In Review: Meg 2: The Trench

Review by Tim Robins

Meg 2: The Trench

Meg 2: The Trench is a bit of a mess, but it’s an entertaining mess and perfect for a young audience, even though children under 12 must be accompanied by adults. My cinema was packed with adults leading lines of children. At least the kids were well behaved and transfixed by the mild horror on offer. A little girl sitting next to me watched almost the entire film through her fingers, even if her mother spent the time text-messaging.

The film is a sequel to The Meg (2018) and has, despite moans and groans from critics, gobbled up the more critically acclaimed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutant Mayhem at the international box office. Why wouldn’t it? If my nephew is anything to go by, kids love sharks as much as they love dinosaurs, and Meg 2 (known as Shark 2 in some territories) has both. For the rest of us, there’s Jason Statham, a sort of EastEnd Chuck Norris but with none of the fighting skills and less facial expressions.

Meg 2: The Trench

The script describes Statham’s character, Jonas Taylor, as a “green James Bond!”. I’m afraid that’s wishful thinking. An opening that sees Taylor jumping across shipping containers has none of the thrills of, for example, the parkour chase in Casino Royale (2006). Still, I have a lot of time for Statham, who is knowingly po-faced in the parts he plays. He may be better known for the ‘Transporter’ films, but he won me over in ‘The Crank’ movies. (Crank 2: High Voltage (2009) is one of the most wonderfully bonkers films you will ever see).

Taylor is, so sources tell me, a veteran diver specialising in deep sea rescues, and has the role of “fighting environmental criminals”. In this case, a gang extracting superconductive minerals from the ocean depths on behalf of a Bondian femme fatale, played by Sienna Guillroy.

Statham is surrounded by a personable supporting cast who are in danger of acting him off the screen. These include Cliff Curtis, as James “Mac” Mackreides, the operations manager on “Mana One”, a research base dedicated to exploring the Mariana Trench; and actor and rapper, Page Kennedy, who brings a lot of energy to the role of DJ, an engineer on the rig. Shuya Sophia Cai as Meiying Zhang, Taylor’s young step-daughter, who is not as irritating as you might expect, and provides a focal point for the young audience, helping to sell the excitement and suspense. Zhang’s Uncle is played by Wu Jing (aka Jacky Wu), best known for action movies.

Meg 2: The Trench - Cast
Meg 2: The Trench - Cast

The Chinese cast occasionally get to speak in Mandarin Chinese, so if you need them, take your reading glasses to the cinema, as there’s a noticeable amount of subtitling going on. Unfortunately, this is a lot better than some of the Chinese casts’ spoken English, an issue perhaps the result of sound editing, rather than any lack on the part of the actors concerned. Frankly, I struggled to understand Wu Jing’s lines. The delivery killed much supposedly witty quipping, which particularly impacts some sub-Tarantino banter about one of a sub’s crew being a bit of a nerd, and into collecting action figures and cosplay.

There have been some complaints that a gloriously silly scene featured on posters and in trailers depicting Statham, carrying a poisoned tipped spear, jet skies the crest of a wave to confront a Megalodon is placed near the end of the film. Really? Have these people no idea how publicity works? Trailers routinely show climactic scenes. And let’s be clear – In My Humble Opinion, the scenes should have been much later in the film. It’s the kind of nonsense I want from Statham, and deserved to be the climactic confrontation.

Meg 2: The Trench - Chase

The tone of the film is more Deep Blue Sea (1999) than Jaws (1975, but that’s no bad thing. Not content with Megladons, Meg 2 throws in amphibious dinosaurs, presumably to get around the problem that it is easy to escape sharks – just stay on land. When we get to ‘Fun Island’, populated by sunbathing extras we couldn’t care less about, the film goes all Piranha 3D (2010). I greatly appreciated the saturated colour scheme, because I’m a sucker for 1970s Orange.

Where Meg 2 lost me was in the lack of exposition. I often had no idea what was going on, where characters were and what was happening to them. I’m sure this was all explained but I still had no idea how the “Thermocline” (an underwater cloud created by a junction of hot and cold water) kept the megs in check, how a trained megalodon escaped confinement and followed the characters to the trench – shades of Jaws 4 (1987) – or where half the characters were. When the characters are trapped in a deep-sea mining base, one of the cast tells us that escape pods are on the opposite side of the base – but I couldn’t picture where that was.

Meg 2: The Trench

There are some odd editing decisions, too. When the trained megalodon is charging a vent to escape, there’s a shot where the creature alters course before smashing through the grating. Later, a Megladon has been killed and as it sinks to the ocean floor it has sucker marks all over its body as if it has been killed by a gigantic octopus, even though that creature is nowhere near it. A caption announcing the trench is 25,000 feet deep comes much too late to add any thrills.

Meg 2 gained a lot of unearned suspense from the recent, tragic Titan submarine disaster in which its crew of tourists were horribly pulverised to death and extruded through the sub’s bolt holes. But here, director Ben Wheatley doesn’t have the time or the budget to pull off The Abyss (1989) which effectively dramatises the crushing loneliness of the depths. It’s a shame because Wheatley, known for Kill List (2011), A Field in England (2013) and, my personal favourite, High Rise (2015), is a shining star among British directors.

Wheatley has been mooted to direct a third film, again based on the novels of Steve Allen. That’s lovely, although I’d rather see a British film based on the ‘Crabs’ books by Guy N. Smith. (something that has been attempted, but it got turned into a script for a Doctor Who movie!? Just putting that out there).

At least a Crabs movie wouldn’t have the heavy-handed propagandising of Meg 2, which panders to China with a caption that reads “Protecting the ocean is crucial for China, and all mankind”.

Oh yeah? How about protecting the human rights of the Quenga? How about not trying to manipulate the World Health Organisation, to cover-up your failure to control a pandemic? How about not sampling DNA from pregnancy testing kits, which the United States, for one, regards as a national security risk, potentially enabling the creation of targeted bioweapons?

Who cares about a green James Bond, when China is putting into practice the plot of the last Bond movie?

Tim Robins

Meg 2: The Trench is in cinemas now





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