The Shark in Jason Statham's 'The Meg' Is Super Huge and Sneaky As Hell
Hollywood will always have a special place in its heart for menacing sharks. Ever since Steven Spielberg's Jaws made waves in 1975, effectively establishing the template for the modern blockbuster era, studios have used the summer months to thrill audiences with riveting tales of foolish humans and the scary beasts who love to eat them. The last two summers brought us The Shallows with Blake Lively and 47 Meters Down with Mandy Moore, two modestly budgeted hits with modestly sized sharks, but this week's Jason Statham vehicle The Meg ups the ante in a big way. In addition to a rumored $150 million budget and a large international cast, it stars the biggest shark you've probably ever seen in a movie theater.
But how big is the shark exactly? Also, how did it get so sneaky?
These are questions that director Jon Turteltaub (National Treasure) swims towards but eventually dodges throughout The Meg's 113 minute runtime. Clearly a student of Spielberg's killer fish classic, he does his best to delay the onscreen debut of his finned thespian, building (some) suspense in the first half hour by obscuring the creature's full scale. But in the age of Sharknado, you can't afford to keep your huge CGI monster in the shadows for too long.
During The Meg's lengthy journey from the bookshelf to the big screen, there's been one constant: The shark is always enormous. Writer Steve Alten 1997 science-fiction novel Meg introduced readers to a the concept of a "megalodon," a very real (but very extinct) species of sea-dwelling animal that resembles a great white shark on steroids. That fierce predator has gone on to haunt the pages of sequels with very cool-sounding titles like Meg: Hell's Aquarium and Meg: Nightstalkers. Resilience comes easy to them.
In the film, the prehistoric chomper is first discovered by rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Statham) during a dangerous underwater mission that ends with a handful of scientists dying. Five years pass, giving Jonas plenty of time to drink away his sorrows in Thailand, and, unsurprisingly, another team of scientists, which include Jonas's ex-wife, get trapped underwater. Who gets the call to solve the problem? Jonas, our intrepid shark-hater. He springs to action with the combination of grumpiness and charm we've come to expect from the artist formerly known as the Transporter.
After some more underwater rescue shenanigans, which involve a terrifying giant squid, we finally get a big exposition dump scene where the megalodon is described as a "70 to 90" foot creature that "could bite the world in half." (For some context, the shark from Jaws was 25 feet long and most great whites in real life top out at 15-16 feet.) We get charts, graphs, and flashes of text on screen. It's established that the megalodon was thought to be extinct for 2 million years, but it's actually been chilling at the bottom of the ocean, waiting for some human snacks to arrive in a little tasty metal pod. As Jonas says at one point, "Man vs Meg isn't a fight -- it's a slaughter."
If you've seen the trailers or the posters for The Meg, you might have been distracted by the size of the shark, which is hard to get a clean look at. You see the fin sticking out of the water, but you can't quite grasp its scale. In certain shots, the shark looks about the size of a football field while in others it looks a bit like Bruce from Finding Nemo, right? Is this an incredible shrinking shark?
Partially, the discrepancy can be explained by a twist that occurs about halfway through the movie. (Warning: Very mild spoilers for The Meg follow.) The ragtag crew of shark-hunters, which includes an obnoxious sneaker-wearing billionaire (Rainn Wilson) and an oceanographer (Bingbing Li), manage to kill a big shark a little over halfway through the movie, and, if you're new to these types of stories, you might think our heroes will spend the rest of the film relaxing and trading one-liners on the beach. Unfortunately, that dead shark ends up being a different, smaller shark. The even bigger Meg soon emerges -- and it's not happy. So, in some parts of the film, you technically are seeing a smaller shark. A mini-Meg.
What that doesn't explain is how both sharks manage to be so sly. I'm willing to buy that sharks can move through the water with lightning agility and stealth dexterity, but the script continuously asks you to believe that a state-of-the-art research facility wouldn't be able to detect a 90 foot shark approaching and eventually biting its glass exterior. Even when the team manages to "tag" the creature with a tracker, they can't help but get spooked by it in subsequent scenes. It's like the Meg can render itself invisible.
Turteltaub stretches your credulity even further in the film's beachfront finale, which builds to the inevitable Statham vs. Meg showdown. By that point, the filmmakers clearly hope that you'll be laughing too hard to to care about the shark's spy-like maneuvers. But part of the problem with the film, which is both too overstuffed and too bland to make much of a lasting impression, is that it's not fun enough to silence all the goofy questions that will pop up in your head as you watch it. The only escape is to over-think it.