This piece was written during the 2023 WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes. Without the labor of the writers and actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Stupidity reigns supreme in Meg 2: The Trench, a late-summer sequel that often sinks below even its own dumb, fun expectations.
If there’s one thing the recent Barbenheimer phenomenon proved, it’s that certain movies require certain mindsets from their audiences. There are different moods needed to properly watch a three-hour drama about the making of the atomic bomb or a brightly-colored comedy about a doll, and it doesn’t just apply to those movies. Sometimes you need to have an engaged focus to absorb every detail in a film. Other times you want to just take a movie as it comes and see what sticks with you. And then there are times when Jason Statham gets Cloud’s sword from Final Fantasy VII to kill a giant shark and you just gotta throw your head back and laugh.
The existence of 2018’s The Meg, a movie about a giant prehistoric shark released from a mysterious trench beneath the bottom of the ocean, is as ludicrous as its own premise. It’s even crazier that what should’ve been a Tubi Original starring C-list actors like Tara Reid or Dean Cain somehow ended up a tentpole summer blockbuster that eventually grossed half a billion dollars worldwide.
With Meg 2: The Trench, Statham’s cranky underwater diver Jonas is now a cranky sleuth helping to expose companies that pollute the environment. He also helps with researching the aforementioned trench and other megalodons that happen to be swimming around. Jonas and his team soon uncover a secret illegal mining facility deep underwater, awakening more “Megs” and other prehistoric sea creatures in the process. Now he and some old friends (Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy) and the head of the research lab (Wu Jing) and his resourceful teenage niece (Sophia Cai) have to stop the sea monsters from terrorizing a coastal resort without getting eaten themselves.
Back for seconds.
If you’ve only seen a singular image from Meg 2 or its predecessor, you’d know not to take a single lick of it seriously. This is 80s schlock with a new-millennium budget and thankfully, everyone behind and in front of the camera knows it. Meg 2 also follows the formula of 80s sequels in that it’s bigger and dumber than the original. Statham’s character enters the movie doing environmental espionage just so he could actually do a fight scene this time, before walking on the deep ocean floor shooting harpoons at prehistoric piranhas or throwing explosive javelins at giant sharks.
There are also underwater robot suits, health-defying means of free-swimming at the bottom of the ocean, and a whole lot of PG-13 body chomping by the trench creatures. For someone who’s spent his career making offbeat indie dramas, it’s nice to know director Ben Wheatley (Free Fire, High-Rise) can embrace the corny schlock of a giant shark movie to make it worthy of a multiplex instead of on the SyFy channel.
Just because Meg 2 owns its stupidity doesn’t mean it rises to the occasion, though. There are so many sparks of dumb fun here, yet the movie never really goes hog wild with it all until the last act at the resort. The new sea monsters just pop in and out when they should be wreaking constant havoc, the secret mining base is only a plot device when it should look like Dr. Evil’s lair. There’s a black ops raid on an oil rig that doesn’t have enough fun combat, and even the new Megs don’t make enough appearances in their own movie.
“That’s the biggest meg I’ve ever seen.”
Meg 2 is also quite derivative of other blockbusters, lifting set pieces directly from the likes of Die Hard, Mission: Impossible, Jurassic Park, and even one of the last deep-sea blockbusters, 2020’s Underwater. It may seem unfair to ask a dumb movie to let itself get dumber, but the franchise (if you can call it that) already gave up any sense of legitimate tension or horror from the jump, so it might as well double-down on its own creative stupidity.
It doesn’t help that almost every actor involved has the charisma of chum. Statham is the exception of course, facing every ludicrous challenge the movie throws at him with his well-earned machismo and touches of enjoyment. It helps that he actually gets to act like an action star this time around with his kung-fu kicks and manly jet ski-riding poise, if only he had someone fun characters to play off of. The first Meg had a solid cast of B-list supporting actors (Ruby Rose, Rainn Wilson, Winston Chao) bringing levity to the ragtag Meg-catching team, none of which return to the sequel for some odd reason.
Even Li Bingbing (Statham’s love interest last time) is given an offscreen death for no good reason, leaving our star no one to bond with aside from the computer-generated fish. Sophia Cai (Li’s daughter last time) tries her hardest as Statham’s foster kid, but the “quirky smart kid” trope can only go so far. Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy (the only other returning actors) have a handful of fun moments and even Chinese action star Wu Jing (The Wandering Earth, Wolf Warrior) brings energy desperately needed to be distributed to the rest of the feature.
The bottom line.
There are two ways to judge Meg 2: The Trench. On a grown-up technical level, it’s another classic case of a sequel that wants to go bigger but gets too bloated to hold its own weight. On a dumb schlock level, The Trench mostly makes good on its promises of more shark carnage and goofy water-based buffoonery. It’s still a shame that the movie didn’t have a little bit more budget or creativity or even gore to turn it into a true trash masterpiece like Bad Boys II, but at least it doesn’t sink to the hackneyed boredom of the Sharknado series.
Meg 2 doesn’t deserve the distinction of being a movie you need to “turn your brain off” for, no movie does, because then how will anyone register whether a film is good or not if they’re watching it like a mindless zombie? The film just wants you to have fun and even if it’s got dumb ways of doing it, isn’t it fun to set your mind to stupidity once in a while?
Meg 2: The Trench is now playing in theaters everywhere. Watch the trailer here.
MEG 2: THE TRENCH - 5/10