The Meg Is All Shark and No Bite
No blood in the water to be found here
I’d like to apologize upfront for the title of this review, but it holds true; this most recent entry in the burgeoning Bloodthirsty Man-Eating Shark On A Rampage sub-genre (see: Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, 47 Meters Down, Sharknado x5) is a big movie that makes big promises with small, bloodless results. When a movie is made about a massive prehistoric shark on the loose in international waters, there are two acceptable outcomes: a clever, self-aware satire of B-movie creature features like Joe Dante’s Piranha, or a short-on-brains, high-on-gore B-movie itself like Renny Harlin’s Deep Blue Sea. In other words, a film like this could be either really good or really bad, but anything in between sinks it.
I am sad to report that The Meg is, in fact, neither Piranha nor Deep Blue Sea. It’s not even Piranha 3D, the 2010 remake of Piranha, and, before you ask, it’s also not Piranha 3DD, the sequel to the remake. Those are all movies that, regardless of whether they hold up upon close critical inspection, make for campy, fun late-night viewing. This, meanwhile, is a homogenous action movie designed as an internationally marketable product, like Transformers with a shark.
It’s bloodless! It’s long! It’s PG-13! The three cardinal sins of B-movies, all present. It wouldn’t be fair of me to blame this entirely on director Jon Turteltaub, the man behind the last truly great Nicolas Cage movie, National Treasure. This is a movie that has been in development hell for 21 years, been delayed countless times, and cycled through several filmmakers including Guillermo Del Toro, Eli Roth, and Speed director Jan de Bont. Two decades in, it seems like the studio was just eager to get this troubled production off their hands, but it seems like they didn’t quite understand the product they were selling. The film was initially going to be a gory, hard-R exploitation movie, which, historically, is appropriate given that nearly every other successful shark thriller has been exactly that. Why do people pay to see a movie about a man-eating killer shark if not to see men get eaten? Warner Bros somehow got it in their head, however, that this was take-your-family-to-the-movies summer blockbuster material and dialed back the rating to a PG-13 to broaden the potential audience.
This meant cutting most of the violent scenes from the movie and obscuring the gore with alternate takes in the handful of attack scenes they did keep— Turteltaub and stars Jason Statham and Rainn Wilson all went on record to say the film in theaters is a neutered, almost unrecognizable version of the one they filmed. The fact that there is one amazing, gory stunt in the film’s final moments almost makes the bloodlessness of the rest of the movie more pronounced. It’s a splatter film recut for a milder PG-13 rating, and that post-production mutilation shows: it’s hard not to watch the movie and feel like something’s missing.
At the same time as they took out most of the bloody bits, though, they added in ample filler to space out the shark scenes. The entire first third of the movie is devoid of action or sharks, instead treating us to forty-plus minutes of characters talking about sharks in a research station. There’s nothing wrong with not showing the monster in the first act of your movie — for god’s sake, Jaws didn’t show the shark until its final scene — but starting off a big-budget action movie with so much inconsequential dialogue between flat characters is beyond tedious. Once the shark finally shows its face around the 45-minute mark the pace quickens in a big way, and I’d be lying if I said there weren’t a few fun action scenes, but with a bloated runtime of nearly two hours it just all feels more exhausting than exhilarating.
We live in a Shark Week culture that I don’t agree with on moral grounds (Sharks aren’t evil! Please stop killing them!), but if you’re going to make a movie about an unkillable super-shark the least you could do is make it fun to watch. The Meg is a disappointment not because it’s a universal failure but because it’s just a run-of-the-mill, mediocre action movie. It’s an unfortunate case of a potentially thrilling exploitation film being commercialized and watered down to appeal to the broadest demographic possible. When The Meg lost its blood, it also lost its heart; this is a movie with no discernable human touch, something that could have been churned out with an algorithm. Deep Blue Sea is on Netflix: save your money and lose your appetite with some real killer shark filmmaking.