THE MEG (2018) – Giant Shark Tale Ridiculous But Fun

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THE MEG (2018) is often ridiculous and about as scary as a Scooby-Doo cartoon, but this mega shark adventure is also something else: fun.

THE MEG opens with a deep-sea rescue mission gone wrong.  Rescuer Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is in the midst of leading a rescue team to save folks trapped in a damaged nuclear submarine, but when something seems to attack the sub, Jonas makes the executive decision to leave some of his team behind in order to rescue the few lives he has with him. It’s a decision that does not bode well with others on his team, as later no proof of a powerful sea creature which Jonas said was attacking the sub is ever found.

In terms of opening sequences, it’s not all that memorable and sounds more exciting than it actually is.

The action picks up five years later at a deep-sea station off the coast of China where a scientist named Zhang (Winston Chao) is leading an expedition to travel to the very depths of the ocean, and beyond.  See, Zhang believes that at the bottom of what is considered to be one of the deepest parts of the ocean floor, lies a gaseous barrier rather than a solid bottom, and he believes beneath that barrier is another world. And faster than you can say Jules Verne, a mini sub is launched from the station to prove just that.

The sub breaks through the barrier, but before anyone can celebrate, it’s attacked by a mysterious unseen creature. And of course, Zhang and company turn to the one man who has ever attempted a rescue that deep in the ocean, Jonas Taylor. Jonas, of course, says he’s done with all that, wants no part of it, and nothing they can say will change his mind. His resolve lasts all of two seconds before he learns that the woman commanding the sub and one of the people trapped inside is his ex-wife Lori (Jessica McNamee).

And so Jonas packs his bags and is off to the rescue, where of course he will come face to face with a massive prehistoric shark which may or may be the same creature which he encountered five years before. The film doesn’t really make that clear.

And this is only the beginning, because once the rescue is done, the mammoth shark decides he’s had enough of living so far below the ocean and comes up for a visit.

One of the main reasons THE MEG is so much fun is its story keeps evolving. It’s not just one long rescue mission tale.  Things continually change. As a result, the movie remains exciting throughout, and with some brisk pacing, there are very few slow parts here.

The screenplay by Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber, based on the novel Meg by Steve Alten, also contains lots of lively dialogue which is sure to be a crowd pleaser. It also does a really good job developing its characters, which for a movie like this, is a pleasant surprise. In fact, that was one of my favorite parts of this movie, that its characters were all so likable.

But the story is not without flaws. A lot of things aren’t explained all that well. For instance, once the giant shark makes its presence known, everyone who doubted Jonas apologizes to him. Yet, at one point in the story, Jonas says the creature outside the sub in his doomed mission was destroyed in the subsequent explosion, so, just how the appearance of this prehistoric shark acquits Jonas is unclear to me. Just because there’s a huge shark around now doesn’t mean there was one that day Jonas left those people behind to die.

For such a deep-sea expedition, it seems to take only seconds for everyone to get down to the ocean floor and then back up again. And some of the later shark scenes are flat-out ludicrous but somehow don’t deteriorate into laughable material.

And while the story scores high on the adventure meter, it scores less so when it comes to conflict.  Nearly every plan our heroes suggest works.

Director Jon Turteltaub plays things safe. THE MEG is rated PG-13, so there’s not a drop of blood to be found. Yet, somehow, the movie doesn’t suffer for it.

The shark itself is okay.  CGI sharks just don’t cut it for me.  This one works best when we see it only partially, like shots from above where we see its massive form swimming beneath the waves. Those scenes are ominous, but seen up close, it’s nothing more than a frightening cartoon.

One of the strongest parts of THE MEG is its cast. Pretty much everyone in the movie is very good, and so that goes a long way towards making this film as enjoyable as it is.

Director Jon  Turtelbaub deserves some credit here for getting so much out of his actors in this one.

We’ll start at the top with Jason Statham, who’s been one of my favorite action movie stars over the past ten years or so. As he almost always is, he’s excellent here. He’s extremely believable in the part, except of course when he dives into the water for a hand to hand combat session with the supersized shark. Perhaps he should apply to become a Marvel superhero?

Even so, Statham does a good job making the ludicrous situations he finds himself in believable. His scenes with the little girl at the station, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cal) are precious, and Shuya Sophia Cal is adorable and entertaining in the role.

Li Bingbing plays Suyin, Zhang’s daughter and Meiying’s mother.  She’s pretty much the lead scientist on the expedition, and she is definitely not a heroine in need of saving. She pretty much goes toe to toe with Statham’s Jonas Taylor, and the two of them lead the charge against the shark. She’s also very sexy.

Rainn Wilson, who played Dwight on THE OFFICE (2005-2013) plays the wealthy businessman who finances the expedition. He’s the guy you love to hate.

Cliff Curtis, who played Travis on FEAR THE WALKING DEAD (2015-17), is very good here as Jonas’ friend Mac. Likewise, Winston Chao is convincing as Zhang, as is Ruby Rose as the sexy engineer Jaxx who designed the deep-sea station.

