Scalding Hot Takes: The Meg (2018)
If there’s one thing that I have learned about sharks and shark behavior from my very own Shark Week watching and writing about both 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge and 2018’s The Meg it’s that if you don’t fuck with sharks, then sharks will not fuck with you. But if you genetically engineer super-intelligent sharks, like they did in Deep Blue Sea, or continue studying sharks even after your mom is all, “Please stop fucking with sharks before they take my entire family. I am not kidding. I am SUPER concerned about you getting eaten by a shark” like the son in Jaws: The Revenge unwisely chooses to do, or if you continue fucking with a prehistoric giant shark called a megalodon after it’s already killed some of your friends and coworkers sharks will not only fuck with you, like they do in The Meg, they will straight up murder your ass.
Hell, the sharks you’re unwisely fucking with might be so fucking pissed that, in flagrant defiance of everything we know about shark behavior, and also reality, they’ll follow you from Massachusetts to the Bahamas on a rather improbable mission of vengeance.
Me, I make a habit of not fucking with sharks. Consequently sharks do not fuck with me, not even the land ones. But they cannot make a horror movie about people who do not fuck with sharks, and consequently don’t have any shark-related problems. No, in order to have a shark-based movie, you need to have a big-ass, scary shark and a whole bunch of stupid motherfuckers who think it’s fun to fuck with sharks despite them being God’s own killing machines.
Who doesn’t love sharks? America would not be America without them. It’s unfortunate that we do not count any sharks among our founding fathers but an intense love for sharks and shark-based entertainment is deeply embedded in the fabric of our society. Sharks, and their week, are so relentlessly hyped as being not just fun but the embodiment of fun that it’s impossible for them to live up to the hype. The same is true of such archetypically “fun” American institutions as bacon, fireworks on the fourth of July, lasers, puppies, kittens and Bill Murray.
It’s unAmerican to not love sharks or Jason Statham, America’s surly, bald British Sweetheart. So when I saw that they were making a movie about a giant fucking shark starring Jason Statham, I was all in. So, apparently was the rest of the world because as of this writing, the movie has grossed over three hundred million dollars worldwide.
Yes, director Jon Turtletaub’s movie about about megaladons has grossed a small fortune but a competing movie put together by Asylum and the President of the United States about a terrifying and incredible creature known as the MAGAlaDonald Trump grossed over a billion dollars its first weekend at the box-office, shattering all records and putting the failing Jaws franchise to shame. The crowds were absolutely huge, record-setting and they were all chanting “Build a sea wall!” and “Lock Sea Witch Hillary Up!”
The MAGAlaDonald Trump has no time for political correctness. Every time it devours a member of the lying, lame stream media his approval ratings go up. He could literally devour an adorable puppy in front of Shark Week cameras and he wouldn’t lose a single voter.
But enough of the MAGAlaDonald Trump. That’s just silly and we have serious business to discuss. Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a rescue diver first seen battling a megaladon science (those fools!) imagined had been extinct for millions of years. Science was wrong about megaladon’s being extinct. So why do we assume these “geniuses” are right about vaccines not causing autism and Climate Change not being a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese?
Five years later Jonas’ ex-wife ends up stuck at the bottom of the ocean while working for Jack Morris, an evil billionaire played by an enjoyably hammy Rainn Wilson. The moment Jack first appears onscreen, veritably twirling an invisible mustache, a countdown begins as to when his character will be devoured by the titular mega-shark. The character exists to fund the whole regrettable underwater enterprise, give us a real villain to boo and hiss, and then be eaten in a satisfying, crowd-pleasing fashion.
Jonas’ methods are unconventional. He plays by his own rules but he gets results, dammit. In that respect he’s like every action hero ever, and particularly every hero Statham has ever played.
Our hero saves his former old lady but in the process multiple megaladons journey from the bottom of the sea to our world. This creates a dilemma that’s actually a no-brainer. Should they kill this monolithic, unstoppable killing machine before it kills them and, if Jaws: The Revenge is to be believed, also their families at a much later date, or should they try to capture it and study it so that they can learn the answers to questions like, “What happens to an enraged giant shark when you fuck with them relentlessly?” and “If you fuck with a giant shark, will it then fuck with you in return?” (Spoiler: yes).
Jonas has a love interest in the form of Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing), the oceanographer daughter of the doctor who runs the high tech underwater facility where much of the action takes place. Jonas and Suyin’s romance is the very definition of “arbitrary”; I’m not sure anybody in the audience is really rooting for Statham to not only survive the mega-shark massacre but also get a nice girlfriend out of the deal. That’s what we call a win-win proposition.
Like every other element of The Meg, the romance that angrily demands to be left on the cutting room floor is cheesy and cliched, overly familiar and groaningly formulaic. And I did not mind a bit. I embraced The Meg’s cheesiness. I liked that even though I’m not partial to shark movies (except for that one Steven Spielberg did) or movies about underwater monsters, everything about The Meg felt soothingly familiar, as if I’d seen it all hundreds, if not thousands of times before.
True, The Meg is never particularly scary. Its attempts at characterization are feeble and the characters all feel like hokey archetypes served up straight. But I did not particularly care. The Meg is big, dumb Summer movie cinematic comfort food, a movie that invites you to turn off your brain and enjoy the macho idiocy.
Then again, I did just watch Jaws: The Revenge, which set the bar for shark-based suspense so low that The Meg can’t help but look like a timeless masterpiece by comparison.
At the end of Meg the titular kill-crazed sea monster decides to venture near a beach in search of a nosh and we’re introduced to the film’s most charismatic and important character: Pippin, a teacup Yorkie who comes very, very close to getting eaten by a shark.
Pippin, as you might imagine, has no dialogue. The cute little pup is maybe onscreen for a minute or so yet despite the incredibly small, even microscopic role the dog plays in a nearly two hundred million dollar movie I was more deeply invested in the fate of Pippin than I was in the lives of any of the human characters I’d just spent 110 minutes or so watch trying to avoid getting eaten by a giant shark.
So you can imagine how overjoyed I was to discover that Pippin, poor, sweet Pippin, did survive the carnage. It sure looked like the little fur ball was done for but in what Clint pointed out was almost assuredly a reshoot, the little fucker makes it to the end. I don’t know what this says about me, but I would not accept Pippin’s death. I mean, sure, the big guy kills a whole bunch of people, but they’re just people. Their lives don’t have much value. But the dog? It’s really cute.
I enjoyed The Meg for the same reason I enjoyed Rampage even if I would never describe either film as “good.” I am a simple man with simple tastes. Sometimes I just want to watch a big-ass dude tangle with a big-ass monster.
I’m not sure I even wanted The Meg to be good. I liked that everything about it felt so second-hand, cheesy and ersatz.
The Meg is the second consecutive shark-based film I’ve seen (after Jaws: The Revenge) in which the protagonist ends the film by going mano a mano with a massive shark that could tear them from limb to limb and I’ve got to confess: Jason Statham is in some ways a more compelling and realistic action hero/shark fighter than Gary, a fifty year old woman who I doubt killed even a single person onscreen in her career, let alone hundreds of them, as Statham has.
The Meg isn’t good but it’s fun. Considering my low, low, almost Sharknado-level expectations that’s enough. In fact, it’s more than enough.
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