Too much human stuff, not enough big shark action—Meg 2: The Trench treads water

Gleefully preposterous setpieces and a typically gruff Jason Statham aren’t enough to keep shark sequel Meg 2: The Trench afloat, according to critic David Michael Brown.

It was a career move nobody saw coming. Ever the provocateur, British director Ben Wheatley has delighted in skewing genre tropes with a succession of dark and twisted dramas that have gleefully played with audience expectations. From the brutal low-rent grime of Down Terrace and the devilish cockney gangsters of Kill List to his gore-soaked twist on Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May with Sightseers and the hallucinogenic folk-horrors of A Field in England, he has proved again and again what a fiercely individual and inventive filmmaker he is. And now he has made a sequel to The Meg!?

Not that this is the director’s first flirtation with Tinsel Town after being attached to the ill-fated Tomb Raider sequel and reimagining Rebecca for Netflix with a cancelled Armie Hammer. And Free Fire, his typically askew take on the action flick was loaded with Hollywood firepower. But Jason Statham versus a giant shark!!!

The original The Meg, directed by National Treasure helmer Jon Turteltaub, was a lacklustre affair. The trashy promise of The Life Aquatic with Jason Statham should have been a fin-tastic rollercoaster ride but even the Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels star’s quippy cockney eco-warrior was out of his depth as he battled a dinosaur fish. Now, with a very different director at the helm, it is business as usual with the sequel. Again, based on a novel by Steve Alten and with most of the surviving cast returning, Meg 2: The Trench is certainly a step in the right direction if not a giant leap.

The plot sees Jonas Taylor (Statham) and Jiuming (martial arts icon Wu Jing) dive into uncharted waters as they lead a research team into the deepest depths of the Mariana Trench. As always, it’s human interference, thanks to a double-crossing benefactor, that sees their mission go haywire and results in three of the Megs breaking free of their subterranean prison and terrorising anything that floats.

It’s the human side of things where this silly sequel sinks. Proceedings are certainly not helped by a script that barely treads water, one-liners that fizz and cliché ridden one-note bad guys. Looking past Statham’s tried and tested tough guy persona, the performances from the international cast, while enthusiastic, do little to help save this sinking ship. Surprisingly, it’s the relationship between Taylor and Shuya Sophia Cai as 14-year-old Meiying, brought together by the tragic death of her mother Suyin (Bingbing Li) in the first movie, where the film does attempt some emotional depth.

Where The Meg 2 does deliver are the scenes when Stath takes on the prehistoric shark. First on a jet ski armed with explosive harpoons jousting with three Megalodons and then a final confrontation armed with a helicopter blade: “see you later, Chum.” While these set pieces are gleefully preposterous, they are rare moments of fun.

Surprisingly, the megalodons are underused. And even when a giant squid and other prehistoric beasts that have escape the trench arrive at “Fun Beach” to menace sunbathers, a splashy nod to the trashy delights of Alexandre Aja’s Piranha 3D would have been welcome. The final film is so gutless it’s difficult to fathom why Wheatley signed up for this fishy fiasco in the first place.