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It happens so often that it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. A major studio release is announced, and before you know it, a “rival” production is rushed onto our screens. These so-called “rivals” often operate on a fraction of the budget of the mainstream release, have a cast that few people have heard of, and betray their lack of originality at every turn. Such is the case in 2018 with The Meg being pipped to the release post by Deep Blue Sea 2, a sequel/remake that no one wanted or needed (especially nineteen years after Renny Harlin’s enjoyable if still risible original).

The Meg (2018) / D: Jon Turteltaub / 113m

Cast: Jason Statham, Bingbing Li, Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis, Winston Chao, Ruby Rose, Page Kennedy, Robert Taylor, Shuya Sophia Cai, Ólafur Darri Ólafsson, Jessica McNamee, Masi Oka

The Meg is a silly, silly movie – let’s get that out of the way from the start. It provokes far more laughs than it does gasps, but at least it’s aware that it’s preposterous. This is most definitely a good thing, because if it wasn’t so self-aware, this would be an horrendously difficult movie to sit through. There are moments where the script (by Dean Georgaris and Jon and Erich Hoeber from the novel by Steve Alten) strives for serious drama – usually when someone dies, or the gravity of the situation needs reinforcing – but otherwise keeps things easy-going for much of its running time. It’s as if it can’t wait to poke fun at itself, whether it’s by giving Statham lines of the calibre of “Meg versus man isn’t a fight… it’s a slaughter” (though he does miss out on saying “Megalo-don’t”), or having its characters behave foolishly (add up how many times they deliberately put themselves at risk when there’s no need to). It’s also a movie that seems reluctant to give the Meg free rein when the script puts a resort full of swimmers, and a small dog, in its path. Anyone expecting mass carnage is going to be disappointed; better to watch Piranha 3D (2010) instead.

Of course, this is all professionally made with a suitably excessive budget needed to make the special effects look as impressive as possible, but as with many movies that have a larger than normal protagonist at its centre – see also Rampage (2018) – there are problems with the Meg’s size, and keeping it proportionally realistic in relation to its human co-stars. But there are bigger problems: the movie soon settles for being a series of showdowns between Statham’s gung-ho marine rescue specialist and the Meg that rely too often on the Meg swimming off once their encounters are over; so much for being a super-predator. Of course, this repetition is to allow the cast of characters to be picked off one by one, even though it’s obvious just who is still going to be around when the Meg is finally taken care of. Statham is fine as the improbably named Jonas (the makers clearly wanted to call him Jonah – but too much context maybe?), while Curtis and Wilson stand out because they both seem to have the measure of the material, and are obviously having fun. Turteltaub’s direction is competent without being flashy, there’s one climax too many, and sadly, Statham doesn’t get to punch or head butt the Meg (what were the makers thinking?).

Rating: 6/10 – nothing more or less than a summer popcorn movie with no other ambition than to provide audiences with a good time, The Meg is surprisingly toothless when it matters most; glossy and sleek, it goes where it needs to, but doesn’t offer the necessary thrills to make it stand out from the crowd, all of which just goes to prove that size isn’t everything.

 

Deep Blue Sea 2 (2018) / D: Darin Scott / 94m

Cast: Danielle Savre, Rob Mayes, Michael Beach, Nathan Lynn, Kim Syster, Jeremy Boado, Adrian Collins, Cameron Robertson, Darron Meyer

Where The Meg is a silly, silly movie, Deep Blue Sea 2 is a dreadful, dreadful movie, an uninspired retread of the original, and a chore to sit through (unless your standards are non-existent or you’ve suffered a recent brain trauma). Having the number two in the title would seem to make it a sequel, but in fact this is an unofficial remake, with several scenes rehashed from the first movie, and the action taking place in yet another submerged research station where genetic experiments have been carried out on – surprise! – a number of bull sharks. Sooner than you can say “shark lunch in a tin can”, things start to go wrong, and the tasty morsels – sorry, characters – inside the research facility are being picked off one by one. This tries for grim humour at times, but manages to miss the mark at every attempt; it can’t even raise some much needed unintentional humour either. Instead, the main response it provokes is one of profound ennui, and a deep regret that you started watching it in the first place. To say that it lacks energy, pace, commitment, good performances, and a decent script would be stating the obvious.

It does trade in a healthy amount of rampant absurdity, though, as evidenced by the decision to give the sharks a female leader who gives birth (thankfully off-screen) to a dozen or so little nippers who take over their mother’s murderous duties, and who make loud screeching noises when they attack (these sounds are audible above the water line – of course). Unlike The Meg, Deep Blue Sea 2 has no problem with showing the gory after effects of a shark attack, but against the odds this is one of the very few aspects it gets right. Again, the performances range from very poor (Savre) to perfunctory (Mayes, Lynn), while Beach outdoes the sharks for chewing the scenery as (the meg)alomaniacal sponsor of the research facility. Scott, clearly a long way from his days as a producer on movies such as To Sleep With Anger (1990) and Menace II Society (1993), struggles to make anything out of the by-the-numbers screenplay, its dreary nature and one-dimensional characters proving impossible to root for. If you have to see one shark-based movie in 2018, then make sure it isn’t this one. You have been warned.

Rating: 3/10 – awful enough to make you wish for a shark to come along and put you out of your misery, Deep Blue Sea 2 is the cinematic equivalent of chum in the water; brazenly stealing all the best bits from its predecessor and then doing nothing constructive with them, this is a movie that wastes no time in wearing out its welcome, and becoming irredeemably, dramatically soggy.

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