Meg 2: The Trench (2023)
Director: Ben Wheatley
Screenwriters: Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, Dean Georgaris
Starring: Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Cliff Curtis, Shuya Sophia Cai, Page Kennedy, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels, Melissanthi Mahut
The events of Meg 2: The Trench take place five years after The Meg. The same amount of time has passed in real life for the sequel to emerge from the depths. This time, cult British director Ben Wheatley is at the helm. Wheatley is well known for dark British comedies Kill List (2011), Sightseers (2012), Free Fire (2016), and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead (2018). While a Hollywood blockbuster is a far cry from A Field in England (2013), The Trench is in very capable hands.
Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is still involved with Mana One, the team that discovered megalodons still exist back in 2018. The film opens with his side hustle in fighting environmental crimes at sea. This is not fully explained, nor is it returned to. Perhaps this is used to show Jonas has grown into himself and is no longer the reluctant hero of his The Meg days? Now he jumps into danger with his moral compass fully intact.
We discover that Suyin (Li Bingbing) has passed away and Jonas has custody of a now inexplicably fourteen-year-old Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai) – even though she was eight just five years ago. Jonas is helped along the riptide of fatherhood by Suyin’s brother, Jiuming (Wu Jing). Both men seem to have a death wish and are happier landing a joke than actually doing any parenting.
Jiuming (Wu Jing) is a meg trainer and has full faith in his handheld sonar-emitting device. Mana One has the only captive meg in history, but Haiqi has been acting strangely. Could there be some innate primal urge that she needs to satiate? Jonas doesn’t see how it’s possible to understand Haiqi’s moods; he stares at her like she’s slug slime that needs to be wiped away – though it is fair to say that Statham’s face doesn’t really change at any point in the film, whether he is joking about his latest death-defying stunt, looking at a photo of his dead lover, telling his daughter he loves her, or bench pressing the combined weight of a helicopter propeller and a megalodon.
The Mana One team have spent the last five years exploring the trench and thus far haven’t found much more than megs. On this fateful dive into unknown territory, they find: Meiying has stowed onboard, Haiqi has escaped from her enclosure, an array of thought-to-be-extinct creatures, and an illicit mining facility. One thing leads to another, and they accidently rip a hole in the thermocline – the layer of ocean keeping the megs where they’re supposed to be. Whoops.
Meg 2: The Trench is not a good film. It isn’t even really a good shark film. For one thing, there aren’t enough sharks in it. Famously, the shark in Jaws was only on screen for four minutes, but the barrels are there, the conversations are about him, the characters cast their eyes over a blinding sea searching for him, Chrissie Watkins and Alex Kitner are eaten, Ben Gardner is missing. All these elements keep the suspense going and the notion of the shark very much alive. In Meg 2: The Trench, the megs from the trench appear occasionally, seemingly from nowhere while the characters are concentrating on other things. No suspense. Three giant fins racing about at the speed of sound is not enough. Why is there a giant unexplained octopus on the screen? And, are there dinosaurs that have evolved to survive 6,000 metres below sea-level yet are perfectly adapted to the land? Yes, yes there are.
All is not lost. There are elements to enjoy in Meg 2. There are some moments of genuine mirth, the humour mainly served up by DJ (Page Kennedy) and Mac (Cliff Curtis) who are both fan favourites from the first film. And there are some great homages to Jaws and Jaws 2 – some more meta than others: DJ directly references poison-tipped bullets as he takes on an unknown militia (yes, there’s also a militia). But these high points aren’t enough to save it from the 6,000-metre-deep lows.
Jonas’s (Jason Statham) ability to outmanoeuvre the sharks, the octopus and the amphibious dinosaurs without a scratch is beyond ridiculous. At one point it is explained that he can swim 6,000 metres under water without getting crushed because of a deviated septum. Sure.
The real villains of the piece are not the sharks – that’s probably why there’s not much space for them in the film – but instead those people involved in illegal mining. This is believable to a point, but their switch from money-driven Dick Dasterdlies to cold-blooded killers in the blink of an eye will give you whiplash. The sharks are driven to kill for pleasure – an anthropomorphising effect if ever there was one – but the people involved are equally bloodthirsty. Neither seem satisfied with the gore they leave in their wake.
Post-Jaws shark films have a certain reputation: audiences don’t expect them to be Oscar winners or even remotely good. They want a jump scare, some fins, human hubris to be punished with a flash of teeth and a swift flick of a tail. Ultimately, they want to see nature controlled when it seems at its most uncontrollable (see also earthquake movies, spider movies, snake movies, crocodile movies, typhoon movies). Meg 2 ticks a lot of shark lore boxes – there’s a child to protect, a dog, there’s a distracting amount of other stuff happening in the script, laughable green screen effects, and bad acting. So, in that respect, Meg 2: The Trench is a rip-roaring success. It doesn’t take itself too seriously, it knows exactly what sort of film it is. But, with a budget of nearly $130 million and a director who has done such interesting things in the past, it was easy to expect so much more.
If you do fancy a Meg double bill, perhaps just watch The Meg twice instead.