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REVIEW: “The Meg” – Or How China Killed Shark Movies

 
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Overview
 

Directed by: Jon Turteltaub
 
Produced by: Belle Avery, Lorenzo di Bonaventura, Colin Wilson
 
Written By: Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber
 
Starring: Jason Statham, Li Bingbing, Rainn Wilson, Ruby Rose, Winston Chao, Cliff Curtis
 
MTRCB Rating: PG
 
FG RATING
3.0
3/ 10


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"The Meg" may have the most progressive portrayal of an ex-wife seen in recent blockbusters... plus Jason Statham is in it

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Everything else about it


When an ocean-based research facility is besieged by the prehistoric Megalodon, expert deep sea diver and rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is tasked to save the lab’s inhabitants and kill the ancient shark before it reaches civilization.

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Posted August 8, 2018 by

 
FULL REVIEW
 
 

With a premise as simple as unleashing a shark the size of a warship on people, I was expecting nothing less than a big, dumb, loud but ultimately fun action/horror movie where the Transporter himself got to repeatedly stab a giant shark in the face. And yet, The Meg is somehow more complicated than that but not for the reasons one would expect from what should have been just another dumb shark movie from the ’90s.  

Toothless Sharks

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‘The Meg’ [Credit: Gravity Pictures/Warner Brothers]

For a movie featuring a giant shark from the Early Miocene period, The Meg is painfully toothless. This should have been a given since it was rated a measly PG (Parental Guidance), but seeing how family-friendly and safe The Meg is both surprising and disappointing. Despite starring the biggest movie shark in history, The Meg may have the smallest bodycount a shark movie has seen. The total number of weak, bloodless shark kills could be counted on two hands, and the movie’s main twist – which was spoiled by the posters – cuts the Meg’s kills to just 4. Making things worse, random chance and bad luck have a bigger bodycount than the fucking shark.

With its centerpiece spayed and neutered, The Meg has nothing to rely on but its cast and story, which are serviceable at best. Statham is as gruff and charismatic as always, and watching him snark at stereotypes from 1999 (including a fast-talking African American guy, an obvious love interest and an unreasonable authority figure) has its charms, but they quickly wear off when he has to fight a shark with a car-sized mouth in the tamest ways possible – a waste of his physical skills that are at best when he’s murdering someone/something onscreen.

It may have a shark in it and it may have been financed in part by the American studio Warner Brothers, but The Meg is a pale imitation of campy American shark movies that were made in the aftermath of the original Jaws. The Meg is the kind of feature a 70s-era Italian studio would rush out to capitalize on the Jaws hype and this turns out to be the case – only with a Chinese studio doing the ripping-off instead of the country that filmed a fight between a shark and a zombie.

China Jumps the Shark

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‘The Meg’ [Credit: Gravity Pictures/Warner Brothers]

Viewing The Meg as an imitation of American shark movies as opposed to being an actual American shark movie makes sense of its strange stylistic choices – choices which contradict the very ethos of what made schlocky shark movies a legitimate sub-genre among horror fans. Of the already few onscreen deaths, it’s worth noting that none of the Meg’s named victims are Chinese –  in fact, when it finally arrives at the Chinese beach (complete with a homage to the beach stampede in Jaws), none of the Chinese tourists are explicitly killed and those in the Meg’s path only get bruised or shoved aside. If this were an American production, the Meg would have eaten everyone in a brutal 30-minute montage, leaving the sands covered in blood and guts – instead, what audiences get is an ad for a sparkling Chinese beach that just so happened to have an island-sized shark outside.

This would also explain the way The Meg was written, where non-Chinese characters like Taylor and company would randomly stop to praise their Chinese co-workers for various reasons, whether it’s for their advanced technological capabilities or their always-reliable military. Where the main Western characters are shown to be dirty and flawed, the Chinese in contrast are perfect and noble at all times, almost always giving the intelligent exposition and plans to kill the shark to everyone else who’s too dumb (i.e. not Chinese enough) to think. The Chinese are so amazing that Taylor forgets about his dying ex-wife the moment he lays eyes on fellow diver Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing), leading to what could be the most progressive depiction of an ex-wife in a mainstream Hollywood movie where she’s highly supportive of Taylor hooking up with another woman instead of being spiteful about it – so The Meg has that going for it.

While it never turns into a sleazy con-job like Escape Plan 2: Hades and is not laughable 3D propaganda like Wolf Warrior, The Meg finds itself in the same level as The Great Wall and Pacific Rim: Uprising, where China’s influence is always present but never as obnoxious as what transpired in the third act of Transformers: Age of Extinction. What it surely is, though, is another below-mediocre product whose potential was shut out of the creative process by a committee with a checklist of plot points that would make up a generic shark movie, plus things that would please their Chinese financiers at Gravity Pictures and a very general audience.

Buy Shark Repellent Now

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‘The Meg’ [Credit: Gravity Pictures/Warner Brothers]

The Meg is the latest case-study for the continued Chinese encroachment on American cinema, and just how blatant it has become – proof of this being the prevalent use of what I assume is a Chinese cover of the song “Hey Mickey.” Coming from a non-American perspective, this ongoing paradigm shift is equal parts interesting and frustrating, since it gives me a lot of material to analyze and write about at the cost of movies becoming tamer than ever before.

But free from this geopolitical perspective, The Meg is one of the blandest shark movies to come out in recent memory to the point where debating about its political subtext with my friend was more exciting than any of the shark scenes featuring the star of Crank. Direct-to-DVD Megalodon movies already exist, and those with the cheap yet satirically self-aware Sharknado franchise are leagues above Statham’s newest multi-million-dollar outing. The best The Meg has to offer is that it won’t offend anyone, but for a movie with a 75-foot killer shark in it, that feat is an all-time low.


Angelo Delos Trinos

 
Part-time artist and writer, full-time critic/overthinker. He believes that Samuel L.Jackson is the greatest actor on earth and he misses video stores.


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