‘Meg 2: The Trench’ evaluation: Ben Wheatley hates you

On its face, it’s absurd that Ben Wheatley is directing Meg 2: The Trench.

The English author/director made a reputation for himself with a string of difficult indie horror movies, just like the cult-centered Kill Listing, the bleakly comedian Sightseers, and the hallucinogenic interval piece A Area In England. Positive, his movies obtained a bit extra business as he introduced in massive stars, like Tom Hiddleston for the joltingly twisted Excessive-Rise, Brie Larson within the shoot-’em-up Free Fireplace, and Armie Hammer in Netflix’s lifeless adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. However inside all of those movies, Wheatley has proven a cynicism, arguably even a imply streak, wallowing within the worst impulses of humanity with a snarl and a way of showmanship.

So, when it was introduced that this Ben Wheatley can be directing the sequel to the so-silly-it’s-superb shark film The Meg, it appeared like a joke. He’d accomplished motion. He’d labored with massive stars. However there’s an enormous distinction between the pitch-black humor of, say, J.G. Ballard’s dog-eating satire and Jason Statham outmaneuvering a mammoth shark on a jet ski.

Meg 2: The Trench is begging to be handled like a goofy popcorn film. And in some regards, it can fulfill there. However undeniably, there’s an undercurrent of resentment emanating from Wheatley, and it’s aimed squarely at his viewers. In the long run, Wheatley’s angle undercuts the inherent bonkers buoyancy this film calls for.


Methods to watch ‘The Meg’ forward of ‘Meg 2: The Trench’s launch

What’s Meg 2: The Trench about?

Credit score: Warner Bros.

The sequel to 2018’s The Meg picks up years after this primary encounter, with main modifications to the analysis crew of the ocean-set facility Mana One. Most jolting, oceanographer Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing), who was the feminine lead/love curiosity in The Meg, has been unceremoniously killed off in between movies. Apparently, this character died in 2021, and her plucky daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai, reprising the function) is being raised by Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). And this hero of the franchise hasn’t solely been promoted from surly father determine to adopted dad, however he’s additionally gone from deep-sea rescue diver to “the inexperienced James Bond.”

Jonas is now an “eco-warrior” who, when he’s not serving to Mac (Cliff Curtis) and DJ (Web page Kennedy) on the Mana One, is out bringing down ocean polluters, vigilante-style. This backstory is wedged in to make sense of an early motion scene on a large cargo ship, and to ascertain a grudge with a grumbling foe. Nevertheless, it feels just like the Meg movies’ producers are posing Jonas for a extra bold franchise, the place he may be greater than a rescuer, he is usually a superhero — like Captain Planet, however with a perpetual pissed-off face.

The opposite massive change to Mana One is that lifeless Suyin’s estranged brother Jiuming (martial arts star Wu Jing) is concerned, creating exo-suits that improve the bodily energy of divers and coaching the meg they’ve in captivity. (Assume Chris Pratt in these silly Jurassic World movies the place he tames raptors, however manner much less plausible.)


‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ evaluation: An enormous, dumb animal that deserves extinction

Anyhow, Jonas, Jiuming, and 14-year-old Meiying find yourself on a diving expedition 25,000 toes down within the titular trench, the place there are extra megalodons and different terrifying Cretaceous-era critters. Naturally, issues go sideways, main again to terror on the ocean’s floor and a feeding frenzy at a seaside stuffed with vacationers. As a result of this a Meg sequel, and that is what’s demanded.

Meg 2: The Trench is an absolute blast in a lot of its motion.

Jason Statham races away from a megladon in "Meg 2: The Trench."

Credit score: Warner Bros.

This creature characteristic will get off to an excellent begin, 65 million years in the past. On a seaside, we watch the meals chain play out, with one little lizard preyed upon by a pack of bigger lizards with razor-sharp tooth. Subsequent, out stomps the poster-predator of Jurassic Park, a T-Rex, roaring, rampaging, and superb. After which, as teased within the trailer, comes the megalodon, with jaws so massive it makes that large dinosaur right into a snack.

This is why we go to movies like The Meg: motion that’s unapologetically bonkers and thrilling — partly as a result of it’s one thing we haven’t seen earlier than. The script by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris units up loads of alternatives for such motion. Within the trench, the explorers are pushed out of their submarine’s relative security and compelled to stroll amongst bioluminescent critters by no means earlier than seen by human eyes. Nevertheless, Wheatley isn’t as within the spectacle of those curious critters, that are used mainly for leap scares. Quickly, the main focus can be narrowed to the eponymous shark species and a smattering of equally historic and nightmarish sea creatures.

Their kills will start offscreen, recommended by a scream and a dropped piece of kit. There’s a intelligent toying with our anticipation right here as Wheatley delivers the blow with out exhibiting it. Nevertheless, the movie turns into bloated with motion scenes and demise because it lumbers into a 3rd act bursting with each. And because it does, the sinking feeling units in that Wheatley hates each second of this.

Loads of motion, however Meg 2 makes it unappetizing.

Wu Jing in "Meg 2: The Trench."

Credit score: Warner Bros.

Is there an excessive amount of of a very good factor? When you eat an excessive amount of sugar, your abdomen will insurgent. And Meg 2: The Trench is filled with the cinematic equal of junk meals. It’s not that there’s an excessive amount of motion, too excessive a physique rely, an excessive amount of carnage. It’s that there’s a lot of it that Wheatley appears to throw at us with a sneer. Demise scenes go from offscreen but hard-hitting to all-of-the-screen and numbing.