Robert Taylor stands out as Heller, the doctor at the station who was there that fateful day when Jonas failed to rescue everyone from the nuclear sub, and for the past five years he had blamed Jonas for their deaths, claiming he had become unhinged. When the mega shark appears, Heller is quick to apologize to Jonas. Taylor, who plays Sheriff Walt Longmire on the TV show LONGMIRE (2012-2017), probably gives the best performance in the movie.

Olafur Darri Olafsson and Masi Oka are also very good as a couple of scientists, and likewise Jessica McNamee is memorable as Jonas’ ex-wife Lori.

Only Page Kennedy doesn’t  fare as well, as scientist DJ. He’s the one black character on the crew, and he’s also supposed to be the film’s comic relief, but a lot of the jokes I thought were cliché, and I think the one person of color in the movie deserved a better written role.

As shark movies go, THE MEG is one of the better ones. It’s a much stronger film than the recent 47 METERS DOWN (2017), and more fun than  THE SHALLOWS (2016).

That being said, it still pales in comparison to the Holy Grail of shark movies, JAWS (1975). It’s not intense like JAWS, and it’s certainly not realistic like JAWS. However, during the film’s third act, there are several nods to the 1975 Steven Spielberg classic.

THE MEG is a lot of fun, and as such, for a summer time popcorn movie, it comes highly recommended.

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47 METERS DOWN (2017) Doesn’t Ratchet Suspense Up

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In general, I like movies about sharks.

Obviously, there’s the classic, JAWS (1975), the best movie about a killer shark ever, but there have been a few other enjoyable shark movies as well, although admittedly not very many.  I thought last year’s THE SHALLOWS (2016) was rather fun, and even the subpar sequel JAWS 2 (1978) had its moments.

But most of the movies about killer sharks have been pretty bad.  Today’s movie 47 METERS DOWN (2017) joins that list.

Sisters Lisa (Mandy Moore) and Kate (Claire Holt) are vacationing in Mexico, enjoying the beaches and basically getting away from it all.  Specifically, they’re there because, as Lisa tells her sister, her boyfriend has broken up with her, claiming that he got bored with their relationship, and she thinks taking this trip will show him that she’s not so boring after all.  Really?  I think Lisa would be better served if she dropped her loser of a boyfriend and found someone else rather than trying to impress a guy who dumped her for being boring.

Anyway, the film wastes valuable minutes early on setting up this back story which is a waste of time since the audience knows exactly what this movie is about and isn’t sitting there at this point thinking, Gee, I wonder what’s going to happen next?  We know exactly what’s going to happen next.  The film easily could have opened with the sisters on the boat getting ready to dive into the water inside the shark cage. Instead, we have to sit through a dull opening back story before the sisters finally meet a couple of fun loving young men who convince them to take the shark cage tour under water.

The boat belongs to Captain Taylor (Matthew Modine), and although the sisters still have reservations about taking the cage underwater, the two guys go first and they come back up without incident.  I found this plot point strange.  They’re there on a date.  Wouldn’t it have made more sense for Lisa and Kate to go underwater with their respective dates rather than with each other?

Anyway, Lisa and Kate do go underwater, the sights including a large shark, are fabulous, and for a brief moment they are happy they made the trip, but then the line breaks and the cage falls to the ocean floor, which is 47 meters down and well out of range for their radios, and so they are not able to communicate with Captain  Taylor.  To do so, Kate has to leave the cage and swim up into the shark infested waters to reach Taylor by radio.

And the waters are full of sharks, and so the rest of the movie is about the sisters trying to survive long enough to be rescued.

This sounds like a very exciting movie, but strangely it is not.  The whole thing is all rather flat.

You’d think that a tale about two women trapped in a shark cage underwater surrounded by sharks would make for one relentless thriller, but that’s not what happens here.  Instead, there’s some rather uninspiring direction by Johannes Roberts. And there just isn’t much suspense here.

The film also struggles with realism.  While I’ve seen worse CGI effect, the sharks don’t look all that real.  I never believed that these women were being hunted by real sharks.

I also never felt the fear that these women should have felt.  They might have been stuck in an elevator for all I knew, rather than in a shark cage.  Their emotions were never that intense.

Part of this is the script by director Roberts and Ernest Riera.  The dialogue is hardly memorable, and the sisters get stuck saying things like “I don’t want to die!’  and “Help us!”  There’s definitely a lot of whining going on.  I wanted to see them react and fight to survive.

The two leads, Mandy Moore as Lisa and Claire Holt as Kate are adequate, but when they go underwater and they’re wearing their oxygen masks, which is for the majority of the movie, their personalities become like their faces, hidden by water and their masks.  I thought they grew increasingly dull as the film went along.

And Matthew Modine, seen last summer as the questionable scientist Dr. Martin Brenner in the hit Netflix TV show STRANGER THINGS (2016) is wasted as Captain Taylor.  We hardly see him in the movie at all.  For most of the movie we just hear his voice over the radio, saying things like “Don’t leave the cage,” “We’re coming to save you,” “Stay in the cage,” “Do you have any threes?  Go fish.”  Okay, that last quote isn’t real, but it could have been.  That’s the kind of emotion Modine displays as Captain Taylor.

