Sharks in cinema. My passion. My area of academic study.
“Meg”: A favorite book adapted into an intriguing new movie. Reviewing and screening this bad boy has been my Super Bowl.
Rolling Roadshow puts on one hell of an event and I’ll be the first to admit that my opinion of “The Meg” was quite possibly saved by how great the film-watching experience was. All shark movies should be enjoyed from an inner tube, floating in the water.
“The Meg” is an adaptation of the late ’90s novel “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” by Steve Alten. The film centers around the struggles of marine badass Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) as he and a group of ocean researchers face off against a 70-foot prehistoric Megalodon. That’s a big ole shark, to clarify.
The film is directed by Jon Turteltaub and principle cast members Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Page Kennedy, Bingbing Li, Cliff Curtis and Masi Oka alongside Statham, make for a refreshingly well-rounded ensemble.
I find in “The Meg” a unique experience. This is, perhaps, the first time that I have ever allowed my love for the original source material to cloud my enjoyment of a film. I fight hard to stay away from “the book was better” crowd, but “The Meg” was a struggle. Why? Because the novels should not have done it better and yet, somehow, they did.
I will keep my discussion of “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror” brief, as this is a film review, but it’s worth noting. Steve Alten is a card-carrying member of the Good Ole Boys of Sci-Fi Club. His heroes are ultra gruff and super masculine. His female characters are defined by lengthy and, frankly, off-putting descriptions of their bodies. While his character development leaves something to be desired, Alten can spin an exciting yarn and has a great gift for action. He is able to take a fantastical and improbable situation and ground it in a sense of reality.
Somehow, “The Meg” managed to be just as shallow in character development (albeit in different ways) and lost ground in the areas where Alten had previously excelled.
To narrow it into these brief points:
- Putting a female character in pants does not equate a Strong Female Lead
Egregiously, Jessica McNamee’s character experiences a slash in substance that renders her almost useless. Book Version: Conniving reporter that pulls the strings and is, admittedly, sexed up to cringe-worthy levels. Movie Version: Bland marine explorer that is reduced to dispensable plot device.
I see what was going on. In an effort to distance themselves from the problematic features of the 1997 version, they drained all semblance of the character into a generic package. Unfortunately, this also robbed the character of the unique position of intrigue she occupied in the novel.
- “Surprise Shark” is not the same thing as “Out of Nowhere Shark”
To keep things spoiler free: Sometimes “just because” is not a good enough answer. Where do things come from? How do they get there?
- Respect Your Source Material, It Got You Here
I must admonish myself for venturing into unabashed “the book was better” territory, but goddamn. This was a popular series. It spawned six books. You’d think that would indicate that the novels had done something right and at least some elements of that story were worth keeping. Apparently not.
If you’ve read this far, thank you for indulging my brief bookworm rant. On to the actual film review! Once you manage expectations and come to terms with the film, for what it is, “The Meg” is a fun romp that falls in step with such films as “Deep Blue Sea” and “Piranha,” for better or for worse.
I can’t say that “The Meg” gets many things right, but one area that the film absolutely nails is a truly engaging ensemble offering some fun performances. The ensemble work and mixed bag of fun side characters make for great energy and no shortage of humor. As I said previously, it’s a diverse cast and that really works well.
A huge initial draw of “The Meg,” for me, was casting Jason Statham in the leading role of Jonas Taylor. When it comes to gruff masculinity it’s hard to beat Statham. This is in perfect form to the leading man of Alten’s novel. Statham delivers on his promise of a roguish performance, plus some! A welcome change that thoroughly seduced me was the decision to play the role as more than just a stoic badass, but as a roughly rueful character. Statham perfectly straddles the line between hard and charming and it makes him a real joy to watch.
Statham’s great performance aside, “The Meg” had many problems. Chiefly among these was that it was cheesy. When it should have pulled back it pushed ahead anyway. This movie had a bad case of too many characters making a heroic sacrifice. Those moments lose impact when every action scene ends with some forgettable side character taking one for the team. Furthermore, this movie didn’t need a villain. The giant killer shark fulfilled that role just fine. Yet, we still end up with a corporate sleazeball and it was terrible.
It got to the point where I had to ask myself, “Is the film self-aware? Does it want to be a ‘bad shark movie’?” Have we reached a point where the exploitation films that followed “JAWS” are a better genre representation than “JAWS” herself? Will we ever see a shark film that takes itself seriously ever again?
Therein lies the fundamental problem of “The Meg” and why I’m extra salty about it, having read “Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.” The story in the novel is played straight. Hardened characters. High stakes. Real action and horror. “The Meg” is “Sharknado” wearing a “JAWS” mask. It chooses a light tone. It chooses silly humor. It goes with ridiculous visuals. That’s all fine and dandy, but it does force us to watch the movie as another silly entertainment in lieu of an action-adventure. It’s so pervasive that I really honestly couldn’t tell you which version the filmmakers were going for.
Would I recommend “The Meg?” Definitely as a rental and maybe as a fun summer matinee. Everybody likes a shark movie for the summer. But the book was better.
“The Meg” is in theaters now!
Featured image credit: Brian Smith/Warner Bros. Entertainment