MEG 2: The Trench may not be perfect, but it is a perfectly fun late-summer popcorn movie. One that requires you to leave common sense and logic at the door.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, The MEG 2: The Trench has risen from the depths for another bite. The 2018 original movie did the unthinkable by overcoming middling reviews and taking a massive chunk out of the box office. But with Free Fire’s Ben Wheatley taking over the director’s chair and Steve Alten’s beloved novel serving as a template, can the sequel deliver another surprise package? Or if this encounter with the Megalodon one shark attack too many?
Sadly, dear readers, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I was hoping to regale you with a glowing review full of praise and my usual energetic optimism. But unfortunately, with another invulnerable performance from Jason Statham, its disposable sharks, and ridiculously outlandish moments, MEG 2 doesn’t quite stick the landing. The move earns a ton of praise for its treatment of the source material. But it’s the other components that drag it back to the depths with a whimper. In the end, we are left with an eye-rolling encounter that delivers on Steve Alten’s original vision but unravels its brilliance with some questionable writing, nonsensical plot points, and an over-reliance on tired action stereotypes.
For the most part, the movie follows the masterwork of Steve Alten’s superb novel fairly well. After an absurd opening sequence with Jason Statham’s Jonas Taylor slipping into the James Bond mold, the movie gets back to the crux of the story. The Megalodons. Just like in the novel, Jonas and his team are studying a juvenile Meg that they caught in the time after the first movie. However, in the same time frame, Li Bingbing’s Suyin, Jonas’s love interest in the first film died leaving Jonas to become a surrogate father to her daughter played brilliantly by the returning Sophia Kai. And together with Meiying’s uncle Jiuming, played by Wu Jing, and Cliff Curtis’ James “Mac” Mackreides from the last adventure, the team begins their extensive research on the Megalodon.
With the scientific premise from the first film restored the movie shifts to the geological surveying of The Trench. Specifically, the prehistoric environment trapped beneath the thermal climb. The team has been exploring this lost world for a while and has cataloged vast portions of the region. And when the next dive gets the green light, Meiying sneaks aboard Jonas’ submersible desperate for a glimpse of the landscape that had enchanted her late mother.
Unfortunately for the team, the juvenile Megalodon at the research center suddenly starts to ovulate. And pushed on by the instinctual urge to mate, she escapes from her enclosure and heads back towards The Trench. What follows is a death-defying race for survival as the juvenile creates havoc for the team, stirs up trouble beneath the thermal climb, and unleashes a force of nature nobody is prepared for. All the while, Jonas and his pals discover a darker secret beneath the thermal layer. One that threatens the sustainability of this fragile ecosystem and the bounty of priceless minerals it possesses.
Now, the problem with the first film was the casting of Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor. In the books, Taylor is depicted as an Alan Grant-esque scientist. But with Statham, you get a one-dimensional action hero who thrives on a string of empty set pieces. And sadly, the sequel doubles down on this mantra and serves up a relative feast for Statham to chew on. At first, it’s entertaining. But after a string of implausible death-defying feats, the absurdity of his character becomes tiresome.
Sure, we have come to expect a few of these logic-defying tropes here and there, but MEG 2 takes the scientific rule book and throws it out the porthole. In truth, Statham plays himself – the invulnerable action hero always on hand to save the day. But aside from a few well-placed one-liners, there isn’t anything new on display here.
Optimizing the action movie vibe is Wu Jing. The martial arts action hero joins the cast as Jiuming Zhang, a scientist studying the behavior of the juvenile Meg. But his role in the film quickly skews into the action hero archetype. Before long, he discovers that he is participating in the action scenes alongside Statham at every turn. This is surprising given that his grasp of the English dialogue isn’t the best. At times it’s a strain to decipher what he’s saying and the experience is jarring. But he’s always ready to leap into action at a moment’s notice. Perhaps this is a trade-off for the Chinese funding the film enjoys. But either way, the constant flow of action scenes and lack of genuine suspense becomes tiresome. And I found myself yearning for a return to the ebb and flow of the scientific components that brought us to the dance.
