in his Thai farmer hat, running a small fishing boat. It’s clear that he’s a sweetheart when some little kids wave at him on his motorcycle and he makes a funny face for them. I liked this little touch, though it kind of undercuts the later badass juxtaposition of his friendship with a little girl named Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai).

Of course he’s resistant at first when his old buddy Mac (Cliff Curtis, DEEP RISING, WHALE RIDER, THE POOL, RIVER QUEEN, THE FOUNTAIN… he does alot of water related movies, is my point) shows up to recruit him for another rescue. This time it’s people working for a high tech underwater lab who lost radio contact. And one of them is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee, THE LOVED ONES). In a refreshing swerve from standard action movie protocol, he just likes and respects her, and is not trying to win her back. He does get to tell her “I told you so,” of course, when they all see that giant monster that they spent years telling him he didn’t really see.

That’s The Meg – or “Megalodon” as he declares with wonderfully Stathamy authority – a prehistoric giant shark creature now released from its undiscovered home beneath a cold such-and-such layer at the false bottom of the Marianas Trench. That line delivery reminds me of a famous Bollywood one I know from being sampled on this great CD:

I wish that was also the theme for THE MEG, but this is not that kind of movie. It’s an American-Chinese co-production, with that unique international co-production type of crappiness that is rarely transcendent but sometimes pretty enjoyable, and does feel high rent compared to SyFy movies about this sort of subject. So it does have such quotable dialogue as “Launching magnetic hook! Three, two– AAAAAHHHH!”, but it doesn’t have a bunch of winky winky nudgy nudgy type humor. And it was a smart idea to combine man-eating-monster thrills with Statham vehicle – two things that can be kinda good combined into kinda good+.

The crew’s relationship with The Meg includes but is not limited to trying to capture it and trying to kill it. They come up with this great theory that it’s so big that one guy swimming near it is not a threat or a worthwhile snack, so Taylor swims out to try to put a tracker on it so they can follow it and then poison it. (I don’t remember an explanation of why he doesn’t just try the poisoning thing now.) Anyway their theory seems to be incorrect. The thing even goes after a tiny dog later. I mean, we eat M&Ms, don’t we?

The lab is financed by wacky billionaire Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson, HOUSE OF 1,000 CORPSES), run by Chinese scientist Dr. Minway Zhang (Winston Chao, THE TOUCH) and his badass daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing, SILVER HAWK), who is the mother of precocious Meiying. Though Bingbing’s delivery is slightly stilted, she’s the actual female lead and love interest, it’s not just a guest appearance like RESIDENT EVIL: RETRIBUTION or TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION, so I think this is a more respectable and less cynical way to try to cross over between Chinese and American audiences.

Also in the supporting cast are Page Kennedy (LEPRECHAUN BACK 2 THA HOOD) in a somewhat thankless comic relief role, Robert Taylor (Agent Jones from THE MATRIX) as the doctor who has hated Taylor since the prologue and now has to adjust to the realization that he was right, Masi Oka from Heroes as, you know, a science guy, and Olafur Darri Olafsson (A WALK AMONG THE TOMBSTONES) as a character called “The Wall” who is so much like Bill Paxton’s bearded science buddy in TITANIC that I was halfway convinced it was the same guy. MVP in my opinion is Ruby Rose (JOHN WICK CHAPTER 2, xXx: RETURN OF XANDER CAGE) in all her tattooed glory as tough wiz kid inventor and designer of all their equipment Jaxx Herd. Let me repeat tha – Jaxx Herd. I’m not sure if there was an early draft that was a ’90s cyberpunk movie. Anyway I hope she becomes the Q of the series and I hope she builds a Mecha-Statham for part 2. Not that he needs one.

As I always like to note, Statham was on the British national diving team and competed for England in the 1990 Commonwealth Games, which led to modeling which led to LOCK, STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS. And I’ve noticed that he often finds reasons to dive into water in his movies. This is no exception – it has two dives and what appear to be some real underwater stunts. And now that I think about it I’m surprised he’s not in AQUA MAN. I still think it would be worth continuing the Dark Universe just to have him as the Creature From the Black Lagoon.

