When their billionaire owner commands the multi-national crew of a reserach rig to breach the crust at the bottom of the Mariana Trench, they unleash a monster from the depths…and only one man can stop it.
Back in the early part of the century, a film magazine bestowed the mediocre 2003 remake of The Italian Job with a mere three out of ten, with the reason being that the sole redeeming feature was a former Commonwealth Games diver who had lit up Guy Ritchie’s early mockney efforts from a few years previously.
And thus was born The Irrefutable Law Of Stath, a rule of cinematic lore that states that the mere presence of Dulwich’s finest increases the watchability – and occasionally quality – of a film by at least thirty percent.
The Meg needs that thirty per cent.
Beginning with a rescue on a nuclear submarine that ends in the requisite character-setting tragedy for The Stath (whose character has a name, but c’mon), the film isn’t here to be subversive. It chews through the tropes like the titular monster later does a Chinese beach resort, with Li Bing Bing playing a genius scientist who is also sexually frustrated, Rainn Wilson a deluded dotcom billionaire who has wandered in from a discarded nineties Mike Judge script (at least, that’s how he plays it) who cares more about the bottom line than the people under his command, and Ruby Rose as Ruby Rose. It is also the kind of film that is so pre-occupied with setting up the dominoes that will fall come the next oceanic attack that it ironically forgets to add in any depth to these people. The most egregious example is a romantic subplot willed into existence by everyone around them telling them to get it on, rather than by anything resembling natural chemistry.
Then again, there’s only one man that matters here.
Notably for his first truly blockbuster leading role, The Stath doesn’t seem inclined to step out of the Ronseal action man formula that his oeuvre and constantly furrowed brow suggest. It could be lazy, it could be limitations in method, but ultimately that isn’t a bad thing, as his appeal has always lain both in the wink-wink way he makes this shit look easy, and also in the similarly knowing way he constantly seems like he can’t believe his luck that people pay him to do it. Although the reliance on CGI and the waterbound action means he can’t go full Chelios a la Crank (the most committed lead performance in Western action cinema – fight me), the film gets great mileage out of its lead’s former Team GB diving skills, with every confrontation with the eponymous monstrosity meaning at least one ostentatious leap into the ocean. And that monstrosity is well realised, even if by the end the carnage has been so preposterously escalated that you half expect it to give a knowing glance at the camera as it chews through a zorb.
That general lack of horror lets the film down, but at least director Jon Turteltaub has some fun with the degrading visibilty from the ocean surface through its depths, with some great first person POV shots leading into jump scares that add a welcome sheen of nastiness to proceedings whose gore has obviously been trimmed in places to earn a lower certificate. Less successful are the attempts at humour, with one mid-plot twist signposted by the reliance on overacted laughing to mechanically bring the tension down, and another moment where a character calls another out as racist just before the audience does. These moments feel like tickboxes in a beatsheet rather than any sort of character development.
Ultimately, then, the film fulfils its remit of being about The Transporter fighting a giant shark. It’s just a shame that, as entertaining as it can be, it never rises to become the gonzo gorefest that description promises.
The Meg features The Stath ‘aving it large with a seventy-five-foot shark. ’nuff said. It came out on general release on 10th August 2018.
The Irrefutable Law Of Stath rating: 80%