Something Fishy in the State of Statham
I am not a man much given to casual displays of profound emotion. But I have my limits, especially when life bowls me a particular googly. It happened completely by chance in the office the other day. 'I got a message from Sagacious Dave!' cried Former Next Desk Colleague Now Manager, cheerfully. 'He says he went to see Meg 2 at the weekend and really enjoyed it!' For anyone who has not been following closely along for the last five years or so, it was I who somehow – and I still can't believe how this happened – persuaded Sagacious Dave, the ursine guru of Self-Eruditionment at our former workplace, to go and see the first Meg film with me. (He had such a good time we went to see Hobbs and Shaw the next year, though he drew the line at Bloodshot.) So the fact that he went to see The Meg 2: The Trench without me is clearly a testament to the fact I have had a powerful impact on the life of Sagacious Dave. On the other hand, he went to see The Meg 2: The Trench without me, so I was a bit cross.
Oh well. Sometimes you just have to go and see a new Jason Statham film by yourself. This one, directed by Ben Wheatley, sees him reprising his role as underwater hardcase Jonas Taylor, who seems to have turned into Dave Angel, Eco-Warrior between films – we find him documenting evidence of toxic waste being dumped at sea, which naturally involves him beating up the crew of a tanker single-handed before somersaulting off the side into the water.
This is just a little opening morsel before they start laying in plot. Since the last film, various of its major characters have died in an air crash (this is the traditional way of disposing of anyone who wants too much money to come back for a sequel or just isn't available) and now running the oceanic research outfit J-Stat is working for is his slightly feckless brother-in-law (Wu Jing), who has silly ideas about training megalodons (the giant prehistoric sharks which caused such a lot of bother last time). Anyway, Mr Statham and a bunch of supporting characters head down to the bottom of the sea to continue their research, where he is annoyed to find his teenaged stepdaughter (Sophia Cai, reprising her role from the first one) has stowed away. To be honest Cai's character, as scripted, is probably aiming for feisty and inspirational, but just ends up as slightly annoying, but this is not her fault. Running things from up top are Mr Statham's old mate Cliff 'Maori Jesus' Curtis, who looks slightly bemused throughout, and comedy relief rapper Page Kennedy.
Well, naturally things go wrong when it turns out the Generic Evil Corporation is mining at the bottom of the sea and also want to take over the oceanic research outfit, too (to be honest it's not really worth worrying about the logic of a lot of this). Crash, boom, crunch – and J-Stat and his crew end up having to walk across the sea-bed in their pressure suits to the Generic Evil Corporation's base, fending off deep-water monsters quite as much as you'd expect. (It all reminded me rather of that Kristen Stewart Vs Cthulhu movie – not that the prospect of seeing Jason Statham taking on ol' squidhead isn't an appealing one.) Can they all escape? And is it just remotely possible that some of the deep-sea monsters of the trench will follow them up and head for the nearby resort of Fun Island? (Honestly, this script.)
'Family-friendly' isn't usually a descriptor one would associate with a Jason Statham film, but Meg 2 probably just about qualifies – bearing this is a family-friendly comedy-horror monster movie in which dozens of people are devoured by marine life. Unfortunately, one of the things that gets swallowed almost without trace in this movie is Ben Wheatley's unique identity as a film-maker. Wheatley has been making distinctively quirky, often very dark films, for many years now; this is likely to prove his biggest commercial success to date, but it's also the film which has the least trace of his style and sensibility about it. (Neither Wheatley nor his regular collaborator Amy Jump had any credited input into the script.)
The result is a film which is... well, the thing about sequels is you have to do more of the same but spice it up with a new twist somehow. The writers of Meg 2 have clearly realised that there's only so much you can do with the idea of Jason Statham engaging in hand-to-fin combat with a giant prehistoric shark, hence that subtitle – the trench turns out to be home to all sorts of nasties which can turn up to cause trouble. As well as sharks, there are evil mercenaries, a giant octopus, and some giant man-eating marine newts (which I found to be profoundly dubious from a zoological point of view). This does threaten to turn the film into a big-budget remake of Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus, but on the other hand it does allow Jason Statham to do what he really does best, i.e. beat people up in a light engineering area of some description. There even turns out to be a light engineering area at the bottom of the sea, which facilitates this rather.
Rising off all of this is a heady whiff of the producers and scriptwriters going 'Ahhh, that'll do' while flapping a hand at anyone questioning the logic of the script or the weird tonal choices of the film. This is, after all, a family-friendly comedy-horror action blockbuster, clearly made with more than half an eye on that very lucrative Asian market – there are quite long stretches in subtitled Chinese, while Wu Jing is playing the kind of dodgy character you would expect to turn out to be a bad guy or end up redeeming himself in a third-act self-sacrifice. But no: he turns out to be a sort of assistant hero whom the script has to find things to do. Mr Statham takes it all in good spirit, I think, even though much screentime is also given to Sophia Cai, a paper-thin villain played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta, and Page Kennedy. In addition to doing some big comic-relief business, Kennedy also performs the closing musical number, which is possibly the silliest thing I have ever heard. (Sample lyric: 'I'm a megalodon! I'm a megalodon! Chomp chomp chomp chomp chomp!')
The temptation is to suggest that, as many of the film-makers don't seem to be that bothered about the film, there's no reason for us to over-think about it either. As a no-brainer effects-driven monster movie it's more than acceptably entertaining. But it's still probably the least interesting film Ben Wheatley has ever made, and that's a shame. Putting this director together with Jason Statham, you'd be forgiven for expecting something much spikier, weirder, darker, and funnier. One can only hope for the future.