The summer shark movie should be silly. It should know exactly what it is: a B-movie with a bigger-than-expected budget, a bankable star, and unlimited scenes of sharks eating people in absurd ways. Meg 2: The Trench, a follow-up to 2018’s hit The Meg, oscillates between its B-movie sensibilities and a self-seriousness unnecessary for this subgenre. Again starring Jason Statham as the megalodon-fighting, submarine-diving Jonas Taylor, the film, this time helmed by Ben Wheatley, struggles to replicate the same joy of the first.
Meg 2 has fast-forwarded the plot, leaving Taylor’s supposed wife, Suyin Zhang, in the past and now caring for her child, Meiying (Sophia Cai). Taylor re-teams with his friends to dive deep into the Mariana Trench, exploring unseen depths of the ocean. The plan quickly devolves and the squad must traverse the ocean floor to an underwater lab for safety, circled by megalodons and other prehistoric creatures. And that’s only the first half of this too-long, two-hour film that drags through each of its sections, keeping the audience waiting for the next set piece.
Wheatley, a director known for eccentricities over his odd career, doesn’t bring his usual creativity to this story. Meg 2 becomes standard fare, far from the high points of the English director’s previous filmography, and millions of miles away from the insanity of even the recent In the Earth. He has the capability for freshness, tension, and terror; all of it is lost in this newest chapter on megalodons. If anything, he hits the refresh button on everything The Meg did five years prior, deciding to continue the old routine and just applying another coat of bland paint.
Statham is continually up to the challenge, kicking, punching, and fighting people and sharks alike. He’s on a run of mid-tier movies unlike anyone else in Hollywood, and once he gets going, jet-skiing around an island taking on three megs, the film finally transforms into pure entertainment. His steely demeanor softens for the sake of his daughter. He even laughs––more than once! But these scenes feel out of place. While Statham excels in movement, verbal and physical, Meg 2 places him in stationary situations too often.
Above all else, the film doesn’t have enough megs. It focuses instead on the trench itself, spending much of its runtime in underwater antics and then more run-of-the-mill hand-to-hand combat. That’s fine if this were marketed to be an action film, but other 2023 movies (John Wick: Chapter 4, Mission: Impossible – Dead Reckoning Part One) are more adept at this type of fighting. Meg 2 should feature unlimited megalodons, dozens more than the last film. Instead there’s little time spent with these creatures, sidelining them for convoluted plots of ore-mining and corporate backstabbing.
When the film leans into irrationality, it thrives. Statham gives hilarious ocean-themed one-liners, pulls off nonsensical stunts, and lifts the movie out of its depths. When the crew comes up with an illogical plan to save the day, audiences can’t help but smile. They’re going up against the largest predators in history and they’re surviving. Returning writers Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris even have the good sense to bring back a couple of the most fun side characters from The Meg, playing off audience goodwill already established by the success of the film’s predecessor.
Otherwise the script tries to do too much, cobbling together ancillary characters in a charade of importance. Unfortunately, this just takes time away from the central group and the main villain, which should always be the megalodon. Humanizing the meg always seemed to be in the cards for Meg 2, but audiences go to the theaters for shark mayhem, not shark timidity. Even Statham can’t save us all this time.
Meg 2: The Trench is now in theaters.