“Jaws” (1975) is arguably the most thrilling shark movie ever. Sure, we all enjoyed “Sharknado,” but not for the same reasons. Now, just when you thought it was safe to “you know,” comes tough guy, Jason Statham (“Fast and Furious” series) versus a Carcharodon Megalodon, “The Meg,” largest marine predator that ever existed.
It wouldn’t be fair to expect this current feature to equal the Spielberg masterpiece, but anything less does not necessarily reduce it to cinematic chum. If you came to see a summer blockbuster thriller, this is it. Filmed in New Zealand, director Jon Turteltaub (“National Treasure”) provides a sparkling international cast, fascinating techie undersea gadgets and a CGI shark that can inadvertently propel your popcorn out of your hands.
Based on the novel “MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror” by rookie author Steve Alten, this movie takes itself serious enough, but also seems to know this is all for fun. There is ample humor and sufficient horror, but “The Meg” is thankfully in a whole different league than TV’s excruciatingly silly Sci-Fi Channel movie thrillers.
Rainn Wilson, from TV’s “The Office” provides much of the plucky comic relief as the buffoonish billionaire financier of the oceanic project. His assessment of Jonas Taylor (Statham), “He looks heroic, but he’s kinda got a negative attitude.” It seems five years earlier, Naval Captain Taylor aborted a mission that left half his crew behind.
The movie actually begins with that unfortunate event. Deep under the unexplored recesses of the Mariana Trench, the crew encountered an attack from what seemed to be a 70-foot creature known to be extinct. The tragic incident earned Taylor a dishonorable discharge that cost him his career, marriage and any semblance of honor.
When another submersible with his ex-wife at the helm is disabled, Jonas has a shot at redemption. He must risk his life against the largest marine predator that ever existed, no problem. At 51-years old, Statham is still ripped and continues to do his own stunts. Take that Tom Cruise! More important, Statham has the most menacing scowl ever.
The action scenes are innovative, underwater scenes gorgeous and the winning ensemble international cast refreshing. Aussie Cliff Curtis (“Avatar” series) is credible as Mac, the project leader. Taiwanese actor Winston Chao is Zhang, the lead scientist while Chinese actress Bingbing Li (“Forbidden Kingdom) co-stars as his daughter Suyin.
Suyin’s spunky nine year old daughter is played by bi-lingual Sohia Cai. Aussies Ruby Rose (future “Catwoman”), Robert Taylor (“Kong: Skull Island”) and Jessica McNamee (“Battle of the Sexes”) play strong support roles in the crew. Finally, Masi Oka (TV’s “Heroes”) plays the nerdy technician. Not exactly a reach as Oka graduated from Brown University with degrees in math and computer programming.
When the crew thinks they’ve cornered the Jurassic monster, Zhang disgustingly notes, “This is what people do, we discover, then we kill.” On a side note, Kelly the dog plays Pippen the dog, a Yorkie that swims near this shark. If you remember, in “Jaws,” Pippen the dog was an unfortunate shark appetizer.
“The Meg” is 113 minutes and rated PG-13 for action, peril, bloody images and language. To remind the audience of it’s lighthearted nature, the opening logo is submerged in water while the closing credits are sinking into the sea. As a play on words, the finale reads “Fin” as in foreign language films for “The End.” Finally, a Thai version of the song “Mickey” will be impossible to get out of your head.
This US/China collaboration is not a monumental achievement, but features plenty of monster moments to give the audience something to sink their teeth into. They say a lot of people want to see a real shark before they die, but we assume it’s not necessarily “right” before they die.
Ron’s Rating: B+ Leigh’s Rating: C+