Synopsis: A research team encounters multiple threats while exploring the ocean’s depths, including a malevolent mining operation.
Stars: Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Shuya Sophia Cai, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Sienna Guillory, Melissanthi Mahut, Whoopie Van Raam, Kiran Sonia Sawar, Felix Mayr
Director: Ben Wheatley
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (7/10)
Review: For my opening of this review for Meg 2: The Trench, I’ll turn to Queen to set the stage:
I’ve paid my dues (Great White)
Time after time (The Reef: Stalked)
I’ve done my sentence (47 Meters Down)
But committed no crime (The Shallows)
And bad mistakes (Maneater)
I’ve made a few (The Black Demon)
I’ve had my share of sand kicked in my face (The Reef)
But I’ve come through (Bait 3D)
Only a sampling of the “killer shark” films I’ve sampled over the past few years, but it’s safe to say that I’ve been around the block when it comes to the (mostly) poor films made about an ornery fish chomping down on (mostly) innocent swimmers. When The Meg was released by Warner Brothers in 2018, it was a welcome relief for a few reasons. The long-in-the-works film adapted from Steve Alten’s popular pulp novel published in 1997 had moved from multiple studios but had finally surfaced as a big-budget late summer release with a creative marketing campaign. And it was a hit. And it wasn’t half bad, either.
A sequel wasn’t guaranteed immediately, but when it was greenlit in late 2018, it gave some hope that Hollywood hadn’t abandoned the water-based monster movie that audiences proved willing to turn out for. Five years later, after delays due to the pandemic and production shifts, Meg 2: The Trench is rising to fill a guilty pleasure gap at the box office during its massive Barbenheimer upswing. For some, this may be a soggy sampling of CGI run amok with special effects taking precedence over logic and story, but this critic gobbled it all up hook, line, and sinker.
Much has changed in the five years since we last saw rescue diver Jonas Taylor and the survivors of the first Megalodon attack on a research facility in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. He’s now a single stepfather to Meiying (Sophia Cai) and focused on fighting eco-terrorism that continues to pollute the world’s oceans. Jiuming Zhang (Wu Jing, Iron Man 3), Meiying’s uncle, has remained vigilant in researching the Mariana Trench his late father and sister had explored when the Megalodon broke through and caused the original chaos. Now partnered with a slinky investor (Sienna Guillory, Love, Actually, who acts like someone is feeding her lines through an earpiece), Jiuming believes he has a connection with a young Megalodon in captivity that was caught several years prior.
Working with Jonas, Jiuming assembles a new team of technicians and enlists Mac (Cliff Curtis, Doctor Sleep) and DJ (Page Kennedy), who have a prior history of exploring the deepest abyss on earth. With the original area of the trench surveyed and documented, the consensus is to return and travel further into the uncharted depths with the advanced technology at their costly disposal. However, when the captive Megalodon escapes from her pen and follows the team to the Trench for reasons unknown, it sets off a chain reaction of events that puts the team of two submersibles in eminent peril, not just from multiple Megalodons hungry for a new snack, but from other sea creatures that have come to see what’s for dinner.
Initially, I had heard that new director Ben Wheatley (Kill List) was aiming for an R rating in his sequel, and I almost wish he was given the freedom to go for it. You get the sense Wheatley is holding back his usual grim style, and that restraint becomes more evident as the film progresses, but the movie works fine with its tame PG-13. Trust me; there’s still more than enough death and mayhem to go around without viscera wafting across the screen to prove it. While the first 2/3 are occupied with what happens within the Trench, the major melee starts when we reach the surface, and the action moves from under the sea to the aptly named Fun Island. Wheatley throws everything together in one big pot and lets the fins and teeth fly. As mentioned before, there’s more than just sharks to worry about. While I always prefer a giant shark movie to be solely about a giant shark, I can’t deny that throwing in other sharp-toothed prehistoric creatures provides some distinct glee. What doesn’t offer much joy is Sergio Peris-Mencheta’s overbaked human villain, proving that as far as these Meg movies are concerned, future films should stick with CGI baddies.
It’s nice to see all the returning cast members back (wow, has Cai grown up in five years!). If I had initial reservations about Statham (Fast X) playing a character I had imagined differently for decades when reading the book, I’m coming around to his brutish take on Taylor. Though he rarely takes on roles that are huge stretches for him (and there’s always a shot of him working out or, more specifically, doing pull-ups), he never comes across like he’s phoning in his performance. Wu is an enjoyable addition to the team, and though Melissanthi Mahut (Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga) is serviceable as the lone tough-as-nails female taking action, I thought the script from Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber was missing a distinct female lead (that wasn’t a preteen).
This sequel (while silly and over the top) is more serious than its campy predecessor. Coming out right as two powerhouse players are still doing insane business at the box office and on the same weekend that another popular family franchise (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem) is arriving, I’m curious to see how Meg 2: The Trench holds up. For me, I thought it hit the mark, and then some with its decent CGI and booming sound design…and this is coming from the perspective of someone that didn’t have the movie screened in advance for them (what’s up, Warner Brothers? You need to keep us in the loop!) Those hating on the film haven’t had to do their penance in the muck of lousy shark movies. I have and can tell you this is so much more entertaining than it has any right to be. Dive in.