04th Aug2023

‘Meg 2: The Trench’ Review

by Matthew Turner

Stars: Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Sophia Cai, Page Kennedy, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels, Cliff Curtis, Sienna Guillory, Melissanthi Mahut | Written by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Dean Georgaris | Directed Ben Wheatley

There was a significant degree of excitement in horror circles when it was announced that British director Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, Kill List) was going to be directing the sequel to 2018’s Jason Statham vs Giant Shark blockbuster The Meg. The hope was that Wheatley’s horror sensibilities and eye for jet-black humour would add a bit of bite to what was otherwise a passably entertaining, but ultimately uninspired Jaws retread. Unfortunately, those hopes have not come to pass, as there’s very little trace of the acclaimed British director’s signature touch in this largely derivative sequel.

The plot, such as it is, essentially boils down to “Jason Statham vs More Giant Sharks”, though this time round, his character Jonas Taylor has had a slight career change and is now not just a deep sea rescue expert, but also an ocean-based environmental activist. He’s also working alongside Chinese billionaire genius Jiuming (Wu Jing), the uncle of Meiying (Sophia Cai), the scene-stealing young girl from the previous film, who’s now Jonas’ 14-year-old quasi-step-daughter. (Her mother, The Meg‘s female lead Li Bingbing, evidently didn’t want to return and has been quietly killed off, between movies).

When Jonas and his team embark on an underwater exploration of the Mariana Trench, some 25,000 feet below the surface, they encounter both an illegal deep-sea mining operation and a veritable menagerie of undersea monsters, including a giant octopus and multiple megalodons, or “megs”, as Statham calls them. A few explosions later, and Jonas and company find themselves back on the surface, heading for a beach called Fun Island, pursued by gun-toting thugs, the afore-mentioned giant octopus and some evidently very hungry megs. Somebody should probably warn the party-goers on the beach, no?

The first half of Meg 2 is unforgivably dull, let down by a dreadful script and some pacing issues, not least during a lengthy underwater section in which it’s difficult to tell what’s going on, and nothing remotely tense or exciting happens. Part of the problem with the script is that it’s blatantly derivative, without actually attempting to add anything new, so a recreation of a key scene from Deep Blue Sea, for example, completely lacks both the comedic and dramatic impact that that moment had in the original movie.

Sadly, the script’s problems don’t end there. There’s a twist in the plot that the audience barely notices, let alone cares about, because the screenplay hasn’t done enough work in terms of fleshing out the characters and their relationships to each other. Making the villains that much more villainous would have at least added a higher degree of audience enjoyment when said baddies inevitably get chomped, but those moments don’t really land here either.

On top of that, the film somehow fails to instil the sort of terror that should result from the basic tripling of the number of giant sharks from the first movie. There are also a number of opportunities missed along the way – for example, Jiuming is apparently able to communicate with a meg he has had in captivity for a while, but that never factors into the plot in a significant way, and is ultimately reduced to a bit of a joke.

With so many creatures to bring to life (there are some snappy dino-lizards as well, for some reason), the effects team have their work cut out for them, and it’s fair to say that the CGI is somewhat disappointing as a result. The digital dino-lizards are poorly designed and never evoke anything resembling a sense of threat, while the megs themselves are so massive that they just feel like slabs of man-eating granite. We never even get a decent look at the giant octopus, despite a bit of decent tentacle action above the water.

As with the previous film, the 12A rating means that the gore factor is extremely light, which is doubly disappointing, given Ben Wheatley’s involvement. There are a few satisfyingly chewy moments – including a prologue featuring a prehistoric encounter with a T-Rex that was in the trailer – but the sheer size of the megs means that humans tend to get swallowed whole rather than chomped in two when eaten, which takes half the fun out of it.

Former Olympic swimmer Statham (who once again gets to show off some pretty sweet dives) is on his usual solid form as Jonas, delivering the goods in various punch-up scenes and pulling exactly the right facial expressions for a man hunting three giant sharks on a jet-ski, armed with explosive harpoons. However, the supporting cast – some of whom were also in the previous movie – barely register, as they’re so underwritten.

The honourable exception is Page Kennedy as DJ, who makes the most of all his one-liners (most of them variations on “Oh, hell, no”) and gets a good running joke about an anti-shark kit bag that includes poison-tipped bullets, “Just like in Jaws 2”. Similarly, because this is a Chinese co-production, like the first film, Chinese mega-star Wu Jing gets his fair share of action scenes, but his martial arts skills are curiously underused.

In fairness, Meg 2 improves considerably once the shark-based action finally hits the beach (even the scene-stealing little Yorkshire terrier from the first movie makes a welcome return), but there’s nothing here that the original movie didn’t do better and it lacks a memorable set-piece. Worse, the film fails to learn one of the key lessons from the first film, which is that despite the presence of a large supporting cast, hardly any of them get eaten.

In short, this isn’t nearly as much fun as it should have been, but Statham’s presence ensures that it remains watchable, even if it never quite delivers the shark-based thrills or craziness you’re hoping for. Eat more people next time, sharks!

**½  2.5/5

Meg 2: The Trench is in cinemas now.


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