In some ways it’s kinda weird that Meg 2: The Trench exists under the direction of Ben Wheatley. How in the Hell did that happen? The cult favorite filmmaker behind darkly comic, satirical thrillers such as Sightseers, A Field in England ,and later more mainstream fare such as High-Rise and Free Fire, is not the guy one would expect to make the move to the sequel of a blockbuster film. Maybe if he directed the first one, sure, but to come in partially through what looks to be a full trilogy of Steve Alten’s novels is just an odd choice. And the result is…well, it ain’t good. But it isn’t all Wheatley’s fault. A terrible screenplay and a direction away from the popcorny fun of the first movie are to blame, and Wheatley could only do so much about that.
Seriously, Meg 2: The Trench makes absolutely no sense. The first movie, a hit in 2018 to the tune of $530M, was stupid summer entertainment that gave us the sight of Jason Statham punching a giant prehistoric shark. The sequel, set a few years later, sees Statham’s character Jonas Taylor becoming more than just a rescue diver, but basically a stock version of all of Statham’s kick-ass characters. Now he travels the globe punching environmental terrorists in the face, and praying that his pal Mac (Cliff Curtis, also returning) will come to his rescue.
There have been some big changes in the time between movies. Jonas’ love interest Suyin (played by Li Bingbing) has died, leaving him to become the protective parent to her now-teenage daughter Meiying (Sophia Cai, also back for more). Meiying is too smart for her own good and wants to be part of the action at Mana One, the facility where Jonas and other ocean nerds explore the dangerous depths. Also aboard for the fun is Suyin’s estranged brother, Jiuming (Wu Jing), who has taken charge of the Mana One by merging it with his own company that designs powerful exo-suits that make people as strong as Iron Man. You can already sense where this is going to eventually go.
So what’s up with the megalodons? Where are they at? Well, they’re 25,000 feet below in The Trench, a place where loads of megalodons and other ocean monsters roam freely. It’s during one of these expeditions, which Meiying has stowed away on, that shit goes belly-up, not only unleashing the Megs from The Trench but also revealing a traitor in the Mana One crew’s midst.
What do people go to The Meg to see? Well, it’s not a conspiracy thriller about greedy, backstabbing humans. For far too much of the sequel it’s about that and not Statham fighting sharks. The Megs are an ever-present threat but they loom in the background while the Mana One crew trudge through the deep looking for safety in a mysterious facility. The most immediate threats are air pressure and the potential of drowning. Also, the traitor subplot is just that; the screenwriters don’t actually seem to care about the villains at all. They set them up as major threats but they ultimately aren’t treated as such. It feels like a waste of time and there’s zero tension to the build. At least in the prior movie there was the anticipation of the Meg attack. We get little of that here.
Fortunately, at some point Meg 2: The Trench recaptures that old blood-in-the-water magic. Wheatley, who doesn’t seem to be interested in the killing at all for much of the film, leaving most of it off-screen and easily dismissed, indulges with glee as things go uproariously over-the-top. A vacation hot spot called Fun Island, a place that looks like MTV Spring Break on steroids, is torn asunder by megalodon mayhem. To be fair, Wheatley is probably being cynical in his treatment of the violence, feeding it to us with the biggest coke spoon he can find to make some sort of statement about movies like this and (ugh) Jurassic World, which is tonally similar. If that’s true, he miscalculated because this is exactly what we came to see! That happy couple on the paddle boat paddling like their life is at stake to get away from the feeing frenzy? Chew them the fuck up!! Yes please! There’s an awesome shot from inside the open mouth of a Meg as it hoovers up frantic swimmers into its gut like fried shrimp at an all you can eat seafood buffet. And all of the while, Statham is racing through the ocean on jet skis throwing explosive javelins and shit. This is what The Meg is meant to be. Did I mention there’s also a giant octopus? There’s a giant octopus.Wheatley is basically encouraging us to cheer on the Megs at this point, and you know what? We’re glad to do it. The humans are all boring, anyway. Even Statham.
The dialogue is terrible throughout, but at least it reaches “so bad it’s good” levels when Jonas, after punting a foe into the mouth of a charging megalodon, hits him with the devastating one-liner “Seeya later, chum.”
Statham might as well have been speaking directly to us. There will be a third movie for sure. Jonas will rock one of those exo-suits and rip a Meg apart with his bare hands or something. Meg 2: The Trench seems to exist specifically to create a new Jason Statham franchise. For far too long it feels like just another of Statham’s many many generic action movies, before finally hitting that silly, B-movie sweet spot where hopefully it’ll stay.
Meg 2: The Trench is in theaters now.