The key to enjoying Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg lies in managing one’s expectations. Obviously, a film about a giant killer shark will draw comparisons to the Steven Spielberg classic Jaws and its countless imitators released through the years. These films are primarily horror, playing up the fear inherent in not knowing what may be lingering just below the surface of the water. And while The Meg certainly does hit many of the same beats as these films, it would be a mistake to approach it first as a conventional horror film. Instead, it belongs in the same discussion as films like Congo and The Core; movies featuring a colorful ensemble of characters – played by a cast of very good sports – attempting to carry out an outlandish goal. When viewed less as a horror film and more as an old school adventure film, The Meg becomes a lot more fun to watch.
This is not to suggest that the film isn’t without its more serious moments, many of which are heavy-handed in the moment, but that ultimately add up to an interesting theme of sacrifice and grief. Throughout the film, characters are required to make difficult choices, forced to pick between two terrible options. These choices lead to death, mourning, and regret, and the film surprisingly allows the characters enough time to really feel the loss of their friends and co-workers. While it’s arguable whether these moments have any great impact on the audience, I appreciated Turteltaub’s commitment to the emotional instincts of his ensemble. It was a nice surprise, even if it wasn’t the most compelling.
As it is, the story itself is not really important. Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is a former undersea rescue diver called upon to save three scientists exploring the depths of the Marianas Trench. There he discovers that species thought to be long-extinct are still thriving, most notably the Megalodon, a prehistoric shark that, according to the film, can grow up to 90 feet long. Jonas manages to rescue two of the scientists, but accidentally draws a Megalodon to the surface, where it proceeds to terrorize swimmers and fishermen. Realizing that the “Meg” has no natural enemies and could thus go on killing indefinitely, Jonas and a team of researchers decide they need to destroy it.
Like I said, the story is just an excuse to feature one scene after another of the scientists trying, and failing, to kill the Meg. It could get very repetitive, if not for the likable cast and the film’s continued emphasis on sacrifice. While many of the characters are just archetypes, they are given enough depth to allow the audience to be invested in their peril. Among the cast are dependable character actors like Cliff Curtis, Rainn Wilson, Robert Taylor, Ruby Rose, and Masi Oka. The dialogue may be cliche, but this cast is fully committed to it, which helps to sell even the most ridiculous of attack scenes.
But Turteltaub is a serviceable enough director to know how best to play these scenes, and the result is often genuine suspense and the feeling that any one of these characters – with the exception of Statham, of course – is fair game. He also understands that while a giant shark bearing down on an unsuspecting human is certainly a harrowing enough image in itself, the real terror of films like this is that of being out of our element and greatly disadvantaged. Any time a human character falls into the water, they are completely at the mercy of the ocean. If they are able to make it out alive, it’s just dumb luck.
So, in the end, is The Meg a good movie? Yes and no. The story and dialogue are both pretty cliche, and there are several moments in which I laughed out loud at the clunkiness of the script. But its throwback nature and the likable cast kept me interested and, most importantly, entertained. There is nothing particularly exceptional about the film, but it is often tremendously fun, which seems to be its primary goal.