MEG 2: THE TRENCH ½
2023, PG-13, 115 mins.
Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor / Wu Jing as Jiuming / Shuya Sophia Cai as Meiying / Sergio Peris-Mencheta as Mencheta / Cliff Curtis as James 'Mac' MackreidesDirected by Ben Wheatley / Written by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris, based on the book by Steve Alten
How does one even begin a review of MEG 2: THE TRENCH?
I dunno...but I'll try.
Parts of me thought that this sequel to 2018's THE MEG (based, in turn, on Steve Alten's novel) was mindless drivel. Worse yet, the film kind of senselessly meanders around during its mid-sections and delves into a fairly disinteresting subplot of an evil underwater drilling operation that the makers here think is a lot more compelling than it is. There's a clunkiness to the storytelling this go-around that made me check my watch a whole hell of a lot.
Having said that, other parts of me found MEG 2 (it dropped the THE of the first film's title) to be highly digestible and enjoyable B-grade trash that more than owned up to (and perhaps surpassed) the pure crazy quotient of its predecessor.
There's a sequence late in the film that's proof positive of this.
It features a showdown between star Jason Statham - driving a jet ski with a harpoon in his hands - playing a game of chicken with a one hundred foot prehistoric megalodon shark.
My cold, analytical brain told me that this was absolutely preposterous...bordering on nonsensical.
My much more forgiving heart told me that this is entertainingly bonkers.
The way that this sequel just sort of goes for it and never looks back is a selling feature, not a criticism. MEG 2: THE TRENCH is a follow-up that's much sillier than what has come before and it has a commendable pulpy ludicrousness to the pandemonium on display. Frankly, I'm a tad embarrassed by how much I enjoyed this film, especially during its final act, which is absolutely bonkers and even defies description. You'll either just go with this film's absurd ride as a willful viewer and participant...or you won't.
But - sigh - there's a lot of expositional water (sorry for the aquatic pun) that this film has to wade through to get to the real meat and potatoes elements that we want from a film like this - in short, we want to see Statham go mano-a-mano with a shark (and other beasties) that are the size of whales. You may (or may not) remember Statham's character of Jonas from the original MEG, a deep-sea diver and employee of the Zhang Institute that discovered the gigantic sharks in question in that film. He's still patrolling the ocean and keeping an eye out for more potential oceanic dangers to come. A Chinese researcher, Jiuming (Wu Ping), is working alongside Jonas and has just developed a high-tech exo-deep dive suit that he hopes will allow him to get up close and personal with one megalodon that his company has kept in captivity to study (after Jonas' far too up close and personal battle with one in the first MEG, he would rather see Jiuming devote his time to safer work). Jiuming thinks otherwise and even believes - as nuttier than a fruitcake as it sounds - that a megalodon can be trained. Yup. Sure. Uh huh. You betcha. At one point Jonas wisely asks, "Why are you swimming with the meg?" He quickly replies, "I'm conducting an experiment." Perplexed, Jonas sarcastically retorts "Is the experiment called Do I Taste Good?"
Faster than you can saw "JAWS" the in-captivity megalodon escapes in what's easily the least shocking plot development in recent memory. Deciding that it's best to launch a dive 25,000 feet below their Mana One research station, Jiuming and Jonas prepare for the treacherous mission to come, but soon realize that they have a stowaway in the form of Jiuming's young teenage niece, Meiying (Sophia Cai), who Jonas has been raising as one of his own since her mother perished. As they make it down, the trio are shocked by the appearance of the escaped meg that's now begun a mating process with other larger megs down there. While trying to escape becoming these giant sharks' next meal, Jonas and Jiuming uncover an illegal mining operation run by Montes (Sergio Peris-Mencheta), and they soon become trapped there and have little to no contact with their partners DJ (Page Kennedy) and Mac (Cliff Curtis) back on the surface. They decide to take a very hellish walk across the trench in their respective exo-suits, but with oxygen in short supply (and megs and evil miners a constant source of danger), Jonas and his friends will have their work cut out for them in a very high-stakes battle of survival.
