I don’t know much about diving. But I do know that when things go wrong on a dive they tend to go terribly wrong, terribly fast. The best dives, I would assume, are the most boring, where everything runs according to plan. Boring is good for diving, not so great for disaster movies. Disaster movies rely on perilous situations that are typically the result of man’s hubristic meddling with the natural world, the more ridiculous the better, or else why are we even here?
The Meg delivers everything according to plan - the peril, the hubris, and a literal boat load of ridiculous.
Let’s be as clear as the faux, Hollywood movie ocean you filmed in; The Meg is not good the way a Spielberg or James Cameron underwater epic is good. It doesn’t seem particularly interested in being that type of good. Anyone picking apart the questionable science, hammy romantic subplot, or the myriad disaster movie tropes in an attempt to find a film to rival Jaws, or The Abyss, has missed the point. It is precisely because of, not in spite of, these tired clichés that The Meg does exactly what it is supposed to do – entertain.
The Meg lives tonally between the self-seriousness of classic disaster films and the winking spoofs that parody them so brilliantly. Disaster films of the 70s blew their budgets on A-list stars like Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, and Faye Dunaway hoping they would distract audiences from the limited and unintentionally cheesy effects. The Meg does the opposite. It is visually thrilling, with every penny of the CGI, effects, and stunt budgets put to great use convincing us that yes, a 70 foot long pre-historic shark has been unleashed from the deepest darkest depths of the sea, and it is not happy about this turn of events at all. When you have jump-out-of-your-seat set pieces involving the megalodon (the titular Meg) attacking a sea vessel, or terrorizing a packed South China beach, you don’t need Steve McQueen. Jason Statham, Dwight from The Office, and That Other Guy You Recognize From That Other Show will do just fine, thank you very much.
This is not to say that The Meg isn’t trying. On the contrary, it seems perfectly content being a post-ironic, broadly popular, purposely and unapologetically big dumb movie. The science is laughable, but the execution is as serious as a shark attack. The rendering of the underwater world is fascinating to explore with the under-sea pods. And the stunts - including all of the diving elements you helped bring to life – are as super-sized and eye-poppingly effective as the Meg itself, a gargantuan beast that quite wisely, isn’t overused.
Statham, as the reluctant hero brought in to rescue a trapped marine lab crew who have unwittingly awoken the Meg, seems keenly aware of what is required of him. He knows his career has been built one interchangeable, boilerplate, B-grade actioner at a time, and he seems uninterested in aspiring to anything more than that. Unlike, say, an actor like Dwayne “The Loveable and Charming Action Star” Johnson, who takes his brand far too seriously to ever be taken actually seriously, Statham is in on the joke. The Rock only plays at being funny with his ever-present brow arch - Statham is arch. And perfect as the grumpy but vulnerable beefcake hero.
In your line of work, there are probably two types of divers you encounter – the kind that are dedicated and deliberate, who spend years learning and training, and who take each dive like it might be their last. Then there are the people who take courses at their local community swimming pool so they can explore pretty shipwrecks on their yearly all-inclusive in the Bahamas. Neither is more or less competent than the other, but the intentions are vastly different.
The Meg knows exactly what it is, and more importantly, what it isn’t. It is a standard August dump movie, the kind that comes after all the highly anticipated blockbusters have come out and before awards season kicks into gear. It’s a film specifically designed to appeal to late-summer theatre-goers who don’t want to think too hard, or have to immerse themselves in cinematic-universe backstories, or venture to the local independent cinema to see that documentary everyone’s talking about. The Meg is decidedly shallow – the opposite of a cinematic deep-dive, but sometimes dipping your toes in the kiddie pool is just the kind of safe refreshment you need.