Smirking and confident in its own bristly sharkskin armor, The Meg is as lean a blockbuster as you will find. Any fat is trimmed quickly by the urge to chomp up more people and scenery. Since this go-big-or-go-home late summer IMAX sizzler is a creature feature B-movie dependent on a carnivorous buffet of victims (and customers) to satiate its excitement (and bottom line), the loving focus for this critique will be the types and cuts of meat consumed and on display. Tuck your monster movie napkin into shirt collar, skip the hoity-toity hand sanitizer, and bring your creative kill appetite to an entertaining little film feast.
The deli display case showing off the succulent future feeding options is the Mana One research station 200 miles off the Shanghai cost. Funded by a picnic ham of a billionaire named Jack Morris (Rainn Wilson), this state-of-the-art facility of glass observation decks and high-tech toys specializes in oceanic habitat study. Topping the crew shish kebab are the “oh hell no” bologna lunch meat IT guy DJ (comedic TV actor Page Kennedy), a resting-bitch-face meat alternative systems designer Jaxx (Ruby Rose of John Wick: Chapter 2), the distrusting white meat doctor Heller, and the trusty flank steak program director Mac (veteran ambiguous sidekick Cliff Curtis). The scientific leaders of Mana One are the dry-aged-with-sage sage Dr. Minway Zhang (1911’s Winston Chao) and his brilliant daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing, last seen domestically in Transformers: Age of Extinction). She’s a petite, determined, and attractive filet of salmon with her own adorable Chicken McNugget Happy Meal daughter Meiying (newcomer Shuya Sophia Cai).
LESSON #1: DISASTER MOVIE KIDS ARE BOTH THE BEST AND WORST — Call this the “Jurassic Park Tim Murphy Rule.” Predictably, little Meiying steals plenty of scenes with her whip-smart adorable nature (“Eight-year-olds hear everything”) and degrades others as the taste test target in peril. Luckily, the moments of the former outnumber the latter with young Cai. In related side dish lesson, disaster movie dogs that survive for no good reason other than a cheap life are never the best and always the worst. Let’s get to the main entree.
The top goal of this smorgasbord is to dive below the thick gaseous cloud layer bottom of the Marianas Trench into an entirely new and undiscovered warmer oceanic ecosystem. The first exploration team, comprised of the shrimp cocktail Lori (Jessica McNamee of Battle of the Sexes), bearded reindeer jerky Wall (Finnish actor Ólafur Darri Ólafsson), and token nerd sashimi Toshi (Masi Oka of Heroes fame), find more than crustacean treats as something fast and massive disables their submersible and strands them on the ocean floor. Morris orders a rescue operation and Mac knows just the guy.
Meet the well-done T-bone steak that is Jason Statham’s Jonas Taylor. Grilled with gristle, Jonas is a deep water rescue dive specialist who too has seen something in the fathoms below that no one believes. He lost comrades on a mission and hasn’t been in the water since, soaking up a marinade of sun, beer, and regret in Thailand.
LESSON #2: THE INGREDIENTS OF THE ANTIHERO TYPE — Upon meeting Jonas, Morris hams “He sure looks heroic. He walks fast, but he’s kinda got a negative attitude.” That’s Jason Statham alright, one of this generation’s quintessential action heroes, in just about every movie that includes his buff bod and accent. This seafaring role is a chef’s special for the athletic 51-year-old former British national dive team member. Come to think of it, The Meg is the crowd-pleasing bash that Baywatch should have been last summer. Call this one time Jason Statham tops The Rock.
Naturally, Jonas is the one man who has the beefy expertise and sinewy fortitude between his legs to pull off the necessary recovery. Plus, Lori is his ex-wife, a steak sauce dollop that pulls him off his barstool and dilutes his peppered responses to decline no matter the incentive. Once Statham arrives, the burners turn hotter, surf-and-turf menu options are unlocked, and the meal gets larger as the titular prehistoric predator is unleashed to feed on anything and everything it wants.
LESSON #3: FIND WHAT GIVES YOU THE BEST CHANCES OF SUCCESS — Normally in these kinds of movies, the shoddy decision-making is as precise as bacon splatter on a stovetop. It must be complimented that winking meat sacs of The Meg do occasionally think before they speak and act on what will save lives successfully. Wilson’s porky sarcasm pairs well with Statham’s fleshy tough talk like turf-and-turf. Based on Steve Alten’s paperback and adapted by the brother team Joe and Erich Hoeber (RED, Battleship) with a garnishing polish from Dean Georgaris (The Manchurian Candidate), The Meg somewhat requires less, maybe not far less but less, suspension-of-disbelief antacid than usual thanks to the fun factor being applied with better thought towards the spicing up the taste of the final dish.
At first glance, The Meg looks like a cheap Old Country Buffet where you will gladly partake when hungry but regret it later. Lo and behold, this movie thrills with zest and desserts to go with the Japanese steakhouse-like flat-top grill show of tropes and tricks. The movie is a joy to watch and chew, even if Statham is more the star of the show than the shark. Longtime Clint Eastwood cinematographer Tom Stern plays with height and scale like a tenderizer softening the tough stuff and avoiding hypercutting tendencies. Sound is an essential sensory element in these kinds of movies, and its more than just Harry Gregson-Williams’ bombastic italian beef musical score. It’s the sizzling fajita plate of sound effects and foley artist creations that you hear coming, telegraphing the suspense that comes when the server brings you the order you have been salivating over in anticipation.
Behind the kitchen doors that delivered the easy delights of this movie is a halfway decent head chef in director Jon Turtletaub, the skilled knifeman and prime rib purveyor of the National Treasure series who came up as a pastry chef (Cool Runnings, While You Were Sleeping, Phenomenon). He knows what kind of dishes work and how to make The Meg look as easy as fishing in a barrel while still being trendy and taboo enough to have a hint of the decadence of the banned shark fin soup. As Statham jabs at one point, “it’s a great day to go fishing.” Go right ahead. The taste of shark movies is irresistible and you know it.
LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#718)