To say that the middle sections of MEG 2: THE TRENCH are disjointed and lacking in genuine thrills is a bit of an understatement. There is a lot of time featuring Jonas and his team in submersibles in the second half of the story, which later follows them very slowly walking at the bottom of the ocean to avoid being meg munch. It's nowhere near as exciting as described, not to mention that the VFX work here (and cinematography as a whole) is so murky and artificial looking that I rarely believed that they were actually at the bottom of said ocean...or even under water, for that matter. To make matters increasingly dull, the writing team of Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris (adapting Alten's own 1999 book) then segue focus away from the meg threat and towards the discovery of the mining base and human villains that are nowhere close to being as threatening or interesting as the larger titular beasts with mouths the size of a bus. Montes himself as the chief baddie really serves no purpose whatsoever in the film beyond giving Statham someone else to fight outside of huge sharks, but is that what we crave in films like this? I wanted more meg nonsense and carnage, not this cardboard cut-out antagonist that's written and performed on lazy autopilot.
But - thank the movie gods! - MEG 2: THE TRENCH cranks up the giddily enjoyable nonsense to level 11 in its final act, which has to be seen to be believed. Let's just say that it takes place adjacent to a posh vacation destination called "Fun Island", which becomes the breeding ground for endless waves of meg (and other prehistoric creatures) attacks. You see, there was this vast underwater shield (I know...I know) that kept the fornicating megs and other ridiculously massive monsters away from the surface, and it's at this point when everything is kicked into glorious overdrive. Director Ben Wheatley (the British filmmaker that previously made the ultra low budget sci-fi thriller IN THE EARTH and the black comedy action picture FREE FIRE) throws everything but the proverbial kitchen sink at audience members, and seems to be doing so with his tongue firmly in his cheek and with a wicked grin on his face. The creature attack sequences become more exceedingly wild, not to mention that the filmmaker gets a bit creative with some visuals (like a POV shot from within a meg's mouth as it's about to chomp away at screaming vacationers). Of course, we also get the aforementioned donnybrook between a harpoon wielding Jonas (again...on a jet ski) going full warrior beast mode against his much, much larger opponent. There's simply a crazier layer of cartoon madness to the action in this sequel compared to what we got before, and in some respects MEG 2: THE TRENCH is a slight improvement in terms of fully embracing its underlining schlock.
It stands to reason that this is a performance walk in the park for Statham, but he plays an effective straight man to the unbridled lunacy that unfolds around him throughout the course of the film (he even amusingly banters with a parrot - don't ask - at one point). He's just as steely eyed and determined of an action hero as ever before and is essentially playing the umpteenth version of the same character he's played in countless past films, but he's good at it and is in his comfortable wheelhouse. Granted, much of the dialogue he has to utter alongside his supporting cast ranges from cookie cutter to ham-fisted, not to mention that he doesn't have terrific chemistry with co-star Wu-Jing, a massive Chinese superstar that the makers here felt would cater to an obvious overseas viewer base (no shock, though, because this is a Chinese co-production). I also kind of wished that MEG 2: THE TRENCH was a much harder R-rated production. The PG-13 action and violence on display throughout is pretty neutered down for the sake of appeasing a box office friendly demographic, but there's definitely a much more satisfying creature feature here that wants to go all-out on gore and viscera. Considering Wheatley's last few modestly priced affairs and his penchant for disturbing horror elements in the nightmarishly moody IN THE EARTH, it's a great what-if scenario to ponder what kind of film MEG 2: THE TRENCH could have been if he were given free reign with the massive budget afforded to him.
So, what are we left with? MEG 2: THE
TRENCH has more
than its fair share of brainless escapist thrills, and it emerges - much
like its antecedent - as a cheesy and mostly well crafted ANACONDA-esque
picture involving groups of terrified people trying to fend off attacks
from improbably large natural monsters (it's sophisticated in a
good-dumb-fun kind of way). The major misgiving that I have with this
sequel is that it's probably way too long for its own good and during that
bloated runtime we get a second act that seemingly takes forever to get to
its wickedly enjoyable final 30-40 minutes. MEG 2: THE TRENCH is confident and
self-aware of what it is and what it's trying to do, but sometimes gets
quite distracted in the process. I think my two and a half star
rating is a fitting compromise as far as assessments go. It might
not entirely be worth the five-year wait since THE MEG, but it's fairly
weird pleasures. Like, for instance, a moment when Statham - in his
trademark gravel voiced timbre - utters "You're all under arrest for
the illegal dumping of radioactive material!!!" The only thing
he didn't do was turn to the camera and wink.