Who doesn’t love summer shark content? Discovery’s “Shark Week” recently enjoyed some of its highest ratings ever, a Broadway play about the making of Jaws is about to make a splash stateside, and now Meg 2: The Trench is hitting theaters. The Meg, short for megalodon, a gigantic prehistoric shark, first struck computer-generated fear into the hearts of audience members back in 2018, and the aquatic beasts have returned five years later for a scattered sequel.
MEG 2: THE TRENCH ★★ (2/4 stars)
Meg 2: The Trench stars Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor, a skilled rescue diver involved with a prolific team of underwater explorers and scientists, including ship operator Mac (Cliff Curtis) and businessman-slash-adventurer Jiuming (Wu Jing). Also along for the ride is Meiying (Sophia Cai), the young girl whose mother and grandfather first enlisted Jonas’ help in The Meg. This time around, though, the bigger threats come from the land rather than the ocean floor, as a shady squad of villains seeks to exploit the many underwater resources that Jonas and co. simply want to research.
This put-upon conflict is at the heart of Meg 2’s troubles. With cartoonish bad guys decrying environmental action and reveling in their profitable destruction of the planet Meg 2 sometimes comes off as a pale imitation of last year’s Avatar: The Way of Water. At one point, a villain complains, “Before you start whining about the ecosystem, who cares!” Such on-the-nose and hopelessly tedious dialogue is perhaps the movie’s signature. “Ugh, I hate these things” one character exclaims after a Meg indirectly causes the death of a team member. Later an unsurprising betrayal is protested with the oh-so-eloquent and emotionally impactful line, “These are your friends, you’ve known them for years.” If this turned out to be the first script written by AI, it would not be a surprise.
That said, director Ben Wheatley (High-Rise, Free Fire) is able to milk some of the more ridiculous moments. The villains are over-the-top and nonsensical, and the creepy creatures under the sea are the subjects of some wonderfully goofy action. Characters feverishly debate whether or not Jonas’ sinuses can handle the water pressure of a free dive at the bottom of the Mariana Trench (spoiler: they can). The movie enters so-bad-it’s-good territory a few times, and a decent fraction of those beats do feel intentional. At a critics screening earlier in the week, attendees were given “sharktastic” cocktails complete with sunken Swedish Fish—to some extent, this big dumb shark movie knows it’s a big dumb shark movie.
For the most part, though, Meg 2 makes for an unexciting viewing experience. A large chunk of the movie happens underwater, leaning heavily on murky digital effects. These scenes are uniformly poorly lit and almost entirely populated by blurry CGI creations, making it nearly impossible to tell what is going on or how much peril our protagonists are in. While Wheatley made good use of limited space and time in Free Fire, that skill is nowhere to be found here. A treacherous journey comprising a three kilometer trek on the ocean floor with limited oxygen occurs without much in the way of raised stakes, and the hostile takeover of an oceanic research station practically happens off screen.
What’s perhaps most damning about this big dumb shark movie, however, is how little it actually pays attention to its fine finned friends. Early in the movie, Jonas and his fellow divers encounter Megs where they don’t expect to, but the actors barely react. The aquatic titans that are supposedly the most fearsome predators on the planet inspire minimal terror or shock, and the characters who could very easily fall prey to them are able to dodge and fool the sharks without much difficulty. The Megs are an afterthought, a lackluster third act CGI-villain that ultimately gives our protagonists little trouble. It’s an odd and unfortunate shift for the sequel that leaves its action wanting, especially since it’s steeped in the genre of shark-based silliness.
Observer Reviews are regular assessments of new and noteworthy cinema.