MOVIE MONDAYS: THE MEG

The Meg - posterSynopsis: When a billion-dollar deep-water research facility decides to plumb the depths of one of the deeper trenches off the coast of China, they make a revolutionary discovery: What was thought to be the ocean floor is merely a cold layer of gasses, which has been isolating an even deeper region. Down they go through the barrier and we follow along into a world of strange wonders and delights, where the lampfish play alongside creatures not seen since the days of prehistory (well, except for a giant squid, which has legends surrounding it). Of course, our hapless explorers get themselves stuck in a bad situation when their submersible vehicle is attacked by a big, bad mystery monster and only one man can get them out: the disgraced deep sea rescue expert Judas Taylor (Jason Statham). What starts as a rescue mission turns into a horror show when the prehistoric killing machine follows them out of its natural prison: It’s the apex predator, powerful enough to eat a whale in a couple of mighty chomps. This leads to the thriller part of the flick, where a team of desperate scientists and the station’s non-military personnel struggle to contain and then destroy a big bad menace that hasn’t been seen since 2 million years BCE. Throw in Chinese deep sea expert Suyin (Bingbing Li), her plucky daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), a jokey-but-nevertheless-sinister billionaire Morris (Rainn Wilson), and a gaggle of fun secondary characters, and you get Jon Turteltaub’s 2018 monster movie/deep sea thriller THE MEG.

DANIEL’S TAKE

You know, this movie is kind of a slam dunk for me. I love monster movies. I enjoy scary movies set in deep sea locations (check out my review for 1989’s LEVIATHAN right here on the Considering Stories site). I also have great affection for Jason Statham movies (I expect I will go to my grave fighting the battle that 2009’s CRANK: HIGH VOLTAGE is an unsung comic masterpiece). THE MEG is an entertaining example of all of these things pulled together into one feature length flick. And oh boy, is it a gruesome, funny, silly, and rather ludicrous piece of popcorn cinema. Although it did fair business at the theaters, I did not have an opportunity to catch it until recently. Needless to say, I enjoyed the hell out of watching it.

I am a movie laugher, but not in the traditional sense. In fact, when I appreciate a particularly gruesome or gory moment, I chortle with delight. Maybe I even guffaw. When I watch a comedy, I might occasionally get a belly laugh, but when I watch horror and monster movies, I laugh when I see the more inventive moments, a scene of splendid carnage, say . . . I don’t do this because I am making fun of such moments in movies. I do this because I am honestly delighted in the depraved ideas on display and their wonderful executions. That part in Ridley Scott’s GLADIATOR (2000) when the barbarian horde headed by Maximus (Russel Crowe) turns the tides on the chariots soldiers, and one of the golden armored folks gets sawed in half by a wheel spike? Yeah, I giggled with surprise and delight at that capstone to some brilliantly executed visual havoc. It still gives me a weird thrill. Maybe because it was unexpected, maybe because it was over the top gory, or maybe it’s all because I have a broken part in my head that sees the fun in funerals. The dear, departed writer and critic Harlan Ellison was shocked by such audience responses in movies like THE OMEN (1976), and I have no doubt he would disapprove of my delight. Ah well. I love me some creative mayhem.

Needless to say, I chortled through this little monster movie.

Some of the giggling was with the character-based dialogue. There are fun exchanges, the little zingers that dudes can and do throw back and forth between each other (as well as some cute dialogue between Judas and Meiying, which were downright adorable). A couple of those laughs arose from moments of purest ludicrousness played utterly straight. However, a whole bunch of my glee came from the pandemonium of throwing a prehistoric apex predator fish into the modern world.

The megalodon itself is a CGI created menace, maybe with some practical effects thrown in. Mostly it seems to be CG, but what do you expect from a beast that measure 65+ feet (20+ meters) from nose to tail? It chomps and it gnashes, and it looks mean and menacing as it wanders the sea in the last half of the feature. Perhaps it is the creepiest when it is a fast moving shadow shape in the first forty minutes or so of the flick’s screen time. Although I love me some on screen carnage, it is the quieter moments, the eerie shadows, the half visible shape flitting along under the water with preternatural grace, or the bowing of high pressure-rated steel after being impacted by some unseen thing out there that give me the honest shivers.

Spielberg was blessed with mechanical failures for his first huge hit, 1975’s JAWS, since the fouled up practical effect resulted in a movie where we don’t get to see the shark much on screen. He rolled with the punches, however, generating menace galore out of a fin breaking the surface, accompanied by that John Williams score (which of course is now aped in the opening to PinkFong’s outrageously popular ditty “Baby Shark”). THE MEG starts out with shadows and menace, and it then reveals its monster shark. Although it never quite recovers its eerie-mood legs once it reveals the menace full on and effectively switches gears into full on thriller mode, THE MEG still has a few surprises through its remaining run time. I was particularly impressed with one fun sequence of the megalodon launching itself out of the water, eating a human being, eating a dead shark strung up on a boat’s poop deck, belly flopping onto that very poop deck, and then sliding back into the water. The moment is so well done that Trista and I had to watch it a second time—instant replay gratification is one of the great things about seeing a movie at home.