I was really surprised at how dull this film was.

Maybe Lisa’s boyfriend had the right idea after all.

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THE SHALLOWS (2016) Is Nifty Little Shark Thriller

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THE SHALLOWS (2016) is a new shark vs. man— or in this case, vs. woman— tale that was done best in JAWS (1975).  No other film has even come close to duplicating the terror and suspense of that big fish tale.

THE SHALLOWS doesn’t either, and its story is really rather shallow (heh heh), but this doesn’t stop it from being a highly diverting and entertaining piece of summer movie entertainment.

THE SHALLOWS opens with Nancy (Blake Lively) a young American medical student vacationing in Mexico.  She’s on her way to a special beach in her life- it was her mother’s favorite beach, and her mother is on her mind because she recently passed away from cancer.

Nancy is supposed to be surfing with one of her friends, but her friend remained back at the hotel, dealing with a hangover.  Nancy meets two other surfers in the water, and they turn out to be nice enough guys.  As they leave, they tell Nancy not to stay out too much later, as it’s getting dark.  Nancy decides she wants to do one more surf before heading in.

On this last surf, she comes across a badly injured whale, and as she investigates, she is attacked by a very hungry shark.  It seems that Nancy has inadvertantly stumbled upon the shark’s feeding ground.  She desperately makes her way to a small rock which barely keeps her above water and out of reach of the shark.

She’s stranded, there’s no one else around, and while she’s only 200 yards from shore, there’s no way she can make it there with the shark continuing to circle in the waters.  Worse yet, she’s bleeding badly from the deep shark bites on her leg, but lucky for her, she’s a medical student, and so she uses her ingenuity and some earrings to stitch up her wound in a gripping scene that is definitely not for the squeamish.

She’s also not completely alone, as on the rock with her, is an injured seagull whose wing was dislocated during the shark attack.

As the tide is rising and will soon take away her only mode of protection from the shark- the rock, which will soon be below water- Nancy has to use all her wits and resolve to not only survive her shark wounds and avoid the shark, but also to find a way to safety.

THE SHALLOWS is a nifty little thriller, well directed by Jaume Collet-Serra, the man who also directed a slew of Liam Neeson movies, including UNKNOWN (2011), NON-STOP (2014) and RUN ALL NIGHT (2015), all of these decent action thrillers.  He also directed the horror movie ORPHAN (2009), which I liked a lot.

I enjoyed his work here in THE SHALLOWS as well.  The photography is dazzling, and the sandy beach and clear turquoise water has never looked more inviting.  There are some fine scenes of suspense, although the film never gets flat out scary.  Do not expect JAWS.

The most intense parts of this movie are the scenes where Nancy has to fight for her survival, like when she has to stitch the bleeding open wound on her leg. This is a wince-inducing scene, very powerful.

The shark scenes run hot and cold, and the scenes where we don’t see the shark work best, and that’s because when seen the shark can appear cartoonish looking and fake.

There is a really neat underwater sequence where Nancy has to swim through a horde of jellyfish to elude the shark.   Sure, it’s all CGI, but I didn’t mind it here, as it’s all very colorful and cool looking.  The sequence near the end where Nancy tries to make it to the safe confines of a buoy is also rather suspenseful.

The screenplay by Anthony Jaswinski is pretty much a mixed bag.  It takes a while to get going, and then once it picks up, it never goes beyond the simple story of Nancy vs. the shark.  And it’s all rather quick, as it clocks in at a swift 87 minutes.  It plays more like a short story than a novel.  Now, there’s nothing wrong with this, and for the most part, this film worked for me and I liked it, but as I said at the outset, it’s all rather shallow.  I would have liked this one-on-one battle and survival tale to have become even more intense to the point where the audience would have to turn away.  THE SHALLOWS never reaches this kind of intensity.

THE SHALLOWS is also pretty much a one actor movie, as Blake Lively spends most of the movie alone, just spending time with the seagull and fending off the shark.  There are other characters, but for the most part, they don’t survive very long.  As such, Lively is up for the task and pretty much carries this movie with ease.  She does a really nice job here.

I’ve seen Lively in a bunch of other movies, and my favorite performance of Lively’s was probably her work in Oliver Stone’s SAVAGES (2012).  She’s nearly as good here in THE SHALLOWS. In fact, she’s so good that other than the colorful photography and brief moments of intensity, Lively’s performance is my favorite part of the movie.

And I did like THE SHALLOWS a lot, much more than I expected to.  I had zero expectations going in, and I have to say I was pleasantly surprised.  For what it is, a nifty little thriller, it all works.

Is THE SHALLOWS the most intense and exciting movie to come out this summer? Probably not, but it is a very entertaing and picturesque way to spend 90 minutes at the movies.

Pass the sun tan lotion, please.

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