The Meg 2: The Trench review – A wet and wild bottom feeder
The Meg 2: The Trench is the sequel to The Meg and delivers more people to hate, more hostile sea creatures, more outlandish scenarios, and more comedy – but it’s not more entertaining because of it.
Was anyone baying for a sequel to 2018’s The Meg? In case you’ve been, I don’t know, immersed in the depths of the ocean for the past five years and missed it, The Meg is the Jason Statham-starring Jaws-alike about a prehistoric megaladon shark hellbent on attacking everybody’s favourite Cockney tough guy and his team. Of course, it doesn’t really matter if people were or weren’t calling for another swim in the tank, the point is it made a killing at the box office and so a follow-up was inevitable. Milking this cash sea-cow for all it’s worth is the name of the game: it’s the movie business.
And actually, a sequel couldn’t come at a better time given that there’s renewed interest in sea-monster movies right now. The Black Demon only recently surfaced and before that, 2020’s Underwater made a splash. Like The Meg, the Kristen Stewart vehicle plunged the depths of the Mariana Trench. The well-received Crawl (2019) also pitted water-dwelling predators against humans in a tense, bloody, and sodden, battle. As if that wasn’t enough, The Meg 2 comes in the wake of the Titan submersible disaster. That real-world story kept the world hooked while we waited for news of the tragic fate of its passengers. Audiences are nothing if not primed for this deep-sea popcorn flick.
A promise that doesn’t pay off
But perhaps the most enticing – and surprising – thing about it is that it’s directed by Ben Wheatley, the British director of quirky cult movies Kill List, Sightseers, A Field in England, and JG Ballard adaptation, High Rise. Wheatley also adapted Daphne De Maurier’s Rebecca in 2020. You might well raise an eyebrow.
Though to be fair, The Meg is also based on a novel so perhaps you’d call it a natural progression. So what does Wheatley bring to the Meg sequel that sets it apart and makes it worth a watch?
The answer is not a lot that’s notably him. And that’s annoying because Wheatley’s mark, though faint, is detectable in early sequences, offering a promise that doesn’t pay off. Once the villain reveals their hand, it’s all but game over and the film plunges into farce and indiscernible formulaic mayhem as the action bubbles up to the surface.
A Bigger Fish
The start of the film winds back 65 million years to the Cretaceous Period. A T-Rex is terrorising other prehistoric creatures. Seemingly throwing shade at the Jurassic franchise, a megalodon breaks the water’s surface and gobbles the Tyrannosaur up – and that it has the smallest, most useless forearms we might have ever seen on a movie T-Rex (and we know the Tyrannosaurus Rex had small arms!) suggests it’s taking the proverbial.
Cue the strains of David Bowie and Queen’s “Under Pressure”, and Jason Statham’s Jonas Taylor doing chin-ups (naturally) before lighting a fuse and burning a hole in the side of the shipping container he’s inside. At the top of a stack of countless shipping containers aboard a very big vessel. There’s always a bigger fish, and Taylor’s fuse is fired.
There’s signature Wheatley quirk in the humour that follows, and there are the kernals of a performance from Statham in these early scenes that feels different; Wheatley-elicited perhaps.
Everything and nothing
The film underlines Taylor’s eco-warrior credentials before introducing us to the uncle of the young Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) from the first film, and his Oceanic Institute established for undersea exploration. Meiying is now 14, and her ebullient uncle Jiuming (Wu Jing) has raised a young meg in captivity, insistent that he has a special bond with it. When a stunt goes wrong, he wonders why the meg pup, Haiqi, is misbehaving. Don’t worry, you’ll get an answer – if you’re interested in getting one that is. This is one franchise that definitely prizes action over story, and certainly logic.
Eventually, their mission below the thermocline that lines the Mariana Trench takes them off course and they discover, among the weird and wonderful – and dangerous – deep-sea dwelling creatures a nefarious sea-floor operation that leads to them battling both giant fish and worse, human scumbags.
Is The Meg 2 Jurassic-lite? Is it a kaiju movie? Or is it simply a creature feature of the Jaws variety? Well, it’s more Sharknado than Jaws, that’s for sure, and the answer is it’s all of these – heck, there’s even an Indiana Jones-style conveyer belt moment. But the sequel is at its best, actually, when it’s channeling alien horror movies. It’s a shame we didn’t get most of the movie set on the ocean floor because the tension, wonder, and horror is all dialled up here.
These deep-sea sequences, presented like an alien landscape, warranted further exploration.
The underwater slow-mo of the team walking in exosuits exposed to the ocean’s unknown fauna, combined with the speed of the native fish and falling heavy metal, create jump scares and suspense. But its too quickly jettisoned for cheap surface thrills.
And what a waste. Particularly when what we’re offered as an alternative is a damp squid, sorry squib, of a finale that tiresomely cuts the on/off-land action of ‘Fun Island’ with Jonas on a jet-ski before wrapping the whole thing up. To be fair, once the two threads come together, there’s some velocity and tautness amid the whipping and gripping tentacles of a Cthulu-type beast. But in the main, The Meg 2 is presumably what it wants to be: jack of all trades. Making it lamentably master of none.
Throwing everything at the screen and hoping all of it sticks also means that the film’s message is confused. Because while it suggests that humans plundering and exploiting the Earth’s natural resources is bad – and deserves punishment in nature fighting back – we are also encouraged to celebrate when Jonas Taylor takes out any attacking creature. The big bad of the movie – the biggest megaladon anyone’s ever seen – is even scarred and ugly like a traditional movie villain. Animal lovers will hate scenes that linger on creature deaths.
Three’s a crowdpleaser?
While we might hanker for the first half’s horror and tension, when it commits wholeheartedly to broad comedy, it goes all in. This will entertain some, but grate for others, but Cliff Curtis as Mac and Page Kennedy as DJ – both returning from the first film – give it their all and make a solid comedy partnership. Chinese superstar Wu Jing also hits the comedy beats engagingly making a decent third wheel. Their dynamic gives Police Academy vibes: could there be spin-off potential?
Perhaps, but not before there’s at least another sequel. Remember, there’s a wealth of literature from author Steve Alten to tap yet…
The Verdict – Is The Meg 2: The Trench good?
The Meg 2 begins with some Ben Wheatley promise – there’s evidence of humour and quirk alongside horror and tension. All of these are hallmarks of Wheatley, the man behind some cult indie gems.
But it soon gives way to broad comedy and becomes even more self-aware. This quickly undoes the potential of the film’s first half as the audience is plunged into an anarchic round of splashing and screaming and running and ridiculousness… you get the picture. If it sounds entertaining, you’re doing it wrong. It’s soulless and tedious.
Ultimately, The Meg 2 will likely make money and spawn more sequels. But be under no illusion that it’s good.
The Meg 2: The Trench review score: 2/5
A promising and lively start with horror/eco-thriller leanings gives way to farce and splashy action tedium with a drawn-out finale that eventually gives you a teeny bit of something. It’s just too little waaay too late. Or should that be too much too soon? Ultimately, The Meg 2 just jumped the Sharknado.