I’ve talked to many people who were surprised to learn that this is based on a novel, Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror by Steve Alten. The THE (which is a misnomer – there’s more than one meg in the movie) was added at the eleventh hour reportedly because they were worried people would think it was “Meg” as in “Meg Ryan.” I wish they would’ve gone with MEG: A MOVIE OF DEEP TERROR, but I guess they all can’t be Lee Daniels.

The novel came out in 1997 and people have been trying to make it into a movie since before it was even published. I first heard of it when Nick Nunziata from the websight Chud was supposed to produce it, apparently for Guillermo del Toro. Like GODZILLA, it had Jan de Bont attached for a while. And a few years ago it was almost directed by Eli Roth, which I was kind of excited for. It ended up being John Turteltaub, and I lowered my expectations appropriately for the director of 3 NINJAS, DISNEY’S THE KID, NATIONAL TREASURE and THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. This is his followup to the pilot of the tv version of RUSH HOUR, and surely his best movie?

The script is credited to Dean Georgaris (LARA CROFT TOMB RAIDER THE CRADLE OF LIFE, JOHN WOO’S PAYCHECK) and Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber (WHITEOUT, RED, BATTLESHIP). I haven’t read the book, but it sounds like it’s about half faithful, with what sounds like an improvement of ditching the news reporter ex-wife who uses her connection to him to get a story, ala the aforementioned GODZILLA.

I was unable to see it in 3D, but I’m sure it was a treat for the climactic money shot. It’s not a SPOILER to say that Statham kills the shark but it is a SPOILER to say that after gulleting the motherfucker with a cool submersible maneuver he gets out, makes it personal by looking it in the eye and stabs it with his own hands, while it jumps in the air. Some BEOWULF shit.

That said, the gory Megalodeath from the book sounds even better, and the movie could’ve probly benefited from an R-rating. The audience I saw it with correctly applauded all munching of humans, and there’s no artistic reason not to go way over-the-top with that shit.

And out of fairness I should say I’m not really sure if this is any more or less ludicrous than JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM, and it certainly doesn’t have the same production value or volume of monster mayhem. But the expectations associated with “sequel to movie generally considered a popcorn classic” versus “ha ha Jason Statham fighting a giant shark” allow us to hold them to different standards. That’s life. Hakuna ma tata.

And maybe a fairer comparison is the other big dumb Chinese co-production summer of 2018 blockbuster action star vehicle, SKYSCRAPER. I would prefer an actual great action or horror movie, but barring that, I can enjoy a silly one that delivers on lots of silly shit. And this is a reminder that Statham’s HOBBES & SHAW co-star Mr. Johnson should step up his action vehicle game. ‘Cause Statham has has solid ones (TRANSPORTER 2, DEATH RACE, SAFE, HOMEFRONT) and his ensembles (LOCK STOCK AND TWO SMOKING BARRELS, ITALIAN JOB, BANK JOB, KILLER ELITE, EXPENDABLES 13, 13, FURIOUS 78) and his enjoyable programmers (MECHANIC 1-2, this) plus some more interesting ones (BLITZ, REDEMPTION, WILD CARD) and a funny one (SPY) and even though I hate the CRANKs, they are weird and unusual and I get why other people love them.

So hats off to Statham for ongoing action star excellence, and I hope in the next one he does a flying spinkick to the Meg’s uvula.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.

This entry was posted on Monday, August 27th, 2018 at 11:52 am and is filed under Action, Monster, Reviews, Science Fiction and Space Shit. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

27 Responses to “The Meg”

  1. Bombay The Fuckin’ Hard Way! I love that album. It isn’t nearly as well known as it should be. And the second volume is just as good in its own way.

