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It is inevitable that audiences would demand bigger sharks. The days of Jaws, when a single great white could terrorize an entire beach community, are long behind us. Even a film like Deep Blue Sea, where you have an army of genius sharks, is no longer enough for you people. You don’t have to tell me I’m obsolete: I am a great white shark, and as you know, I can only swim forward. The Meg deserves credit for renewing interest in my species. That shark is big, and the fossil of its jaws at the Natural History Museum will only give you a hint of its size. But size is not everything, as Spielberg can tell you, and what matters more is what you do with all those razor sharp teeth.
It is a long, long time before we get to the good stuff—all these fleshy, dismembered legs kicking just below the surface. I’ll never tire of that image, even if it makes me hungry. Until then, the action is way down under the ocean floor. The “Meg”—short for Megalodon—is almost innocent in this film. It minds its business, at depths where a blanket of ice-cold water keeps the environment below artificially warm. It looks like a sweet gig, to be honest, so when the Meg finds some scientists causing a ruckus there, it is rightfully pissed. It leaves their vessel in a state of disrepair, and now a rescue effort is underway. Sharks have a complicated relationship with humans—after one meal, we cannot get enough—so the Meg goes to the surface to mess with the scientists some more.
A lot of people think great whites have a brain the size of golf balls. That is wrong, wrong, wrong. Our brains are much bigger than that, so we do not have much trouble remembering a human face or two. Alongside Robert Shaw and Samuel L. Jackson, Jason Statham is a big deal in the shark community because he was once a competitive diver (that’s like catnip for us). It was troubling to see Statham play Jonas, a deep sea rescuer who hates sharks, but I guess I cannot fault his commitment to the role. It was way more satisfying to watch Rainn Wilson, the billionaire anti-shark zealot, since he is just asking to get eaten. Sharks—and us great whites in particular—are entertainers when we want to be, so we are happiest when we get fed and simultaneously sate your bloodlust. It’s the circle of life.
Part of the trouble with The Meg is how the scenes between the shark attacks do not create much suspense. The screenwriters halfheartedly delve into the relationships—Statham has a love interest and an ex-wife—except none of these minor characters are defined by their relationship to sharks. Ahab’s relationship to the white whale is the stuff of legend; in fact, every shark secretly wishes to find such a worthy nemesis. In The Meg, there is no sense of danger or obsession.
To his credit, director Jon Turteltaub finds some creative ways to film the Megalodon (sharks have never looked so imposing). But for every carefully composed image, there are tired clichés, such as Page Kennedy’s turn as an underwater drone operator. All human flesh tastes the same to us, no matter the skin color, so it’s embarrassing for us all—human and shark—when there is a black character whose defining characteristic is that he cannot swim.
Many recent creature features have been about how monsters bring people together. In Gareth Edwards’ Godzilla, everyone unites in their appreciation of a lovable monster who saves San Francisco from a scarier monster. Arrival ends with Amy Adams using alien technology to improve relations between China and the rest of the world. Creatures like us are proud to serve as tools of diplomacy, and one amusing detail about The Meg is its international appeal. This film is an American-Chinese co-production, which means that while Statham plays a typically gruff Western hero, the Chinese lead follows that country’s values (she is a devoted mother who wants to protect and honor her family). The product placement even includes Coca-Cola alongside a Chinese brand.
The Meg has exactly what you would expect from a giant shark movie, and little else. If it becomes an international hit, here’s hoping they continue to film sequels in beaches teeming with tourists. Nothing is better for shark-kind than a super-power with an overpopulation problem.
The Meg opens Friday in theaters everywhere.