"We're gonna need a bigger shark." That's been the thinking in Tinseltown for some time. Ever since Jaws ushered in the era of the summer blockbuster in 1975, a whole subgenre has emerged — the hot-weather nod to Steven Spielberg's classic. And, ever since filmmakers started paying homage to the saga of that animatronic great white (it literally was a "killing machine"), one thing has remained constant: The creatures keep getting supersized.
Jaws became a classic by combining our primal fear of sharks with colorful, well-written characters. Filmmakers have since discovered that characters that colorful aren't easy to write. Coming up with ever scarier, crazier sharks, by contrast, is a piece of digital cake.
We've stayed out of the water after watching Super Shark, Dinoshark, Sharktopus, Ghost Shark, 2-Headed Shark Attack, 3-Headed Shark Attack, Attack of the Jurassic Shark (double homage!) and, of course, Sharknado and its sequels. With The Meg, Hollywood has created a monster that has something none of its forebears could claim: a basis in fact.
Jason Statham dives into what will likely prove the first in a hot-weather franchise as deep-sea rescue expert Jonas Taylor. It's a role for which the action star is uniquely suited. Not just because the movie is driven by action and effects, but also because he was on Britain's national swimming squad. Long before Snatch director Guy Ritchie got him mixed up in unlicensed boxing, Statham competed in the Commonwealth Games as a diver.
Taylor's services are required when an undersea research facility off the coast of Shanghai comes under attack by a prehistoric predator thought to be extinct. The movie boasts a jumbo international cast, but its star is Carcharocles megalodon, a jumbo shark that actually did rule the oceans millions of years ago. Based on the Steve Alten best seller and directed by Jon Turteltaub (the National Treasure series), the picture tweaks the tried, true "man plays God and all hell breaks loose" formula.
The man in this case is billionaire Jack Morris. He's played by Rainn Wilson, an actor for whom weaselly isn't a leap. I forget how, exactly, but Morris has figured out a way to monetize the discovery of the world's deepest trench, which is why he has financed the futuristic lab. The enterprise ends up in the red (get it?) when megalodons roused by the intrusion start snacking on anyone in their path.
The filmmakers set a record for Jaws references. Turteltaub throws in everything from underwater shots of swimmers to attempts to kill the shark with dynamite to a mother on a beach scanning the waves for her boy. There's even a dip-taking dog named Pippin, which I bet the film's writers thought was the name of Spielberg's dip-taking dog (close: Pippet). I kept expecting John Williams' iconic "dun dun dun dun" theme — or, at least, that swinging Bobby Darin tune from the trailer. Instead, I found myself wondering repeatedly what "Hey Mickey" has to do with giant fish.
The bottom line: The Meg is never less than big, dumb fun. The shark is both loopily spectacular and scientifically accurate — kinda — while Statham handles a series of hair-raising set pieces with the blend of bravado and snark that's made him one of the planet's most bankable stars. (He's even the subject of a university study.)
Summertime. The livin' is easy. Fish are ginormous, and the whole crew had to be high. What else is there to say? Except this: Imagine how much ginormouser next August's shark is sure to be.