    I have been trying to keep my expectations in check for this one, because I am genetically incapable of not seeing a Statham giant shark movie but I don’t want to get my hopes so high that nothing can satisfy them. It’s a bummer that they apparently cut the opening scene where a Meg eats a T-Rex (shades of the killer whale taking out a great white at the beginning of ORCA) and changed the climax of the book because that was the kind of insane over-the-top spectacle that would have made this an instant classic. Good job on improving the ex-wife character, though. That whole subplot felt like the author had recently gotten divorced and was embarassingly working through his issues in public.

    What giant thing should Statham fight next? I’m saying we combine 2018 international coproductions and make him battle an evil building.

  2. Nobody told me that Masi Oka is in it.
    Also I try to track down a copy of that Bombay album, which I’ve never heard of before.

  3. In terms of quality action vehicles I don’t think The Rock compares to Statham at all. He seemed on the verge of going in an interesting direction with Faster, and was admittedly great in Fast Five, but since then has basically just showed his greenbacks focus group-derived ‘brand’-conscious kinda phony self. And gotten blander with every movie. Shame. As you illustrate, Statham has a much better record. And I’m glad he’s got a big hit.

  4. Oh man, even though I played the hell out of it back in the day, somehow I forgot that Bombay the Hard Way even existed. If I remember correctly my copy originally belonged to a college radio station from which it stolen by my circa 1998 ex-girlfriend’s new jerk DJ boyfriend, who I stole it from because in my younger days I assumed I was basically a punk rock Robin Hood.

    Had no idea there was a sequel.

  5. the expectations associated with “sequel to movie generally considered a popcorn classic” versus “ha ha Jason Statham fighting a giant shark” allow us to hold them to different standards

    golfclap

    well said and good point. expectations rule too much in movies. it is what it is

  6. The Undefeated Gaul

    August 27th, 2018 at 1:48 pm

    Loved the book back in the day in all its pulpy, silly glory, and always kept my fingers crossed they’d someday make it into a movie. And while they got the posters for this as right as they could have, sadly the film doesn’t deliver even the slightest ounce of excitement those artworks promise. It’s just that you pretty soon figure out that nothing really bad is gonna happen to anybody, and all the shark is doing is just swimming around a little bit, not much bother to anyone (except maybe a couple ships of poachers and that one guy inside the beach ball) and it all becomes an exercise of wasted potential and building disappointment. I loved the casting of Statham and think he’s actually damn good in the film, but he’s got nothing to work with here. He knows it too. Did you guys read that interview where he’s admitting his own disappointment on what type of film it turned out to be, and the interviewer keeps trying to convince him “Yeah, but it’s still a lot of fun. No really, it’s good fun” and The Stath just won’t have it? In the end he just shuts the guy up with “Listen, we both know what it is, and we hope it does well.”

    Btw, the shark doesn’t even eat a helicopter. That’s the main thing you gotta have that shark do, eat a helicopter, a perfectly fine rated PG 13 thrill, and while they keep sending helicpters near the damn thing, it never eats a single one. That’s just bad shark-movie management man.

  7. What’s the deal with airport paperbacks and the ex-wife character. it seems like that’s a pretty common trope in those novels. Are all page-turner novelists disgruntled divorcees?

  8. Majestyk: Statham fights a building? I don’t get it. What’s fun about that? Maybe it could turn from a building into a robot.

  9. I dunno, this one did absolutely nothing for me, thought it was mediocre AF. It just didn’t have enough FUN with the premise. I’m not looking for a Sharknado but is Deep Blue Sea level nuttiness too much to ask for? Also, I really just don’t get Jason Statham. I know this will not be a popular opinion in these parts but I just don’t think he’s a good actor and don’t find him very charismatic. He’s just kind of there. Oh well, glad some of y’all enjoyed it.

  10. the best and funniest of all the myriad MEG reviews, needless to say.
    But… “Britain” doesn’t compete in the Commonwealth Games; Statham represented *England*.

