‘The Meg’ delivers solid entertainment despite cliches
August 8, 2018
Whether it comes to food or movies, there's genuine pleasure to be found in high-quality cheese.
Cinematically, that category features an entire spate of movies with a completely ridiculous premise that manage to be both highly entertaining and show off flashes of genuine quality. Like that triple cheese pizza you had for dinner last night, they have little nutritional value but make up for it in enjoyment value.
Jason Statham, long a reliable source of cinematic cheese, has hit surprising heights of quality with this weekend's "The Meg." The mechanics of the plot are nothing more than 1999's rampaging shark flick "Deep Blue Sea" brought up to prehistoric size, but a great sense of humor and surprisingly well-done emotional moments make up for that lack of originality. Add in some darkly clever visual touches by director John Turteltaub, and you have an entertaining little sci-fi horror adventure that proves far more satisfying than its premise suggests.
Loosely based on Steve Alten's "Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror," the movie is set at a deep sea research station that's exploring the bottom of what might be the deepest trench in the world. This is, of course, hiding the titular prehistoric-sized shark, which does some terrorizing and causes Jason Statham to come out of retirement to help defeat it. Cue the "crewmembers and random citizens along the shoreline in peril" scenes, along with a low-key but oddly sweet romantic subplot with a Suyin, a scientist played by Bingbing Li.
The best character in the whole movie is Suyin's daughter Meiying, played by Shuya Sophia Cai. She's the perfect blend of sweet and too smart for her own good, with some great lines but never so intrusive that she's annoying. I would even be tempted to argue that she's my favorite child character I've ever run into in a movie, though that runs the risk of someone beating me up in honor of their favorite.
Rainn Wilson is also fun as the rich tech billionaire funding the station, and Wilson has a few stellar lines he makes even better with his delivery. Statham and Bingbing are best when they're together, gently argumentative but also sweet enough that it manages to surpass the usual "I hate you but am somehow inexplicably attracted to you" dynamic that's too often the default for action movies. They also had some genuinely emotional moments that gave actual weight to the connection between them, another rarity in action movies.
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Turtletaub, best known for the "National Treasure" movies, embraces the movie's cheese factor but manages to do a few interesting things with it. He plays with the movie's dramatic pacing, both embracing the expected action horror tropes and turning them on their head a little. He also gets points for an entertaining use of both a small dog and one of those plastic balls people get into and roll around, though if any movie deserves an after-credits scene it's this one.
Even without one, however, "The Meg" is a cheesy delight. My compliments to the chef.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.