The Meg promises something special. The latest trailer reaffirms my suspicions this is the role Jason Statham was born for. Apart from perhaps only The Rock, he is the one person who could punch a shark in the face and make it seem believable. It is his biggest starring role yet, and should easily outdo his solo hit, Mechanic: Resurrection. With The Meg, he can either become a mega-star, or nobly fail, thus settling for entertaining supporting roles (like in Spy, Fast and Furious) and starring in reasonably entertaining B-movies. Based on the widely beloved book by Steve Alten, and featuring the Megalodon (otherwise known as the biggest shark that ever lived), The Meg is the movie that shark lovers have been waiting for. Raised on the ridiculous-but-low-budget spectacles of the Asylum movies, here is the chance for a mega-shark movie to be done professionally with big-name actors. Thankfully, the trailer shows that The Meg understands the silliness of its own premise, something that will play to its advantage this summer.
One precedent for that kind of success is Kong: Skull Island, a great example of a monster movie that could riff on genre cinema to create enjoyable pop art. The Vietnam-era setting may have somewhat critiqued gung-ho American interventionist policy, but really it was chosen as an excuse to blast “Fortunate Son” and lightly parody Apocalypse Now. Making $566 million off a $185 million budget, it actually ended up being more popular than both Godzilla and Pacific Rim. It success shows that monster movies that lean into the camp nature of their construction (harking back to the Ray Harryhausen era) are still massively popular with audiences.
This isn’t to say that films such as Godzilla and Pacific Rim (both beautiful constructions in their own right) weren’t a success, but this kind of filmmaking doesn’t (at least on the face of it) look like it can be successfully transferred to the world of The Meg. After all, it’s basically impossible to compete with the philosophical depths of Jaws, so there is little point in trying.
Kong: Skull island isn’t the only example of where this camp approach worked so well. While the highly ambitious The Cabin in The Woods was a lot of other things too, fans geeked out on the sheer display of creatures eventually on offer. Like Kong: Skull Island, there wasn’t one just big bad enemy, but a whole host of creepy monsters for the protagonists to face. Likewise, we all know The Meg won’t just feature a big shark — the trailer already teases the presence of a large octopus. By bringing out the whole world of subterranean foes, The Meg could assert itself as a true Jacques-Cousteau-meets-the-might-of-the-ocean classic.
For monster movies, light genre parody seems to work far better than the empty and cynical nostalgia of films such as Jurassic World. Jurassic World promised a bigger park than ever, with more spectacle than we had ever seen, but suffered from misogynist character construction and a misunderstanding of action movie basics. The gigantic box office for that film speaks for itself, but it divided critics, some considering it to be a decent slice of popcorn entertainment while others deplored its more bitter aspects. If the sequel — released before The Meg — doesn’t serve as some kind of course correction, it may leave the door open for the Statham-actioner to succeed.
The Meg‘s potential silliness lies in its choice of director, Jon Turteltaub. Best known for the National Treasure movies, he is ostensibly a children’s filmmaker with a great love for cornball plot construction, goofy moments, and mythological world-building. His vision for The Meg, replete with a poster stating “Pleased to eat you” and a trailer featuring Bobby Darin’s “Beyond The Sea,” has marketed his love of cheesiness very clearly from the start. Admittedly, he hasn’t had a critical hit since While You Were Sleeping released 23 years ago, yet if he manages to keep this one breezy and entertaining, he could have a comeback — and a potential franchise — on his hands.
Jason Statham is best known for his physical presence, martial arts prowess and stunt-work, but he is perhaps even better as a generator of laughs. He can do deadpan (Hummingbird), he can be over-the-top (Crank), and his timing (as evidenced by Spy) is almost perfect. If anyone is game enough to take on a massive shark, it is Jason Statham. Featuring a diverse supporting cast, including Australian Ruby Rose, Chinese superstar Bingbing Li, The Office star Rainn Wilson, and Page Kennedy, The Meg could easily court global domination.
With a budget of $150 million, it is by far the most expensive shark movie ever made (Jaws was made for only $7 million). Competing against few original screenplays or non-sequel adaptations this summer (with the exception of The Rock’s possible mega-hit, Skyscraper), The Meg has the potential to be the biggest surprise hit of the summer. This success, however, will be almost entirely dependable on whether or not the movie will deliver on its utterly ridiculous premise. Judging on the trailer alone, we should have nothing to worry about.