movie review

Meg 2: The Trench Should Have Been Stupider

It’s all ridiculous and, in an alternate universe, it might have even been genuinely entertaining.
Jason Statham picking up a helicopter blade five times his size in an attempt to spear a shark 50 times his size. Photo: Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures/Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Once upon a time, Jason Statham was the king of silly action flicks. These films weren’t usually comedies, but they were bracingly and proudly ridiculous, using disbelief the way most movies use the suspension of disbelief. Despite Statham’s considerable physical prowess as a fighter and martial artist, almost nothing that happened in these movies was convincing, but that was what often made them fun. He could cut off a bad guy’s arm, then use the guy’s own severed hand to pull the trigger of his own gun to kill him. He could punch a dude’s head into a helicopter tail rotor. We in the audience laughed, we winced, and we went home talking about how bad the movie was, but when it happened to come on cable, we happily watched it again. When Statham started to become a bigger name, franchise demands took over, and a little of his personality was lost. It made perfect sense for him to join the Fast & Furious series, but he hasn’t exactly done anything notable in it yet.

That nuttier version of Statham can be briefly glimpsed at moments in Meg 2: The Trench, but predictably, he has to take a back seat to the giant sea creatures in this one. 2018’s somewhat unlikely hit about the return of an enormous prehistoric shark was never anyone’s idea of serious cinema, but the new one feels at times like a dream a hyperactive 9-year-old might have had after seeing the first one. This time, there are giant octopuses, and giant killer sea anemones, and demonic, fanged superfast lizard thingies, and funky robotic exosuits, and comically casual walks along the seafloor of a 25,000-foot-deep trench. At one point, Jason Statham fights three megalodons armed with a Jet Ski and an exploding homemade harpoon, and then later he karate-kicks a dude into the maws of a leaping shark. It’s all extremely stupid and, in an alternate universe, it might have even been genuinely entertaining had there been more of it.

The plot, as far as I can make out, takes place a few years after the previous movie, and Statham’s Jonas Taylor is now working as an environmental investigator for an oceanographic institute run by Jiuming Zhang (Wu Jing), a scion of the same family of wealthy researchers from the first film. Jonas is also taking care of Jiuming’s niece, teenage Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), who was a young child in the previous movie. (Some cast members from the original have returned, in case you were wondering what happened to all those memorable, memorable characters from The Meg.) Our heroes are using fancy submersibles to make treacherous research dives into “the trench,” a mysterious pit at the bottom of the sea lying beneath a thermocline that keeps all the amazing unknown creatures therein from coming to the surface. You can imagine how things go from there.

Fair is fair: I would have loved this shit back when I was 6. Meg 2 understands that we’re here to see shark mayhem, and it doesn’t seem to feel obligated to back any of its narrative up with logic or fake movie science. (There’s even a Jaws 2 reference, just to make sure we’re not keeping our standards too high.) That’s not entirely an excuse, however, for botching rudimentary elements of storytelling. Meg 2 often fails on a basic molecular level, sometimes leaving us unclear as to who’s doing what to whom onscreen. Other movies have gotten away with this sort of chaos (Michael Bay’s Armageddon is the classic in this unfortunate subgenre, but that picture makes up for its incoherence with bravado), but here, the filmmaking is choppy and rushed without being particularly energetic. We barely know who any of these people are, so we’re not particularly involved in whether they’re going to survive or not. Which might have been okay, but the film seems to care: At one point, our heroes mourn the death of a character while we in the audience mutter, “Wait, who was that?” There’s some weird big shoot-out at the end, and most of it involves people who are neither Jason Statham nor an enormous prehistoric shark.

The sharks, when they do appear, look pretty impressive, but the film’s best special effect remains Statham, who is a living action figure right down to his unchanging expressions. Like a great deadpan silent comedian, he has a unique ability to make his already straight face even straighter as the absurdity around him ratchets up. This combination of bearing and glower makes us want to see him in the most delightfully ridiculous situations, a thrill Meg 2 provides only in sporadic bursts. When Statham picks up a helicopter blade five times his size in an attempt to spear a shark 50 times his size, it briefly feels like his glory days are back. They’re not, but it’s fun to dream.

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Meg 2: The Trench Should Have Been Stupider