Reel Talk

The Meg and the Appeal of the Shark

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Two years ago I went to the theaters to see a movie that I really had no interest in seeing, but kept hearing incredibly solid word of mouth. It was the Shallows, and it was a claustrophobic suspense flick about Blake Lively getting injured in a secluded beach where she’s then tormented by an incredibly hostile shark. I didn’t really care for it. It was fine, but there’s just something about shark movies that just doesn’t interest me. Other than Jaws I don’t think I’ve ever seen a film revolving around sharks that has really connected for me, despite a staggering amount of movies featuring monstrous sharks. Hollywood keeps making shark movies, and I by and large keep ignoring them. But, I have to admit, the latest attempt to make a shark movie did kind of catch my interest. The Meg is a film that has been in some form of production for quite some time, but the basic log-line has always been the same. Jason Statham is going to fight a ludicrously huge shark. And, listen. I like to consider myself a fan of cinema, and enjoy being a pretentious ass on this website. But, I’m also a simple person, and when you tell me Jason Statham is going to fight a giant shark you’re going to at least warrant a viewing. So, despite being burnt by literally every single shark movie I’ve ever seen save one masterpiece, I decided to head out to the theater to see if Jason Statham’s absurd charisma could make this film enjoyable. And he didn’t!

The Meg primarily takes place in a state of the art underwater laboratory off the coast of Shanghai. It’s being funded by a strange millionaire named Jack Morris and run by Dr. Minway Zhang, who believes that there’s an area of the ocean deeper than the Marianas Trench below the laboratory, which is hidden by a layer of hydrogen sulfide. So, the scientists send a trio in a submarine to traverse the layer, and attempt to reach a level of the ocean that humanity has never been to. And, they’re correct! They get through the layer of hydrogen sulfide, and find a preserved ecosystem, which they begin researching. However, almost as soon as they get there they’re attacked by a gigantic shark, which they believe to be the extinct megalodon, and are stranded at the bottom of the ocean. The laboratory is then forced to bring in a man named Jonas Taylor, a professional diver who used to famously rescue people until a strange occurrence under water led people to think he’d lost his mind after he claimed he was attacked by a megalodon. He’s also friends with most of the scientists on the lab, and the pilot of the trapped submarine is his ex-wife. So, Jonas agrees to visit the laboratory, and immediately starts strutting around, mocking everyone who didn’t have faith in him, before travelling down into the depths to rescue the stranded sub. He tussles with the megalodon, but gets the crew to safety, save for one of the scientists who sacrifices himself to save the others.

Jonas then begins ingratiating himself with the folks at the laboratory, especially with Dr. Zhang’s daughter Sunyin, as the two begin a flirtatious relationship. However, their successful excursion is ruined when they realize that the process Jonas used to escape the hidden part of the ocean allowed the megalodon to escape into the rest of the ocean. They panic, not quite sure how to handle the situation, and Jack Morris demands that they hunt and capture the shark so that he can somehow exploit it. The crew then begin hunting for the Meg, and plan to poison it with an overdose of tranquilizer, which they actually accomplish. Sunyin is able to stab the Meg with the tranquilizer while trapped in a shark-cage, and they are able to kill the Meg. Which is when a second, larger Meg shows up, eats the first Meg and a few members of the crew, and then starts swimming off to Sanya Beach, one of the most densely populated beaches in the world. They decide that it’s their responsibility to stop the Meg, and end up planning an attack involving two smaller submarines and a device that will blast out whale sounds. They succeed in drawing the Meg away from Sanya Beach, and start attacking it, launching missiles at the shark for a while, until Jason Statham uses his submarine to cut the shark’s stomach open. This then summons every shark in the ocean to start devouring the Meg alive, killing the monster once and for all. The crew all then return to the laboratory, victorious, and I guess Jonas is going to start dating Sunyin.

 

 

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I’ve seen some people reacting well to this film. And, if this movie worked for you, I’m glad. It’s always good to find stories that work for you. But, for me, this movie just absolutely fell apart. Which is a shame, because there were parts of this movie that really worked for me. And I’m really fascinated with how this film didn’t end up working. I think that the basic premise of the film could have been pretty fun. It’s basically just a monster movie, and the first act actually is fun. Everything involving the weird underwater laboratory, and the claustrophobic horror that comes from that, is really fun. Yeah, the shark can’t exactly get in and kill them, but it has a decent amount of tension. I also enjoyed the stupid joy of the ending, where Jason Statham is literally scaling a gigantic CGI shark and stabbing it in the eye. Those are two radically different tones, and they don’t gel well at all, but I would have liked the film more if it went closer to either of these extremes. If the entire film was absurd and insane it would have been hilarious, and if it had remained tense and scary it was have been great. But instead if vacillated between the two extremes, while also having a middle act that completely drags, featuring a lot of people arguing on boats. The performances are decent, even though no one really seems to be acting in the same movie, and the effects are fine I guess, I just think that the major problem with the film is that it has no idea what tone it wants to be.

Which made me start to think about what tone would have worked best. Over the past decade or so we’ve been inundated with shark content, most of which has been incredibly campy. From the proliferation of the concept of “Shark Week,” to the insane supremacy of the Sharknado movies, sharks have been showing up a lot in pop culture, and usually in a very silly context. Which is how I thought this film would be. When I heard Jason Statham was making a movie about a giant shark I fully expected the final act of this film. It was silly, it had absurd effects, and it was enjoyably bad. And yet, what I wasn’t expecting, was the fact that this film kind of became a representation of the three standard types of shark movies. The three acts of this movie couldn’t feel any more different, and yet they all feel like typical portrayals of sharks in movies. The first act is tense and more horror-themed, like films like Jaws. The second act honestly felt like a 50’s B-Movie, with very little actual shark content, primarily revolving around scientists yelling at each other while saving the actual monster for the third act. And then the third act became an explosion of bad CGI and campy comedy. And it’s insane. If that was intentional, and this film was meant to be some weird meta-commentary about the subgenre of “shark movies,” in general, it’s kind of genius. But I don’t think that that’s the case. Instead I think it was just a mishmash of ideas, stapled together from decades worth of failed scripts, and competing influences from the multinational production teams. The film’s a mess, but it’s kind of a fascinating one.

 

I still don’t really get the appeal of shark movies, though.

 

The Meg was written by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, directed by Jon Turteltaub, and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2018.

 

 

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