I’ve done a lot of thinking about B-movies lately, and how much of what makes a bad movie good is actually bad. When I say B-movies, I’m talking specifically about low-rent genre films, in this case creature features, that come along and seem to have nothing to offer but an entertaining hour-and-a-half at the movies.
I’m not talking prestige monster pics like the $200 million “Godzilla” or even serious essays on man vs. nature like “The Grey.” I’m talking “The Blob.” I’m talking “Piranha.” I’m talking “Kingdom of the Spiders” with a webbed up William Shatner crying to the heavens as if he thought Scotty could beam him up out of this nightmare. Seriously, if you haven’t seen that poster, look it up. These are the kind of movies that are made on the cheap, usually, and feature a second-tier cast struggling with third-tier dialogue. What these movies want is to offer silly chills and thrills with no real requirement of the viewer. They wear their earnest escapist hearts on their sleeves and it’s hard not to love them for it. “The Meg” is the latest entry into this proud tradition.
“The Meg” follows action star Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor, deep-sea rescue diver whose experience with a mysterious creature at the far depths of the ocean has left him jaded and scarred. When he is approached by representatives of a billion-dollar underwater research facility to deal with an emergency at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, his first answer is an absolute no. That is, until he finds out that it’s his ex-wife trapped in a disabled submersible, having been attacked by what may be the very same creature that ruined his career. The opening act of the film is thrilling, and probably not a spoiler to say that Jonas comes out alive. But what did he bring back from the bottom of the sea? The largest shark anyone has ever seen. A Meg – or Carchardon Megalodon, if you want to be specific. Thought to be extinct for 2 million years, actually lying in wait in a hidden pocket of ocean, the Meg is a shark larger than a whale, one that makes Jaws look like a goldfish.
One of the joys of a movie like this is the act of shouting at the characters on screen. Of course, I mean that metaphorically. If you’re seeing this in a crowded theatre, keep your shouts for one of the several times the shark leaps straight at you out of the sea. But, I kept thinking, haven’t any of these people seen “Jaws?!” “Don’t pretend to put your head in a dead shark’s mouth!” “Don’t swim after it!” “Don’t try and catch it with the giant crane on your ship!” Of course, that’s why it’s fun. Because we like to believe we’re smarter than the people on screen, even though we’re probably not.
“The Meg” has its problems, sure. The acting is fine, but the dialogue is pretty bad. And the film struggles with a few stereotypical tropes that, though par for the course for a film like this, are probably left in the past. The “scared black man” who can’t swim is straight out of the 1970s and does this film no favors. That said, there’s one aspect of this movie that is getting all kinds of criticism from the online fans – the rating. “The Meg” is rated PG-13, and it fits solidly in that genre. Sure, there’s some blood — how could you have a giant shark movie without it? But most of the deaths are either off-screen or quick, and as a result, you have a movie that’s closer in tone to “Jurassic Park” than to the kind of horror movie that some were expecting. But, honestly, what really good movie in this vein is rated R? I can think of one, “The Ghost and the Darkness,” but that’s almost not a B-movie at all. “Snakes on a Plane,” is rated R, but it’s awful – and not in a good way. Even “Jaws” is rated PG.
Limitations force filmmakers to think creatively, and the result is usually a better movie. Think about “Star Wars.” When George Lucas had to figure out how to tell his story without a massive budget and computer generated effects, you end up with a classic. I don’t need to mention what happened when he was able to make a “Star Wars” film without constraints. “The Meg” is appropriately scary, but not so disturbing that you feel nauseous having sat through it. After all, these movies are meant to leave you with nothing but a smile, and “The Meg” accomplishes that.
“The Meg” is rated PG-13 for scary shark violence and some language.
Chris Jenness is an art teacher and movie buff who lives in Nikiski.