Shark movies are actually quite common nowadays, so it may come as a surprise that Jon Turteltaub’s (National Treasure) dive into the sub-genre is as rare as the titular Megalodon itself – and that’s because it cost one-hundred and fifty million dollars. The film is a risk, with the box-office yet to decide the pay-off, but for now, it stands mighty proud as good, dumb fun.
After a failed mission, rescue diver Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is blamed for the death of a group of scientists, forcing him into a drunken hiatus. Five years later, underwater research facility “Mana One” discover a way to access unexplored depths of the ocean, breaking through a deceptive surface to reveal a range of exciting, new species. While venturing deeper, the amazed crew soon encounter a deadly threat, realising that Taylor’s grieving tale of a large creature may have held some truth after all, and in such circumstances they may depend on his services once again.
What follows is a cat-and-mouse monster movie which manages to raise the excitement after a particularly bland introduction. Films involving a deadly shark are often disappointing and all too familiar; Andrew Traucki’s The Reef and Chris Kentis’ Open Waterare two of the more noted examples. Fortunately, Jaume Collet-Serra’s The Shallowsrecently showed audiences that they could in fact find entertainment and terror in observing the showdown between man and a feared underwater antagonist. However, Turteltaub’s approach is drastically different, instead deciding to make a blockbuster film which attempts to blend the obvious influences of Steven Spielberg’s Jawswith the giddy, exploitative spectacle of something like Brad Peyton’s recent monster-mash, Rampage. In turn, the final product has become somewhat of a glossy revision of the cult favourite Deep Blue Sea, with definitive similarities to be found within the film’s first act. This isn’t necessarily a failure, it merely results in a film which occasionally feels conflicted by its own aspirations: romance, horror, comedy, they don’t always gel, and yet on the whole, The Megis able to offer relaxed audiences a good time.
Audiences have to be mentioned, because expectations will certainly determine the enjoyment viewers will feel when watching a film like this. To begin with, Jason Statham is hardly a versatile leading man, but a vehicle like this demands the star power of someone like him. His performance is exactly what one would hope for, tackling the role with an awareness of the film’s b-movie inspirations and using his charisma as an action-hero to humorously comment on being cast against type. The supporting cast do well to represent the archetypes commonplace in this sort of narrative, and allow for some comfortable familiarity with the way events will turn out – basically, audiences can simply kick back and enjoy the absurdness of this colossal spectacle, of which provides some satisfyingly tense sequences. Of course the relationships and characterisation is generic, and this is where expectations come into play once again. The filmmakers are aware to why patrons have paid to see their film, which is why despite adding tiresome romantic elements and jokes that never land, they never attempt to let them overshadow the priority of the film’s monster movie elements. After all, this is a blockbuster, they are trying to please everyone.
Where The Megneeds most work is the script, because it plays out a little more seriously than it needs to. There are exceptions to the rule, but it is clear that there was more opportunity to get a little sillier with a premise like this, and unfortunately it is a little too late on this, offering audiences a moment of laugh out loud ridiculousness in a climactic scene which sadly fails to deliver on the tension offered in earlier sequences. It definitely would have benefited from some more shock value, which the film’s 12A rating disallows it from doing, ensuring that even in intense moments, the sense of dread is reduced. There are no particularly gory moments to catch the viewer off guard, and the narrative offers little in the realm of surprise; it really is the idea of throwing lots of money at a plot like this that works in its favour.
It is refreshing to see a big, expensive monster movie with a simple premise like this, because there is no doubt it is entertaining, and in this respect, Turteltaub and company are certainly on target. While Statham’s presence is likely to help, it is still admirably risky to bank this kind of money on a shark movie – not a superhero film, or a sequel, but a straight up shark movie. Hopefully it manages to recoup its budget, but only time will tell whether a gamble like this will sink, or instead become a predator at the box office and swim. Pardon the pun.