The flick is in solid PG-13 territory, so the gore factor is low (as are the dreaded bad language and nudity). However, director Turteltaub and his screeenwriters (Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber) still manage to tell a solid story with some great suspense, some big old jaws, and plenty of action cues. Not all of the latter are violent, either. There are plenty of spots for some derring-do under the water while driving oddly designed vehicles that somehow resemble hamster balls nested in the middle of deformed Frisbees.

I suppose this is nothing new for Turteltaub, who has worked within the PG region for years, turning in family friendly fair for Disney (e.g., 1992’s 3 NINJAS and 1993’s COOL RUNNINGS) as well as inoffensive action pics such as the NATIONAL TREASURE series from 2004 and 2007.

Sadly, I found the climactic encounter to be less thrilling than the rest of the picture. By this point, things had gone from the “slow” build up in the beginning to a bit more rushed pacing . The result is a sense not of running faster to catch up (or get away) from the clapping jaws of a prehistoric horror so much as edited for time. A beach encounter at a popular resort stops while it’s still on the ramp up to major mayhem so the monster shark can be lured to a more remote area for Statham to go mano-a-flipper with the big brute. The movie ends exactly how we expect it will, but the ride getting there is pretty fun.

How close is the flick to Steve Alten’s original novel source material? No idea. I actually have not read the original book, though I recall seeing it in the horror shelves dating back to excursions to Borders over the years (back when Borders was a store to get books at instead of a source of major political debates and government shutdowns). Bet you didn’t know THE MEG has a literary predecessor, did you? This fact doesn’t show up in the normal place in the credits I am used to—it should have been placed right around the written by credit instead of nested between Associate WhoCares credits. However, book one is on sale in kindle format these days. Less than two bucks for a killer prehistoric shark book? Sign me up! Maybe I’ll give this one and JAWS a read this summer for a two part beach read series, since both of them are now occupying space on my Kindle.

The cast are having a ton of fun here. Statham alternates between his scowl and his approachable grin. His few scenes with Shuya Sophia Cai are particularly fun. The man still has charisma, that’s for sure, and though he is best known for growling, kicking, and punching his way through action pictures he has some acting chops—doubters should check out 2008’s THE BANK JOB before suggesting otherwise. He is surrounded by talent who are given generally small parts—there are so many of them for such a short running, how can we expect otherwise? I mentioned a few of these in the opening synopsis, but here are some others of note: the genius scientist/lousy dad Zhang (Winston Chao) needs to reconcile his own ambitions as well as with his daughter and granddaughter, Jonas’s old pal Mac (Cliff Curtis) is the station manager who enjoys giving playful guff, Jonas’s ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee) starts out as the damsel in distress to lure Jonas back into the water but has soooo moved on and eventually tries to hook her ex up with another woman, big dude with heart The Wall (Olafur Darri Olafsson) and his perky bro Toshi (Masi Oka) are goofs and (well) shark bait, Heller (Robert Taylor) is the cranky doctor Jonas once saved who holds a grudge for his savior about the two people he let die when he saw no other option, and a spunky computer expert with spiky hair and tats Jaxx (Ruby Rose). The joy of having such a large cast is in wondering who will make it out alive. Not all of them will, and with two notable exceptions, each of the actors imbues their limited number of lines and onscreen time with likability. I didn’t want these people to get written out of the script . . .

Speaking of the script. It showed a fairly good ability to read my mind. “Hey, no one’s been eaten on screen yet,” I said to Trista at one point in the picture. Not two minutes later, one of the likable characters gets munched on screen in one of the more gonzo moments. Nice job, screenwriters.

Anyway, the flick doesn’t fall into what author Joe R. Lansdale calls “big think” territory, but it nevertheless remains a fun watch. I would see it again, and I think it would make a nice double feature paired with Renny Harlin’s delightfully goofy DEEP BLUE SEA (1999) or George P. Cosmatos’s grim and grotty underwater sf-horror piece LEVIATHAN, the latter of which boasts a solid screenplay by David Webb Peoples, who penned scripts for BLADE RUNNER (1982), UNFORGIVEN (1992),and TWELVE MONKEYS (1995). THE MEG is big entertainment.

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THE MEG is available in DVD, Blu-ray, and streaming editions. Grab a copy for one of those times when you want a fun monster movie. It’s the flick equivalent of a beach read, though this one is probably best enjoyed far from the ocean . . .

“Movie Mondays: The Meg” is copyright © 2019 by Daniel R. Robichaud. Poster and image taken from IMDB. For a fun few minutes, check out all the posters for this picture. Some fun images, some great tag lines, and a lot of creativity went into the selling of this picture.

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