  11. Thanks Neil. All the sources I’ve found call the team he was on the British national team, and also he competed in the Commonwealth Games. I believe what I wrote was technically correct, but I’ve added that he was representing England in the games in hopes this will prevent an international incident.

  12. Haven’t seen the film yet, but have started reading the book after picking it up in a Charity/Thrift shop. However, turns out it’s not the original 1997 text but a “revised and updated rewrite” from 2015. If this is the improved version, I’d dread to think what the original version was like! However, after coming to terms with its clunky prose (even relative to the mediocre Dean Koontz novel I read just prior), I am getting into it. And you can see why they cast Statham, by which I mean the lead character manages to get into fights at a) a lecture and b) an awards show within the first few chapters

  13. I haven’t seen this one yet, but the wole set up and wife thing seems lifted from the underwater classic THE ABYSS.

  14. Chuck,

    I second your take on Statham, having said something similar a few weeks ago. I know we’re in the minority (sorry, folks; sorry, Vern), but he seems to me like a charisma sink. Whatever charisma might have been there has circled down the drain, as far as I’m concerned, but he obviously resonates for a lot of people.

    Everyone,

    One of my favorite things about Vern is that he’s always taken the position that a movie doesn’t have to slum it to be fun, that we shouldn’t have to distinguish between a good movie and a “dumb, fun summer movie” or whatever. I actually had to reread this review to make sure Vern didn’t waffle there (I’m quite sure he didn’t), but I think at least one of the commenters has taken that position here.

    I know not everyone (or maybe anyone) else can be Spielberg, but can you imagine the reaction to this movie if he had directed it? I think it would probably be something like, “What the hell happened?” or “How did he go so wrong?” I understand greater things are expected from greater talent, but I don’t think we need to excuse lesser things or lesser talents.

    To be clear, I’m not saying The Meg is bad or that people are making excuses for it. I’m just saying that it doesn’t strike me as a particularly valid critique to say it was good for a summer popcorn movie, what do you expect? Tell me it was pretty good, don’t tell me it was pretty good given A, B and C.

  15. I guess in an alternate reality we’d be able to compare the Nick Nunziata-produced version of “Meg” vs. the Harry Knowles-produced version of “John Carter of Mars” (https://birthmoviesdeath.com/2015/07/03/a-look-at-the-john-carter-that-never-was). Which makes me wonder, what was up with that brief time that Hollywood was putting movie bloggers in charge of major properties? If both of those had actually worked, would we be seeing a Jeffrey Welles-produced version of “Twilight” or a Devin Faraci-produced version of “Fantastic Four”?

  16. This was probably the result of movie bloggers being the new rockstars for a while. They seemed to have an influence on audiences (Isn’t the popular myth that an early AICN review of BATMAN & ROBIN caused it to bomb?) and hung out with filmmakers like Tarantino, Jackson or del Toro. So of course when they knocked on filmstudios’ doors, the suits happily let them in.

    Of course after they failed to show results (whatever the reasons may have been. Not saying it’s their fault, because more projects fall apart during pre-production in Hollywood than not.) and the power of the blogs slowly disappeared, Hollywood simply lost interest in them.

  17. grimgrinningchris

    August 29th, 2018 at 5:37 pm

    Not much to add.

    I enjoyed the movie… but not as much as I wanted to. From the trailers I expected something more in the tone of PIRAHNA 3D (wlbeit with less blood and tits). Not that I need the yuks in a giant shark movie and DO applaud them playing it mostly straight… I just didn’t expect them to and was all primed to laugh more.

    That little girl was great.

    Also, I am glad someone FINALLY used “FIN” to end their shark movie. Though I think we are all in agreement that the movie to do that SHOULD have been SHARKS IN VENICE.

  18. The lack of an R rating convinced me to skip this in theaters, maybe there will be an unrated cut or something on dvd, either way it does look like a fun movie to watch one afternoon on TV.

