Even after the passing of his love Suyin, Jonas Taylor has stayed with the Oceanic Institute dividing his time between caring for Suyin’s daughter Meiying and risking his neck to expose those who would pollute the oceans. When a new initiative is proposed, returning to the Marianas Trench to make sure that the people above remain safe from its prehistoric-level inhabitants far below (and vice versa), the team comes across evidence that someone else has been spending time in the Trench, but their intentions are far less altruistic. Someone is mining rarer ore from the deepest levels of the ocean floor but when the team encounter the rival team, the result is explosive.
Now Jonas must find a way to face nefarious human enemies and hungry apex predators alike and get everyone back to the surface. However, even if he does so, what kind of creatures – and how many – may have now escaped the trench?
It’s easy to see that when The Meg was such an unexpected hit for Warner Bros. in 2018 that someone decided that a sequel was not only inevitable but should follow the formula that’s worked to varying degrees of success over the years: more of the same, but more of it. Here’s an outing built on action set-pieces by the ‘need-a-bigger-boatload’.
The problem here is that the sequel – sub-branded The Trench – may technically have historically big sharks again and more of them, but is an entirely different cinematic animal with all the disparate aspects of a platypus rather than a co-ordinated apex predator Megalodon. Part of its DNA desperately wants it to be The Abyss (arguably one of James Cameron’s most creative endeavours), another a slightly aquatic Jurassic Park franchise builder, then there’s the goofy, zany, pratfall fun of an Asian actioner, the multi-coloured impossible tech of a Marvel movie and the sleeky, moustache-twirling villainy of an animated Disney romp… all imbued with The Expendables-on-crack chaos and Finding Nemo‘s grip on reality. In tilting towards all of those disparate elements simultaneously it becomes an utter mess – easy to let it wash over you in the moment, but leaving no lasting impression. What we’re left with is a swirling maelstrom of conflicting ideas that asks you to hold on and not pay attention and a result that makes the original The Meg potboiler look like a Pulitzer-winning addition to National Geographic.
Logic and scientific detail are rarely high-up on the list of things that will take priority in such a genre entry – fairly obvious from the over-spoilery trailer released a few months ago – but the way in which The Meg 2 throws them out of the porthole window and into the salty brine with such gusto is quite staggering. One minute we’re talking about the unfathomable depths being enough to crush whole submarines – sadly topical – with broken diving suits doing similar damage to early victims and then we’re asked to go along with the logic of the survivors walking across the ocean floor in special armour and then Jason Statham – because he’s Jason Statham – doing the same under his own untempered steam and without any more than a t-shirt and nosebleed. Last time it took 90 minutes and high explosives to kill the top-of-the-food-chain sharks, now Statham is merely Krav Maga’ing the Mega into submission. Above and below the surface, the action and the physics-defying antics reign supreme as Mother Nature kicks back and merely watches the chaos.
There is one fascinating and truly notable aspect to The Trench and that is its obvious status as a template international production with Chinese money and power at the helm. Bashing China and Eastern regions may be the go-to for campaigning US politicians at the moment, but here, though the water is deep and the story is shallow, everyone’s ably paddling in the same direction to secure a strong, simultaneous opening weekend box-office in both regions – blueprinted to entertain like a formula summer blockbuster for the eyes… and never seeking to trouble the heart or mind…
Putting in-your-face inaccuracies aside – because you really, really have to – the most baffling aspect of the sequel is that it sidelines its titular star(s) for three-quarters of the movie. The Megalodon is Megala-gone for most of it. After indulging a newer genre trope (taking a dangerous creature from the first chapter and making a cuddlier, younger version who’ll protect our heroes in the next), the ‘pet’ Megalodon has escaped its compound for sunnier climes and warmer waters but before that problem can be really addressed, the main plot of the film is revealed as a sinister and cackling group of villains who have secretly managed to get into the Trench of the title and are now secretly mining rare ore. When the senior villainess, Sienna Guillroy, channeling her best Cruella DeVille and merely cashing the cheque, is challenged on the environmental matters she literally says “We can plunder the trench all we want and no-one will ever know!” Bwahahahaha, indeed! Some sinister beasties continue to swirl around in the watery shadows and prove a nuisance, but the main danger for over half the movie becomes the pilfering pirates and selfish salvagers who are happy to endanger our own crew to cover up their shenanigans. It honestly feels like someone took a completely different script off the shelf – perhaps set in a oil-rig or marina circa 1985 and grafted Statham on to fit however it’s actually very, very loosely inspired by The Trench, Steve Alten’s own sequel to his The Meg novel and originally published in the before times of 1999.
