‘The Meg’ Attempts to Imagine the Glory of Jason Statham Battling a Megalodon Shark

The Meg” pairs together two stars tailor-made for movie glory, Jason Statham and a prehistoric shark. Too bad they don’t get the kind of wild, gory vision their presence demands. Instead this movie feels like a giant, cosmetic idea and nothing more. There’s little cheer in the film, or self-awareness. It’s just a bunch of actors gasping and scrambling from a CGI shark that has one or two moments of awe, before going back to being a mere cartoon. But what it truly lacks is better humor and characters with more bite. It may deliver if you just want to see a digital shark chomp on metal.

Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a world record-breaking deep sea diver (of course), who is haunted (inevitably) by a disastrous rescue mission during which he came across a mysterious, giant creature. He’s called in by an exploration group when a small vessel carrying his ex-wife, Lori (Jessica McNamee), also finds itself trapped in the ocean depths. Taylor makes his way to an elaborate base in the middle of the ocean to meet up with a team comprised of Jaxx (Ruby Rose), Mac (Cliff Curtis), DJ (Page Kennedy), Heller (Robert Taylor) and The Wall (Ólafur Darri Ólafsson). Their bosses include a scientist named Zhang (Winston Chao), his daughter Suyin (Bingbing Li) and the clueless, billionaire owner of the operation, Morris (Rainn Wilson). Once Taylor dives deep with Suyin and rescue Lori, they are confronted by a terrifying, gigantic shark. Taylor identifies the creature as a Megalodon, a prehistoric shark that’s been extinct for 2 million years but has somehow popped up in the Pacific. As the creature targets the group, they must figure out how to stop it before the behemoth decides to munch on nearby, populated areas.

There’s not much to “The Meg.” For most of its running time it moves in circles, like its main creature. The screenplay by Dean Georgaris and Jon Hoeber struggles with trying to puff up the very simple idea of Jason Statham facing off a giant shark. It takes a while for the plot to get cooking, as most of the first act is spent with Taylor getting Lori out of her entrapment and becoming chatty with the ever so beautiful Suyin. The plot lacks the kind of goofy but fun premises you find in movies like “Godzilla” or “Deep Blue Sea.” Big monsters usually have some kind of pseudo-philosophical idea behind them. Godzilla is a warning against the A-bomb, in the recent Dwayne Johnson flick “Rampage,” bad science creates oversized creatures. For “The Meg” we get a rushed explanation informing us that some kind of false ocean bottom has been cracked open, unleashing the dino shark. How it has survived 2 million years without detection, or why it’s taken this long for the undersea portal to open, is for us to ponder. Then again, if the film were a bit truer to its genre, we wouldn’t need more elaboration. When brainless good times like “Piranha” work, it’s because they know they just want to be wicked entertainments, shot with zany energy.

Director Jon Turteltaub is no stranger to silly fun, having made the “National Treasure” movies, which were “Indiana Jones” meets “The Da Vinci Code.” But with “The Meg” he’s on holiday, offering a few funny shots, a good laugh or too, but then retreating into a stale approach. Once the heroes find themselves floating around the sea, the movie becomes a redundant exercise of shots of the Meg’s fin peeking above the water, someone falling off the boat, barely escaping the predator, and Statham doing what he does best, pose and look grumpy. The film avoids going all the way with the terror, because it aims at being more of a family-friendly affair, but the result is the Meg spends most of the movie just snapping its jaws, chomping on metallic objects and glaring at Statham. When the film should get wild it tries to be cheesy but in an unconvincing way, almost as if Turteltaub wanted to inject some real drama into a trashy popcorn ride.

To Turteltaub’s credit, there are a few memorable sequences that flirt with what this movie could have been. The crew catches a Meg and hangs it “Jaws”-style on their deck, but just as they think they’re safe the bigger, more dangerous shark from the poster leaps out of the ocean, grabbing its dead comrade and smashing the boat. When the movie shifts over to an island party we get some fun shots of the Meg silently swimming underneath clueless party goers. There’s some real humor with little moments like a popsicle-licking kid desperate to get into the water or the small dog of a Chinese wedding party jumping into the ocean to swim, only to panic and turn around at the site of the Meg. 10-year-old actress Shuya Sophia Cai is also enjoyable as Suyin’s daughter Meiying, who has a sharp wit and hints at Taylor that her mom likes him. What the attraction is defies explanation, since Statham is phoning this one in. He comes across as his character from the “Fast & the Furious” movies on vacation. The main flaw with “The Meg” is that it feels as if it should be having more fun than what it delivers. Only in the end does the movie give us one a rousing, grandiose shot of Statham doing an Ahab on his finned foe.

If you want to see a giant shark, then “The Meg” does indeed deliver. If you want to see Jason Statham  do battle with the beast, then you shall indeed behold such a happening. But it could have been more. There’s no sense in thinking big without going big.

The Meg” releases Aug. 10 in theaters nationwide.