The same can be said of the Megalodons themselves. In a movie titled The MEG, one can be forgiven for thinking the narrative would focus on the biggest shark in the fossil record. But here, aside from the juvenile, these behemoths are sidelined to token monsters unleashed to cause a little chaos and dispose of a few mercenary bad guys here and there. And to be honest, the amount of screen time they are rewarded with is shocking.
In the plus column are the always-reliable duo of Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy. These survivors from the first movie are always on hand to lighten the tone when it needs it. But in their limited roles, both are confined to comic relief and even get engulfed by the overabundance of action set pieces. Sophia Cai on the other hand, is a joy to watch. Now grown into a talented young actor, she takes to her new role with zeal and brings an energetic freshness to the part. At times she serves as the bridge between Taylor and Zhang. And the camaraderie they all share is brilliantly handled.
It feels genuine, even when Statham’s machismo threatens to derail it, but Cai holds on to gel the trio together. And that is the hallmark of a talented actor coming into her prime. And I, for one, can’t wait to see where she goes from here.
Another positive arrives in the form of the Kronosaurs. These relics from the Cretaceous period are a welcome addition to proceedings. In Steve Alten’s books, these dinosaurs are known for attacking submersibles in the trench. However, here they are unleashed on the unsuspecting residents of the aptly named “Fun Island” who quickly find themselves part of the food chain. Their inclusion seriously ups the kill count and injects some genuine menace to proceedings. And a few well-placed jumps scares here and there help to ramp up the suspense.
Another tick in the plus column comes from Harry Gregson-Williams’ well-crafted score. His soundtrack for the first film was a genuine highlight, so it pleases me to have him return to maintain continuity. Williams harnesses the cues from his previous score to keep things familiar. All the while doubling down on the family attachment between Taylor and his surrogate daughter. These cues serve to sell their relationship and enhance the tenderness they share on screen.
At times, Statham manages to temper his bravado to share some genuinely touching moments with Cai. And they are the true highlight of the film. Even when the Megs begin their attack on the island, Taylor is always concerned for her safety. And it is refreshing to see a different side to his persona. It’s a small positive. But a welcome one.
Even though the Megalodons are sidelined to guest stars in their own film, it is also refreshing to see the creatives have done their homework by adding some realistic predatory behavior to proceedings. There are several instances where the sharks emerge from the depths to engulf some unsuspecting human in their jaws. Even to the point where the biggest Meg explodes from the ocean and leaps into the air. This behavior can be seen in modern-day Great Whites. So it’s welcome to see their behavior grounded in reality.
All in all, MEG 2: The Trench is a perfectly fun thrill ride and will undoubtedly appease its fair share of the audience. However, fans of the original book will come away feeling a little short-changed. Especially when the plot is superseded by the relentless onslaught of its numerous action scenes. It may not be perfect, but it is a perfectly fun late-summer popcorn movie. One that requires you to leave common sense and logic at the door.
Ben Wheatley is an incredibly talented director. But his talents are wasted here. If the studio allowed him to go full bore and craft a movie with his usual fervor, MEG 2: The Trench could have been amazing. Instead, the film has double the action, double the Statham, and far less impact or relevance. The film may play loosely with the source material, but it’s a fun ride nevertheless. Though, fans of the novel will have to concede many of the more refined plot points of what will always be regarded as Steve Alten’s definitive vision. It just goes to show that sometimes, the book IS better than the film. And this sequel abundantly proves it.
Happy swimming. The water’s fine!
MEG 2: The Trench is swimming into cinemas everywhere now. Subscribe to our newsletter at the top of our homepage to stay up-to-date with all the latest news and reviews from Future of the Force.
Phil Roberts is the Owner, Daily Content Manager, and Editor-In-Chief of The Future of the Force. He is passionate about Star Wars, Batman, DC, Marvel, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, Ghostbusters, King Kong, and the Ray Harryhausen movies. Follow him on Twitter where he uses the force and babbles frequently!