EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, films like “The Meg 2: The Trench” might not exist.
The Meg 2: The Trench is like beholding a beached whale. The sight is obviously unpleasant due to the rotting carcass on display. Yet, it’s also bewildering to see epic failures of this proportion. Such an impression stems from the fact the pieces are in place for an entertaining creature feature. However, The Meg 2: The Trench fails by never committing to any of the extremes which might make it work.
The story begins 65 million years ago because dinosaurs are cool before jumping forward to the present day. Jason Statham returns to portray Jonas Taylor, an ecofriendly double-o seven knockoff. We witness him contending with polluters in the Philippine Sea, where martial arts action ensues which will surely be of use against aquatic nightmares. Afterward, returning to his main role guiding expeditions to a mysterious deep-sea trench, he and others encounter rogue mining as well as megalodons. It isn’t long before lives are in peril, and the world is in the jaws of danger.
Several forgettable figures fill out the available roles, many of them doomed to death or worse surviving to perhaps exist in a potential sequel. Although I’m not 100 percent, I’m fairly certain at least one main character referred to a proverbial red shirt by the wrong name. Even if that was just my already bad hearing impaired by boredom, so many characters are nothing more than bodies on screen. They do nothing except die and The Meg 2 barely even does that with any distinction.
When the film finally trudges through the molasses slow start to the depths of the mysterious trench, everything is shot in either a pointless closeup or murky darkness showing nothing. One could argue the intention is to create an ominous atmosphere for jump scares as monsters lunge out of the impenetrable black, but the result is more of a mess than something unsettling. Any action gets lost in poorly planned shots that may as well be an empty screen. If you want to watch a lot of bubbles and screams, The Meg 2: The Trench is a gold mine.
In a weird way, I feel bad for the main visual effects teams. Scanline VFX, DNEG, and Milk VFX have all put in the effort to create quality sea monsters. However, The Meg 2 barely ever keeps them in view. There isn’t really a chance to appreciate the creature designs. The audience only ever gets glimpses which feel more like a low budget flick trying to hide flaws than a multi-million-dollar blockbuster showcasing stellar CGI creatures. And it’s a shame because if audiences are coming for anything it’s to see the megalodons in action.
Instead, the film devotes most of its runtime to bottom grade B-movie action antics. It’s like someone started shooting a shark film, drifted into making a straight-to-the-bin Steven Seagal movie then remembered giant sharks are supposed to be part of the plot. Armed mercenaries shooting at Jason Statham may work in other flicks, but I have a sneaking suspicion that’s not what audiences want in a movie about megalodons.
Occasionally, The Meg 2 attempts to have a little humor. These instances are few and far between. None of which are amusing. For the love of Kāmohoaliʻi, most of the megalodon madness occurs at a place called Fun Island. Trying for comedy only reminds an audience this could have been a humorously self-aware film, but The Meg 2: The Trench opted for seriousness.
That’s a shame since High-Rise and Free Fire director Ben Wheatley possesses a resume with some very good black comedy titles. One would be safe thinking he might steer The Meg 2: The Trench into comedic waters, perhaps even allow it to take a satirical bite or two. What audiences get is a predictable series of uninspired shots that feel like the work of someone punching in for a paycheck.
It’s hard to fault Jason Statham for offering up his routine performance. He’s doing what he’s often hired to do: grumble lines and occasionally smirk to show beneath the badass exterior guarding a heart of gold. Sophia Cai returns as Meiying Zhang, a sort of surrogate daughter meant to humanize Statham’s role. However, their cookie cutter banter is the kind of cutesy nonsense that makes people hate children. Skylar Samuels, Wu Jing, and Sienna Guillory offer some fresh faces for this franchise, but like too many other characters they have no real definition. They simply existence in order to say things which give the plot a semblance of sense before megalodon mayhem imperils or ends their lives.
As for that action, several times, I hoped the obviousness of what was happening must be misleading, creating expectations before doing something unexpectedly new. However, The Meg 2 swims straight for old bait. I often found myself murmuring lines before characters spoke the same or foreseeing the exact demise of someone onscreen. The latter wouldn’t be so bad if the deaths carried any gruesomeness, maybe even a bit of black comedy, but they all have the bite of a dead fish. And, that’s only during the last half of the film when the action is more clearly visible.
The Meg 2: The Trench is a film with oceanic potential. Yet, it somehow manages to squander every possible bit of entertainment it might manifest. From toothless action to poor visuals and bland acting, the movie offers very little for audiences to appreciate. Frankly, I’ve experienced more enjoyable kicks to the kishka if you follow my Yiddish. Based on books by Steve Alten, one can only hope the reads are better, but maybe the novels do not want to be associated with a film this bad.