    It’s weird that I remember reading about both MEG and HAPPYTIME MURDERS on AICN exactly a decade ago and they both finally come out around the same time.

  19. SHARKNADO did the “Fin” ending first. I guess it was only a matter of time before a major studio movie would rip off an Asylum joint.

  20. Read that book at the age of 16 way back in 1999. It was hacknyed bullshit with a giant shark and I loved every single page of it. Stole it from the miami beach public library when I moved back to NYC in 2000. Then I lost it when I got evicted in ’03 (karma!!).

    Surprised it took this long to be a movie and the movie doesn’t sound like the book but it does sounns fun. The sequel books were unlikeable trash that couldn’t recapture lightning in a bottle. The eventual movie sequels have nowhere to go but up.

  21. Holy crap, you have no idea how many mix cd’s I’ve made for women over the years that start off with “Theme From Don” (for hopefully obvious reasons). God, whatever happened to Dan the Automater? His last great album was Lovage and that was like 17 years ago!

  22. Don: Check out the Deltron sequel that came out a few years back. It’ll make you feel like 1999 never ended. Then check out Got A Girl, Automator’s collabo with Mary Elizabeth Winstead. It’ll scratch that Lovage itch. I also wish he were more prolific but those two albums have tided me over for the hopeful (inevitable?) return of Handsome Boy Modeling School.

  23. grimgrinningchris

    August 30th, 2018 at 1:28 pm

    Majestyk…

    Did it really?

    I have never seen SHARKNADO. I saw bits of (I think) the 3rd one cuz they filmed it almost exclusively at Universal Studios-Orlando and I wanted to see if they actually used any of the rarely used backlot streets there (they did).

    And actually, I guess “fin” is French for end and not Italian… so disregard what I said about Sharks In Venice too. Ha.

  24. I’ve seen the first and second ones. The first one just can’t deliver on its premise for more than a couple seconds at a time. There just isn’t the budget or talent for it. But those few seconds are not unenjoyable. I have to give credit to Ian Zeiring for playing it totally straight and never winking at the camera, while I give Tara Reid credit for being a legitimately awful actress, not a pretend one. And I’m happy to say there is a Sharknado in the very first shot. This is not a SQUID AND THE WHALE situation.

    The second one is more of a Troma type movie, with broad satire and knowing ridiculousness, and much more enjoyable for it. If you can make it past the teeth-on-tinfoil Andy Dick cameo at the beginning, it delivers just about all you could reasonably expect out of a Sharknado movie. Which is why I never watched any more of them. I got what I needed and moved on.

  25. grimgrinningchris

    August 30th, 2018 at 7:48 pm

    Reid was passable as a screen presence when there wasn’t much asked of her (Lebowski, American Pie) and fucking perfect and wonderful as Melody in Josie & The Pussycats- playing even dumber than she clearly is… but yeah, she’s normally pretty terrible. And also doesn’t know how to say Newfoundland (and Uwe Boll clearly didn’t either since he left that shit in his movie where she’s supposed to be a fucking scientist or something).

    She was a guest booked for our regional con a bit ago and she was my main goal of “I’m going to do shots with that person” for that year (which I have a fairly strong record of achieving- and thought had even better chances than usual with her since she is clearly a trainwreck) but she cancelled last minute for Sharknado reasons… so t’was not to be.

  26. Mr. Majestyk,
    I can’t believe I didn’t know about the Winstead collaboration; it really does evoke Lovage (and Lovage is basically a Top 20 album for me)…thank you!
    And Winstead is basically as close to the Platonic Ideal of femininity that mankind has yet to achieve!
    The Deltron sequal really is great (and my Man-Crush, Mike Patton sings on it as well). If it’s still in print, Automator’s “Wanna Buy a Monkey” compilation mix cd is well worth searching out.

  27. Don: Me and you are definitely on the same page. I agree with everything you just said. And if you’re a frequent reader here, you know that’s not a thing I say very often.

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