Meg 2: The Trench
Jason Statham battles multiple megalodons in this creature-feature franchise's second splash, which even 'High-Rise' and 'Free Fire' filmmaker Ben Wheatley can't keep afloat.
August 03, 2023
Jaws, but bigger. Jurassic Park but sharks. Like a prehistoric underwater predator scooping up a heap of beachgoers in one hefty mouthful, describing what The Meg and its sequel Meg 2: The Trench are each aiming to be is easy. Ridiculous big-screen fun that sets Jason Statham (Fast X) against multiple megalodons, his scowl as shiny as their razor-sharp teeth: they're the type of waters that this creature-feature franchise also wants to paddle in. Since debuting in cinemas in 2018, all things The Meg have always had a seriousness problem, however. They're at their best when they're also at their silliest, but they're rarely as entertainingly ludicrous as they're desperate to be. This five-years-later follow-up might task Statham with shooting harpoons while riding a jet ski at a tourist-trap holiday destination called Fun Island — and also busting out the line "see ya later, chum", which lands with such a sense of self-satisfaction that it feels like the entire reason that the movie even exists — but such gleeful preposterousness is about as common as a herbivore with a meg's massive chompers.
Again based on one of author Steve Alten's books — he's penned seven so far, so more flicks are likely — Meg 2: The Trench doesn't just want to ape the Jurassic series. It does exactly that overtly and unsubtly from the outset, but this film is also happy to brazenly treat multiple movies from a few decades back as fuel for its choppy antics. When the feature starts, it's 65 million years ago, dinosaurs demonstrate the cretaceous period's food chain, then a megalodon shows who's boss from the water. Obviously, life will find a way to bring some of this sequence's non-meg critters into the present day. Next comes a dive in The Abyss' slipstream, before embracing being a Jaws clone again — even shouting out to Jaws 2 in dialogue — but with a Piranha vibe. Before it's all over, Meg 2: The Trench also flails in Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus' direction, just with a visibly larger budget.
Leading the charge on-screen is Statham's Jonas Taylor, who also scores an early eco-warrior Bond stint. When his character is reintroduced, he's on a container ship in the Philippine Sea taking down pirates that are dumping radioactive waste. His next stop is the Oceanic Institute run out of Hainan in China, where the world's only megalodon in captivity lives — and where Jonas' friend Jiuming (Wu Jing, The Wandering Earth), uncle to teenager Meiying (Sophia Cai, Mr Corman), claims that he has the creature called Haiqi trained. Viewers of the first film might remember that oceanography runs in Meiying's blood, but her mother has been killed off between movies because Li Bingbing (Transformers: Age of Extinction) didn't return for the second production. Hence Jiuming's arrival, and also Taylor playing father figure to a kid he forbids from accompanying him on his latest deep-dive research trip. Meiying stows away, naturally.
Off-screen, British filmmaker Ben Wheatley makes the leap to the Hollywood action fold with Meg 2: The Trench, a move that isn't as wild as it initially might seem — just like everything in his big-budget B-movie. Wheatley knows black comedy, with his 2012 film Sightseers an absolute masterclass in it. With High-Rise and Free Fire, he knew how to bring a spectacle, too. Alas, the director that also crafted Down Terrace, Kill List, A Field in England and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead, flitting between the dark and the trippy along the way, plus thrillers and dramedies, is saddled with a script that couldn't be more routine. Explaining his approach to problem-solving, including while submersed 25,000 feet below sea level in the Pacific, Jonas tells Meiying that "we do what's in front of us, then we do the next thing". Was that returning screenwriters Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris' own mantra as well?
Whatever is in front of Jonas, and audiences, usually involves a meg. When he descends into the titular ditch with Jiuming, Meiying and their team — among them is The Meg alumnus Page Kennedy (The Upshaws) as DJ, the forceful comic relief who has definitely seen Jaws' sequel — of course oversized sharks that died out millions of years ago IRL are lurking. When Jonas finds a rogue mining outfit pilfering the deep, of course stopping its ruthless leader Montes (Sergio Persis-Mencheta, Snowfall) becomes all the more complicated with megalodons as a constant threat, too. Wheatley wrings what tension he can out of a bottom-of-the-ocean walk in Iron Man-meets-RoboCop suits as hungry creatures linger, and also out of his riff on The Thing, Alien and every horror film set in an isolated space when Meg 2: The Trench's heroes get to the miners' base. What he can't do is make the movie's various contrived parts resemble a coherent whole, skew engagingly campy or feel like anything more than a knockoff of so many other flicks in The Meg's clothing.
Another feat that Wheatley's turn at the franchise's helm fails to bite into: convincing special effects. While viewers don't go to a film that has basically swapped "you're gonna need a bigger boat" for "we're gonna fight a bigger shark" for the realism, Meg 2: The Trench's CGI is distractingly subpar. Anything busting out dinos not just post-Jurassic Park, but after Prehistoric Planet and its second season, is always going to struggle if their critters can't wow. Although the megs hardly fare any better, frequently focusing on a big fin sticking out of the water still remains as helpful a tactic as it did when Steven Spielberg defined the shark genre. Getting audiences terrified, perturbed or even just a little on-edge, though? Even when the obligatory jump-scares pop up, no one is leaving this flick afraid to go into the water.
Whether he's starring in several Guy Ritchie films, turning The Transporter into a franchise, making a couple of Crank and The Mechanic movies, or showing up in six Fast and Furious-related entries so far, Statham does love repeating himself. Meg 2: The Trench doesn't ask him to do anything more than he did the last time that he faced sea-dwelling fears — but even he's just going through the motions. The rest of the cast, returning and new alike, are as disposable as anyone enjoying a dip to a meg. As trusty offsider Mac, Cliff Curtis (Avatar: The Way of Water) leaves the biggest impression among an ensemble that also spans Skyler Samuels (Aurora Teagarden Mysteries), Melissanthi Mahut (The Sandman), Sienna Guillory (Silo) and Whoopie Van Raam (Counterpart). Not that anyone is required to try, but no one can stop Meg 2: The Trench's most apt line from proving oh-so-true: "this is some dumb shit".
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