497. The Meg

★★★

Take the quiet terror of “Jaws,” add the reckless, idiotic destruction of “Armageddon,” and throw in production design and action sequences that plagiarize the “there’s always a bigger fish” sequence from “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” and you get “The Meg.” It’s a film with little dramatic bark, but plenty of B-level, campy bite.

Here’s the thing about “The Meg:” It knows it isn’t a good movie. Our hero is the most expendable member of “The Expendables,”  his crew the bottom feeders of the “Open Water”  or “Deep Blue Sea” world. They aren’t the best of the best, they’re the rest of the rest. What this team of aquatic scientists and technicians lack in personality, they make up for in nothing else. You will not remember any of their names, only referring to the characters in terms like billionaire Dwight Schrute, girl who looks like Ruby Rose oh wait it is Ruby Rose, and the black guy with glasses when all is said and done.

It’s really up to Jason Statham to save the day, both literally in the film and for us in the theater. He plays Jonas Taylor, noted deep sea diver who claims the lives of crew members he was trying to rescue were lost because of an attack from a believed-to-be-extinct massive shark known as a Megalodon. Five years after the attack,Jonas is asked to save another trapped crew at the bottom of the ocean, where the Megalodon is waiting along with an even bigger threat: his ex-wife (ohhhh!)

We sit through about 30-45 minutes of choppy direction and awkward dialogue until the movie finally revs into first gear. Attempts to stop or kill Megalodon are expertly choreographed, a bit more caffeinated than the tameness of “Jaws'” shark attacks, but still enough to generate fear even when we know what’s coming. The movie goes back and forth between treating the shark like a villain with a conscious motive (“it ate our friends!”) or some destructive act of the environment like a tornado or erupting volcano (“we should have never messed with nature,”) an indecisiveness in character development that detracts from the story at hand.

But the shark attacks are enough to keep us engaged. We’re annoyed with the pale and ludicrous story at first, but that plot becomes a tasty, guilty pleasure that “The Meg” is always ready to dish out. The lack of strong characters actually buoys the film, their tragic deaths generating an ample amount of dorsal fun. There’s an annoying romantic subplot with Suyin (Bingbing Li), who apparently falls in love with Statham’s character the moment she sees him with his shirt off. But in the epic, eternal battle of shirtless man vs. prehistoric shark, the true winners are the fully-clothed, movie-going audiences of the modern day.

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