Okay, here’s the spectrum for shark movies. At one end you have Jaws, Spielberg’s classic suspense thriller that married Hitchcockian tension with vivid characters. It may be a movie about nothing in the grand scheme of things, a foretaste of the blockbuster era to come, but it’s still the best fin flick ever made. At the other end we have Shark Attack 3: Megalodon – low budget schlock, in which John Barrowman fought a prehistoric muncher while asking to eat his wooden co-star’s pussy on camera just to provoke a human emotional response. One movie’s engrossing, the other’s gross, but has a certain incompetent charm. The hope for Jon Turteltaub’s The Meg was that it would combine b-movie charm with A-movie production values, but salivating gore whores reckoned without a sanitized, dull aquatic adventure, less entertaining that Barrowman’s movie. In short, The Meg’s the new outer marker (or buoy) on the bad side of the spectrum.
What killed it? On paper this was a tantalizing t(h)reat – Jason Statham going up against a 70ft subaquatic killer with all the oceanic spectacle that promised; Cockney Vs Jaws. But this culturally tone deaf Chinese co-production, partnering the former Sydenham market trader with an awkward and insipid Bingbing Li (perhaps star quality is lost in translation) has been made for an overseas audience that apparently, is imagined to like their movies as bland as possible – not so much Deep Blue Sea as large green tea.
Turteltaub’s movie is fatally undermined by having neither tension or human interest, nor substitutes like humour or excess. What does it offer instead? Competently engineered emptiness – unfunny, broad characters, story clichés (the hero who’s lost his family acquiring a new one at the close, the billionaire entrepreneur whose flirtation with science goes awry), middle-of the-road visual effects, and placeholder attempts at story and character development, so mechanical and moribund they could have been generated by screenplay software. They probably were.
As noted many times in this organ, one can forgive anything but boredom, which is why The Meg’s transition from solid if unremarkable first act to torturously dull Shark Attack remake, is a movie killer. A film made with Chinese money and mindful of the Chinese censor, even declines to give us some of the gore that might have made this interminably boring movie spicy. The titular shark swallows people whole without them touching the sides, manages to swim into a densely populated beach area without munching on a single swimmer, and the fucker doesn’t even bite a ship in two – surely the minimum setpiece requirement in a movie featuring a giant sea predator.
The suspicion is that all the vitality and humour promised by the setup and stunt casting of Statham, was removed at the behest of the movie’s paymasters, leaving us with little to chew on but a watered down shark movie with no bite and toothless direction. Still, at least I got to the end of this review without the mandatory glut of terrible shark puns, so that’s something.