Review: New shark film 'The Meg' blends terrifying with campy

The Meg. Directed by Jon Turtletaub. Starring Jason Statham, Ruby Rose and Li Bingbing. Rating: 6 (out of 10)

It’s summer. It’s hot. That means that while your head may be saying “challenging intellectual drama” your heart is screaming “Jason Statham versus a King Kong-sized shark.”

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 Thank heavens for The Meg, the big screen’s answer to our collective Shark Week obsession, salt-water silliness run amok.

 Based on a Steve Alten novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (the first in a series), it’s directed by Jon Turtletaub, he of the National Treasure franchise. The film is sure to lure people looking for a fun few hours as well as Jaws aficionados ready to draw blood with the comparisons. Happily, The Meg holds up, falling somewhere in between the true-and-terrifying Open Water (2006) and the unabashed camp of Sharknado.

 It’s also being compared to another Spielberg blockbuster, Jurassic Park, for obvious reasons: in both films, prehistoric creatures wreak havoc on a modern population. In The Meg, it’s a 75-foot megalodon, a prehistoric shark thought extinct that rises from its home in the Mariana trench and begins to stalk the world’s oceans, devouring everything in its path.

 Expert sea diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) encountered the beast and lost half his naval crew near the trench. Though he lived to tell the tale, he lost all credibility when he reported the mythical creature to authorities. His career was ruined, along with his his marriage.  

 The creature re-emerges years later 200 miles off the coast of China, where the international shark research institute is housed. After an impressive attack, a submersible is left helpless on the ocean floor. (The film, incidentally, is co-financed by Chinese production company Gravity pictures.) Oceanographer Zhang (Winston Chao) calls Jonas in for the rescue mission, against the wishes of his daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). Upping the emotional ante is the fact that his ex-wife (Jessica McNamee) is among the team members.

 Jason Statham is one of the few bankable action stars that could make a tongue-in-cheek action film like The Meg work. He legitimizes the film’s premise – and some less-than-stellar dialogue – with some impressive stunt work, thanks to his background as a diver: he was on Britain’s national diving team and competed in the 1990 Commonwealth Games. More than that, the actor never pretends to take things too seriously.

 Supporting characters (including The Office’s Rainn Wilson) avoid stereotype, by and large, refreshing for a big-budget summer actioner. And yes, you can take the kiddos if they’re past sea-monsters-under-the-bed age: there’s virtually no cursing, and human carnage is kept to a minimum (gorier scenes were reportedly shot, but ended up on the cutting room floor in favour of a PG-13 rating).

 Effects are less consistent, and when the megalodon does appear it’s anticlimactic. The scenes between man and beast too are lacking in some of the thrills built up in the film’s first third; The Meg may be that rare ocean-terror movie where the asides are as interesting as the shark attacks themselves. But overall it’s a brisk and entertaining two hours.

 So go see The Meg, then swim the beaches at your own peril. After all, people still scan Loch Ness for an ageless monster; is it that much of a stretch to think that a real-life megalodon may still be out there?

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