Meg 2: The Trench review: Toss this bucket of chum
“It makes the original look like, well, Jaws by comparison.”
Sharks are, generally speaking, cool
Jason Statham is, generally speaking, fun
The last half hour delivers some goofy mayhem
The effects are atrocious
The writing is worse
It’s ungodly boring
By now, there’s little novelty left in a movie adopting the ascending POV of a shark on the prowl, letting the audience see the nubile prey from the eyes — black and lifeless, like a doll’s eyes — of the predator. But how about letting us see that hunt from the mouth of the beast as it pulls a whole gaggle of thrashing, panicking swimmers inside, rows of teeth closing from the top and the bottom of the frame? That gag shot, doing Jaws from the perspective of the jaws, counts as the one and only inspired moment in Meg 2: The Trenchan otherwise rather impressively abysmal addition to the shallow school of fin flicks swimming into theaters every summer, often in August.
The first Meg wasn’t exactly at the top of the creative food chain. A surprise hit from the dog days of 2018, it took a seemingly foolproof recipe for fun — Jason Statham fights a 90-foot prehistoric shark — and drowned it in an ocean of soggy melodrama, mediocre creature effects, and thrills of a strictly PG-13 variety. Still, however low that blockbuster set the bar and expectations for such B movies on an A budget, Meg 2 sinks lower. It makes the original look like, well, Jaws by comparison. It boasts the worst effects $130 million can buy, the kind usually reserved for TV movies whose portmanteau titles promise sharks and dangerous cyclones of wind. And it’s wildly boring for something so damn silly.
Statham returns as heroic diver Jonas Taylor, this time leading an ill-fated expedition to the deepest depths of the ocean, past a layer of protective subzero water and into the territory of the Megalodon, star of grade-Z SyFy originals and grade-school doodles alike. Jonas was a paleontologist in the source material, a series of dumbed-down Michael Crichton imitations that leaped off the shelves of airport bookstores. When it comes to sheer improbability, ancient sharks the size of submarines are one thing. But Jason Statham as a scientist? Disbelief can only be suspended so far.
Meg 2 vastly overestimates our interest in the human-shaped bait not played by Jason Statham. The supporting cast is big enough to staff a fully functioning SeaWorld; it includes, among many others, a cute kid, a cocky Chinese scientist, and a comic-relief sidekick (rapper Page Kennedy) around to deliver pre-digested catchphrases like “Damn!” and “I hear that!” Some of these folks previously appeared in the first Megthough only Wikipedia could say for certain which. When one character unexpectedly switches sides, revealing allegiance to the film’s nefarious miner villains, it barely lands as a twist, because they’ve exhibited not a single drop of personality.
For unforgivably long stretches, no one gets eaten. After they do, their friends still crack smiles and beers on the beach at the end; maybe they’re just happy it’s over, too. Most of the movie takes place underwater, and the digital imagery is so cruddy and murky that it’s often impossible to make out what the hell is going on. Is Meg 2 a PSYOP for James Cameron? Playing the film next to a TV running the new Avatar would function like one of those old commercials comparing the crystal clear image of Blu-ray to the muddy resolution of DVD.
Amazingly, this gimcrack cutscene crap has been directed by Ben Wheatley, a British genre dabbler whose output has been far from consistent (his CV includes the sleek J. G. Ballard adaptation High-Risethe stoner freakout A Field in Englandand the Tarantino-ish bullet farce Free Fire) but never this anonymously dire and sloppy. The action scenes have all the visual logic of a feeding frenzy; often, there’s little credible relationship between an image of mayhem and the one that follows. Wheatley, either phoning it way in or swimming outside his depths, doesn’t even properly time his shameless ripoff of the big jump scare from Deep Blue Seaa much more entertaining blast of eating-machine escapism. It’s never a good sign when a filmmaker leaves you pining for the clarity and sturdy craftsmanship of Jon Turteltaub.
It’s only in its last half hour that Meg 2: The Trench decides to finally act like a monster movie. No coincidence, it’s the closest it comes to any semblance of pulp pleasure, mostly just by ripping off the final act of the first Megonly this time with a few more deadly, ancient attractions from the drink. Here at last, Statham cruises around on a jet-ski, tossing harpoons at the big boys; call it too little, too late, but at least the promise of the logline is faintly fulfilled. This is also when we get that great shot from inside the shark’s massive maw, though it can’t help but look, by this point, like the POV of the audience, kicking and screaming to be released from this bloated monstrosity.
Meg 2: The Trench opens in theaters everywhere Friday, August 4. For more of A.A. Dowd’s writing, please visit his Authory page.