- Ben Wheatley
- Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Cliff Curtis, Sophia Cai, Page Kennedy, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels
- 116 min.
- Release Date
The colossally inept and uninvolving Meg 2: The Trench treats viewers like infants—easily distracted children who will clap stupidly at loud noises and Sharknado-level effects. If someone discovered that a Hollywood script-writing artificial intelligence watched a bunch of famous blockbusters and wrote this script based on what it learned, it wouldn’t be a surprise. Every character is a stock type, every line of dialogue is a cliché, and every set piece is either altogether uninspired or derived from a movie we’d rather be watching. A sequel to 2018’s The Meg, a giant shark thriller that didn’t grasp its potential B-movie appeal, The Trench takes a hint from James Cameron’s Aliens (1986) and expands on the original concept, pluralizing the problem. Instead of one deadly creature, there are many. But including more computer-generated sea monsters doesn’t add much, except perhaps confusion in telling the various Megs apart. Only our rugged hero Jonas, played by Jason Statham, can stop them—preferably on a jet ski. Although somewhat more mindful of its schlock value, the sequel struggles to generate interest in anything happening onscreen.
What’s surprising is that Ben Wheatley takes directorial credit here. The helmer of such respectable low-budget thrillers ranging from Kill List (2011) to In the Earth (2021), Wheatley’s voice is thoroughly washed away by the plasticized corporate identity of this Chinese-American co-production designed for broad international appeal. For his part, Wheatley injects a few delightful moments, such as a shot from inside a shark’s mouth as it swallows swimmers whole, recalling a similar angle from Little Shop of Horrors (1986). But these incidental pleasures aren’t enough to make the 116-minute runtime worth enduring. Even Li Bingbing, the major Chinese star who appeared in The Meg opposite Statham, had the good sense not to return for the sequel, leaving her character Suyin inelegantly written out of the proceedings. Suyin receives an unexplained “in memorium” slide at the Oceanic Institute in China, where her brother Jiuming (Wu Jing) now swims with a captured Megalodon, a prehistoric shark, insisting they have a “special bond.”
This time, Jonas isn’t just a deep-sea rescue diver; he doubles as an environmentalist avenger, using martial arts and parkour maneuvers to thwart evildoers from dumping radioactive material in the ocean. It’s as though the filmmakers suddenly realized that they cast Jason Statham and didn’t give him anyone’s ass to kick in the first one. That idea lasts about five minutes before Jonas teams with Jiuming for a submersible dive into the Megaladon’s home beneath the Thermocline, where Jiuming’s escaped Meg-friend pursues them. Below, they discover a contained ecosystem of ancient sea life, including a giant squid, iguana-like beasts that prove just as dangerous on land, and more Megalodons. “That’s the biggest Meg I’ve ever seen,” says one awed character about the Megs’ scarred Alpha—not that they could have a large frame of reference. After some undersea danger, where our heroes uncover a corporate mining conspiracy to gather precious metals for computer parts, the prehistoric beasts follow the humans back to the surface for a showdown on a nearby resort called Fun Island, flush with beachside tourists.
If the original movie, based on Steve Alten’s 1997 novel, took itself too seriously, the sequel, based on Alten’s 1999 book The Trench, leans into its self-aware humor somewhat more. At one point, Statham jumps a shark on a jet ski. Is this what passes as clever? Or is it so obvious as to become banal? If the script by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris were really so self-aware, the writers might have imbued the characters with personalities instead of stereotypes. Take Page Kennedy, who returns as DJ, a typical Black Guy character who points out why the others are making such bad decisions: “Really? We gonna follow some Meg into an unknown sector? This is going to end badly, mark my words.” Those characters who aren’t tired tropes consist of bland supporting characters whose names aren’t worth learning; they’re nothing more than human munchies for the CGI monsters. Only Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), Jonas’ stepdaughter, now grown into a meddling teen, manages some pluck, while Cliff Curtis returns as an affable scientist thrust into the action.
Stringing together sequences of underwater tension and surface mayhem, Wheatley, apparently bereft of any original ideas, relies on Steven Spielberg references to give the material some visual life. When Jiuming waves a flair at a Meg to draw its attention away from the group, the moment visually quotes one from Jurassic Park (1993). When the velociraptor-like lizard things run through a field of grass, it’s straight from a scene out of The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). When Statham fights a goon on a mining conveyor belt, it brings a similar scene from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1985) to mind. Of course, given the milieu, Wheatley also samples Jaws (1975) and its sequels. Such nods might lead to enjoyable recognition, except they’ve become so commonplace among blockbuster filmmakers trying to replicate Spielberg’s imagery that their presence is more insulting than nostalgic or gratifying. Making the least effort possible, The Trench plays to the lowest common denominator with what seems like a mise-en-scène engineered by computers, a story workshopped by executives, and a product approved by an algorithm for maximum revenue potential.