Director Ben Wheatley (showing little of the High-Rise, Kill-List flair) gives us a story saved only by the audacity of its Jaws-dropping set-pieces… and a majority of those are shoved into the very end of a film that finally remembers its title and why it’s there in the first place. There are suddenly sharks, dino-lizards (don’t ask how prehistoric creatures who have been breeding underwater for thousands of years/generations remain able to walk and breath on land) and – yes – even a half-glimpsed giant squid with hentai-horror tentacles comically scooping people off pontoons as the flee. Captain Nemo is turning in his grave.
The original The Meg was an enjoyable throwback given glorious purpose by a cast playing to all the tropes but with straight faces and fully committing to the experience and their required roles. Statham was the tough nut at the centre of it all and the film was a huge guilty pleasure of throwback proportions. The Trench has no such lofty aspirations – it leans far more into that Expendables motif, making Statham an utterly impossible action hero and surrounds him with characters that struggle to be two dimensional. Cliff Curtis (as Mac) and Page Kennedy (as DJ) return for another romp but are now reduced to pratfalls and one-liners and Shuya Sophia Cai reprises her role as Meiying, the cute poppet of the first film now a pouty teenager with requisite super-computer-programming skills. The new additions to the team include Felix Mayr, Melissanthi Mahut (seen recently as Calliope in The Sandman), Whoopie Van Raam, Kiran Sonia Sawar and Sklyer Samuels as the communications officer. Guess which one will turn out to be an inevitable traitor?
There is one fascinating and truly notable aspect to The Trench and that is its obvious status as a template international production with Chinese money and power at the helm. Bashing China and Eastern regions may be the go-to for campaigning US politicians at the moment, but here, though the water is deep and the story is shallow, everyone’s ably paddling in the same direction to secure a strong, simultaneous opening weekend box-office in both regions – blueprinted to entertain like a formula summer blockbuster for the eyes… and never seeking to trouble the heart or mind. Like the first, there’s a huge East/West feeling of genuine collaboration with the Asian cast equally prominent and more than a few scenes with Mandarin dialogue at the fore. Bingbing Li’s Suyin may have been killed off during the gap between movies, but Eastern superstar Wu Jing arrives as her brother Jiuming Zhang and is given a raft of action set-pieces to help save the day. Shuya Sophia Cai has more to do as Meiying and the whole story is based in the region meaning a lot of the holidaying islanders are locals (never fear, a misogynistic westerner gets munched on pretty quickly). Further adding to the global footprint,Cliff Curtis is a Kiwi, Spanish actor Sergio Peris-Mencheta plays Statham’s main opponent Montes, early victim Felix Mayr is Swiss, Whoopie Van Raam grew up in The Netherlands and of the main cast Fortitude/Lucky Man‘s Sienna Guillroy is the only other Briton alongside Statham. (The first film’s Jessica McNamee and Ruby Rose, both Australian actors, sit this one out).
Utterly silly and stupid but fine as a pizza and beer diversion (once it inevitably finds its true level and home-base on streaming platforms) The Meg 2: The Trench is Jaws (or perhaps, more accurately Jaws: The Revenge) played for bigger laughs and deeper groans. Yes, it makes Barbie look like Oppenheimer, but… hey… grab your scuba-gear and water-wings, turn off the brain and dive into your testosterone-flavoured bucket of popcorn before it gets too soggy.
- Production Design / VFX7