Frustrating Meg 2 is More Dumb than Fun
I’m all for dumb, B-grade aquatic thrillers. When the Syfy Channel used to actually broadcast such fare, I’d have no regrets tuning in to watch Sharktopus or Piranhaconda. They were schlocky fun, and most of them never took themselves too seriously. They’re not exactly “good” per se, but if you were sitting on the couch folding laundry, they were a decent enough distraction, and I miss the days when the channel would program a marathon of such goofy, reasonably well-made rubbish pretty much every other weekend.
Meg 2: The Trench is not agreeably daffy enough to be considered alongside many of those Syfy offerings. Its production values are much too high. No one appears to be in on the joke. While I appreciate how seriously everyone takes things, unlike its 2018 predecessor, there’s not much fun this time around. While there are a handful of strong moments, on the whole, this sequel is tediously laborious, and as a fan of everything from Up from the Depths to Jaws 3-D to Leviathan, that fact I walked out of the theater disappointed says it all.
We rejoin Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) a few years after the events of the previous film. He’s now working full-time for best friend Mac (Cliff Curtis) at the Zhang Institute, studying the undersea creatures — including the massive Megalodons — residing in the mysterious recesses of the Trench. Taylor also moonlights as an ecological activist, busting corporate environmental polluters any way he can.
Also back for seconds is the energetic and inquisitive Meiying (Sophia Cai). After the tragic death of her mother Suyin, she looks to Jonas for familial support, while he in turn thinks of the teenager as the daughter he never had. They are joined in this parental circle by Meiying’s outgoing uncle Jiuming (Wu Jing). His astonishing diving technology has revolutionized undersea exploration. Moreover, he’s even caught a Meg, the only one in captivity, and he’s determined to prove it can be tamed.
Based on the second book in author Steve Alten’s popular prehistoric shark vs. humanity series, Meg 2: The Trench is unsurprisingly convoluted and aggressively nonsensical, and that’s fine. But as scripted by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris, the narrative feels like a randomly disconnected series of vague ideas. Things happen because they need to, not because there’s any organic progression from one beat to the next, and that makes caring about anything that happens in this sequel difficult.
The biggest issue — literally and figuratively — is that the film’s title character ends up a forgettable afterthought. There are three Megs this time: Jiuming’s pride and joy hooks up with two older, much larger beasts and, through a series of explosive events, also frees them from the Trench. While the trio do cause the requisite high volume of havoc, they rarely take center stage. The creatures are rarely scary, and only scenes showing unfortunate swimmers being ingested whole by the Megs, as seen from inside their mouths, resonate in any meaningful way.
But the action is relatively well staged (if oddly reminiscent of Paul Greengrass’s shaky-cam aesthetic perfected in The Bourne Ultimatum), and there is fun to be had watching Statham zip around on a jet ski hurling homemade harpoons. There’s also a nice bit with a giant octopus trying to tear apart a seaside dock overflowing with terrified tropical vacationers, while Meiying and Jiuming balletically try to save as many as they can while dodging the creature’s tentacles.
Other problems include the takeover of the Mana One research facility by a team of gun-toting mercenaries. While the reasons for this are best left unspoiled in a review, they’re so randomly out of left field that these moments are more unintentionally laughable than anything else. The whys end up not mattering too terribly much, and there are times where it seems like the only reason grizzled baddie Montes (Sergio Peris-Mencheta) is hanging around is to add a human villain to the proceedings so Statham can show off his hand-to-hand prowess.
The major set piece is masterful and pathetic in almost equal measure. Taylor leads the science team back into the Trench for the umpteenth time, only for things to go horrifically wrong. Not only do they make an unexpected — and all too human — discovery that shouldn’t exist in the first place, the entire group must take sanctuary there when they’re forced into high-tech dive suits after their subs are catastrophically damaged, taking pages out of The Abyss, Deep Star Six, and Underwater. While there are undeniable instances of magic, there are just as many unintentionally laughable ones right along with them.
Indie wunderkind Ben Wheatley makes his major Hollywood studio bow with this expensive sequel, and while he adds a few idiosyncratic touches to the proceedings, I can’t see how the same guy who made Kill List, Sightseers, or Free Fire was also the one calling the shots here. Too much of the film feels like it was shaped in a corporate boardroom. The pieces rarely fit together, and the bad stuff sits out like a sore thumb, which I found frustrating to the nth degree.
If Meg 2: The Trench is a sizable enough a hit to lead to another adaption of one of Allen’s books, I’ll be first in line to see what’s next for Taylor and the surviving members of the Mana One team. But this does not mean this sequel did anything for me or that I found all that much worth sinking my teeth into; it just means I eternally remain a sucker for underwater monster movies involving man-eating sharks.
– Review reprinted courtesy of the SGN in Seattle
Film Rating: 1½ (out of 4)