At some point, somebody decided that The Meg was going to be a joke movie, with joke marketing and a joke trailer. That memo didn’t reach the film itself — a relief in some sense, as affected campiness is often the least funny joke there is. Instead, The Meg is a more or less straight-ahead B-movie thriller, with a heavy injection of Chinese financing and a rather shocking thirst for bloody whale carcasses. It is neither dumb nor smart enough to be fun, and spends way too much time with its boring human characters when it could be spending it with, you know, the giant shark.
The action takes place off the south China coast, where an undersea lab funded by an American billionaire played by Rainn Wilson sends a manned submarine into the Marianas Trench. Why? Well, Zhang, the lab’s director (Winston Chao) has a wacky theory that the bottom of the Marianas might not be the actual bottom — that what we thought was its floor is in fact a thermal barrier of some kind. Sure, why not? The theory turns out to be true, and the submarine crew putter about its toasty thermal waters for a bit before they run afoul of a giant squid — and subsequently, its predator: the megalodon. Though to be extinct, the giant shark is very alive and very angry for no particular reason, thrashing the sub around and stranding it 11,000 meters under the sea.
It’s up to renegade wild man Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to rescue them — convenient, as he’s been ostracized from the daring submarine-rescue community for claiming to have encountered the Meg during his last mission. Also, his ex-wife is onboard, but that doesn’t stop him from falling for the lab director’s daughter Suyin (Li Bingbing). He rescues the sub, not without one casualty (Masi Oka)(!), but during their return to sea level the Meg followed them and is now wreaking havoc all over the South China Sea.
There are a couple of pleasingly taut man versus shark sequences, particularly one involving a plastic shark tank and a crane that quickly devolves into whatever the opposite of a Rube Goldberg machine is. But far too much of The Meg is given over to stilted stuff trying to get us to invest in Statham’s character arc and Li’s maternal bond to her daughter. By the time the Meg makes its way to a crowded beach for the climactic sequence, we barely know what it looks like; the only entrance director Jon Turteltaub seems interested in giving it is a jump-scare pop onto the screen. For a movie about a giant shark, it’s disappointingly uninterested in scale until it’s inevitable defeat. And when it’s vanquished, we’re left with the surprisingly unpleasant sight of a dead-eyed beast, a poacher’s oversize, bloody fantasy given to us as a victory lap. It all feels like a bit of a waste — of the life of a giant shark, yes, but also of the last two hours.