Meg 2: The Trench review: Statham vs more sharks

Jason Statham in Meg 2: The Trench.
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Despite an incredible third act, much of Ben Wheatley’s Meg 2: The Trench seems to forget what actually makes a good Meg film. 

Taking over directing duties from Jon Turtletaub, Ben Wheatley helms an uneven sequel to The Meg. On paper, this follow-up looks like it has everything it needs. Jason Statham returns as grumpy rescue diver Jonas Taylor, now chasing down people who abuse the oceans to give them a good flying kick. It also has more megalodons – the giant prehistoric sharks that Jonas and the scientists at an underwater research institute have gone up against before.

Before we revisit Jonas – now also serving as an adopted dad figure to 14-year-old Meiying (Sophia Cai) – The Trench presents a strange prelude. Our introduction to the film takes us back to prehistoric times to see a meg chomp effortlessly through a T-Rex. It quickly becomes clear as to why Meg 2 attempts to capture our attention in that way. It’s the last time you see a shark on the rampage for quite some time, as a film ostensibly about megs goes off on a relatively meg-less tangent.

Once we catch up with Jonas and meet new characters, most importantly Meiying’s businessman uncle Jiuming (Wu Jing), we begin to get into familiar territory. After the death of his father in the previous movie, Jiuming has merged his company with his own, continuing the research into the trench far beneath the sea. As is usual for these kinds of films, the characters seem to unthinkingly pursue avenues of research that have proven dangerous. This is doubly so with Jiuming, who’s recreated a kind of Jurassic Park situation by keeping a megalodon captive in the institute and attempting to tame it.  It’s going about as well as you might expect.

You would think that once Jonas and co once again take a dive into the trench – and become stuck there – that the real action would begin. Unfortunately, that assumption proves incorrect. There’s more exploration of the trench than in the previous film, and some of it is quite nice looking, but you can’t help but be reminded of how streamlined The Meg was in getting the characters, and sharks, out of the trench and into the real, exciting action. By comparison, Meg 2 feels like it’s suspended in what’s supposed to be merely preamble for longer than it really should be.

Meg 2: The Trench

You come to realise in this section that the movie owes a lot to Jaws in that for a significant chunk the antagonist is capitalism, not sharks. That’s all well and good for a Jaws film, but the winning formula for The Meg was simple – Statham versus megalodon. The action star just about keeps things afloat with his gruff likeability, and Sophia Cai and Wu Jing are also very good. However it seems to have been forgotten that people aren’t watching a Meg movie to learn about the internal business politics of the research institute, or for a half-baked environmentalist message.

Even when things do get a bit exciting, the stakes don’t feel that high. The new supporting characters are underdeveloped and feel expendable. There’s no sense of dread about who might be next to die. The action is mainly against other humans, and there are some memorable occasions where the film presents some very inventive (AKA just the right amount of gruesome) possible conclusions to fights, only to cop out and have it end much less interestingly – probably because of that 12A certificate.

When the third act finally does come around, it’s an absolute joy. It’s as though the screenwriters – Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber – suddenly remembered they were writing a Meg film, and brought everything you could possibly want to the table. At this point we get to see a lot more of Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy, who reprise their roles from the last movie and seem to be having a lot of fun in this, even if some of their jokes don’t quite land.

As multiple megs converge on an island of tourists (someone from this production should send Spielberg a ‘thank you’ note), we get explosions, harpoons, jet skis and helicopters. Those inventive deaths that the film shies away from early on are apparently acceptable when it comes to CGI fish, and the dog Pippin even appears again. He and his owner must be really unlucky to have this happen to them twice.

It does spend some time tying up the human stories it sets up early on, but ultimately the ending gives you what you really want – Jason Statham fighting sharks, and occasionally making bad puns. If The Meg 2 had spent its two hours delivering that, it would have been a great success.

Meg 2: The Trench is in cinemas now.

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