Very like in Jurassic World, there’s a flip the place the viewers is supposed to go from rooting for the onscreen people to outlive to relishing the doom of anybody who’s not a lead. Once we’re with the Mana One crew — even these launched minutes earlier than they change into chum — we’re inspired to narrate to them, with mentions of their pursuits, inside jokes, and a way of shared comradery with Jonas, who all of us get pleasure from regardless of his gruff exterior! However because the film hits its climax at Enjoyable Island (a location that even Statham rolls his eyes at), the angle shifts, as Wheatley urges us to root for the destruction of the joyful, oblivious vacationers.

Whereas there are apparent visible references to Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, and Jurassic Park, Wheatley tonally leans into the callousness of Jurassic World. There’s even a spin on the polarizing Bridezilla scene from Jurassic World, by which a lady dared to have an angle whereas engaged and died gruesomely as a punchline. Right here, the gobbling up of an obnoxious white male American vacationer and a plump white lady on a paddle boat is handled with related disdain, as if we’re to have fun their chomp-down as a comeuppance for being short-tempered, impolite, or fats.

Then Wheatley steals a web page from Nope‘s most harrowing scene, tossing audiences inside his creature to witness the helpless people that move into its jaws. In Nope, this scene made our blood run chilly, maybe as we imagined how a day at an amusement park might unexpectedly flip us right into a meal. However the identical concept used right here doesn’t invite us to share of their terror; it invitations us to chortle on the absurdity of the shot as shark tooth munch on screaming swimmers.

Meg 2: The Trench is making an attempt to be Quick and Livid — and failing.

Melissanthi Mahut aims a harpoon gun in "Meg 2: The Trench."

Credit score: Warner Bros.

One other instance of ambivalent extra within the movie’s third act is that a number of of the characters change into motion heroes out of nowhere. The hook of the primary movie (pardon the pun) was that Statham’s diver had a novel perception into the meg due to a near-death expertise at its arms. He was already an knowledgeable diver, however this trauma was mainly his Batman/Crime Alley second, giving him a movie-feasible inspiration for being such an motion hero on this preposterous situation. His function was to guard the others, who have been much more common people.

This time round, nonetheless, there are three characters who share within the type of derring-do that not solely throws warning to the wind but additionally logic out the window. There’s some lazy exposition traces to clarify a few of this away, and the casting of Wu looks as if a unadorned ploy for a possible spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw-model. However what it means for the film is that the third act hops willy-nilly from one motion hero to a different, with little disregard for logic, tempo, or emotional stakes. I felt punch-drunk as Wheatley delivered blow after blow after blow, bouncing round Enjoyable Island and the ocean, throwing up blood and violence like a child flinging spaghetti in a match. It went from thrilling to numbing, as a result of for each thrilling bit — a jet ski-riding Jason Statham being chased by a number of megalodons — there have been three bits that felt haphazard, as if Wheatley couldn’t be bothered.

This all brings to thoughts Quick X, which endlessly leaps from considered one of its impossibly invulnerable ass-kicking results in one other. There, this works, not solely as a result of the franchise has taken the pains to steadily set up its heroes and up their stakes, sequel after sequel, and with a understanding wink as they go, but additionally as a result of there’s a deep-seated pleasure in these absurdities. Some may mock the Quick franchise for its cleaning soap opera antics, absurd plots, or corny “household” messaging, however you possibly can’t deny that their makers revel within the recreation — even the goofiness — of all of it. Name it senseless all you need; their followers are cheering, and they’re laughing all the best way to the financial institution.

Wheatley doesn’t play right here like he’s having enjoyable. His Meg 2 could also be filled with the motion and outrageous creatures and summer season movie-level carnage demanded by audiences. However there’s a dead-eyed stare behind all of it, and not simply from the megs however from Wheatley himself, who, after two duds, appears to have taken a paycheck gig and resents everybody who may see it. His ire is obvious within the motion scenes which are erratic as a substitute of intense, clumsy dialogue that ought to have been punched up on set by this acclaimed screenwriter/director, and the shrug that’s the movie’s ultimate beat.

This was all the time going to be a silly film. However Wheatley treats us as silly for wanting that.

Jason Statham races away from a megladon in "Meg 2: The Trench."

Credit score: Warner Bros.

There’s no disgrace in loving a popcorn film. The world is a deeply tense, usually irrational place. And generally, there’s no higher approach to soothe ourselves than to look at a film so profoundly silly that it orders us instantly, seductively, to close off our brains and simply submit.

From when Jaws first blew up Bruce, a shiver of shark movies have been spawned from the sleekly ridiculous (Deep Blue Sea), to the unnervingly grounded (The Shallows, 47 Meters Down), to the unabashedly outrageous (Sharknado 1-6). The Meg swam into these waters, hewing extra to the primary group. However Meg 2: The Trench cruises into Sharknado territory, albeit with a much bigger price range and stronger spectacle. And perhaps that wouldn’t be so dangerous if this sequel didn’t really feel cynical in its showmanship.

Whereas the screenwriters are dashing to push Jonas into wealthy franchise terrain, Wheatley appears to rage towards the field this places him in. That might have fueled a film that dared to be smarter or extra subversive than you’d anticipate. As an alternative, Wheatley’s wit appears pointed on the gauche wishes of an viewers who simply need some massive, senseless leisure with out being judged for it.

Meg 2: The Trench opens in theaters Aug. 4.