It’s fair to say that I’ve been waiting to see Jon Turteltaub‘s blockbuster The Meg for a very long time. I love a good, shark movie – or even a bad one – and count Jaws as my favourite movie ever made. With that in mind, I was thrilled to receive an invite from Warner Bros for a press screening. In fact, I was even more excited when I realised I’d be watching the movie at a lido, outdoors and by the water. Only a 60-foot shark of our very own could have improved that particular experience.
Naturally, the British weather intervened. After a month of glorious, balmy weather, the heavens opened and suddenly the screening became rather more 4D than originally planned.
So, it was in that vein that the great and the good of the British film industry – joined by the standard cocktail of influencers and contestants from the latest series of Love Island (including, brilliantly, the show’s very own man-eating Meg) – settled in to watch The Meg. We were all clad in disposable ponchos hastily handed out by the PR folk when, with excellent comic timing, the rain started almost as soon as the studio logo appeared on screen and the film began.
The subsequent two hours was one of the strangest movie experiences I have ever had. The rather relaxed atmosphere meant that usual cinema etiquette rules were dispensed with, and along with the rat-a-tat-tat of the rain, this created a soundtrack of background noise that rendered much of the film’s dialogue inaudible. It’s possible that the backstory of Jason Statham‘s ace diver Jonas Taylor is more complicated than an encounter with the Megalodon turning him into a booze-addled hermit, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that’s more or less as far as it goes. The Stath, in particular, was rendered entirely incomprehensible by the exterior noise of the setting, with his dialogue essentially just emitted as a rumble of indecipherable bass.
He is brought in when a team of marine researchers are trapped deep beneath the ocean. They travelled beneath a strange underwater cloud in order to see whether there was actually some sort of deep sea trench beneath it. It turns out, of course, that there is plenty of sea left underneath, populated by colourful fish, a massive squid thingy and the eponymous Megalodon – a prehistoric shark believed to have been extinct for two million years. Suddenly, Jonas doesn’t look like quite such a mad drunk, and the rescue is on. However, the fearsome fish has taken matters into his own hands and may have escaped its watery prison.
The strange thing about The Meg is how much time it devotes to build-up. There’s at least half an hour of screen time before the first glimpse of the eponymous critter and even longer before the movie lets its shark off the metaphorical leash to start slamming into boats, chomping down on supporting characters and breaching the surface of the water to show off the surprisingly excellent CGI. We’re a long way from Steven Spielberg having to invent tension techniques in order to get over the failure of his temperamental animatronic bath toy.
When The Meg finally achieves its raison d’être and the fishy feeding frenzy kicks into gear, the movie is a ridiculous delight. Turteltaub knows exactly what an audience expects from a killer shark story and he takes great delight in subverting expectations so that we believe the Megalodon could be anywhere, doing anything at any time. The soggy masses assembled at my screening whooped, cheered and yelled as the action just kept getting madder, crazier and more absurd. Many, by this point, had chosen to more or less abandon the film and hide under the covered area where they were keeping the free booze.
The Meg doesn’t abide by any conventional rules of how to make a tense, structured action thriller and so it’s a raggedy, bizarre adventure that has peaks and troughs of momentum, as well as at least three endings. But it has a riotous sense of humour that’s utterly infectious, particularly when it homages Jaws with a beach scene that includes references to the ill-fated Alex Kintner and the equally ill-fated dog Pippet – named Pippin, this time around. It might be overly serious early on and try for a few too many emotional subplots, but it also features Jason Statham calling a shark an “ugly bastard”, so it’s swings and roundabouts really.
I’m a firm believer in critics only reviewing a movie if they have seen all of it, in reasonable conditions. With that in mind, I probably can’t offer an objective view of whether The Meg works as a piece of summer cinema entertainment. However, I can tell you that I had an absolute blast watching it and I’m already planning a second, considerably drier, considerably more indoors viewing. And thanks to the presence of the Love Island cast, that shark was only the second dampest Meg at the screening.
Are you excited to see The Meg? Do you have a burning desire to don a poncho of your own and watch it in the rain with a load of minor celebrities? Let me know in the comments section.