Director Ben Wheatley, known for his gritty thrillers and dark humor, seemed like an interesting choice to helm Meg 2: The Trench, the sequel to 2018’s schlocky B-movie about scientists, Jason Statham, and a megalodon shark.
The good news is Statham returns with his trademark rugged charm and one-liners. The disappointing news is that the fun teased in the fantastic trailer, set to Heart’s “Barracuda,” only pops up sporadically. The movie too often struggles to balance suspense and outrageous monster action, failing to recapture the goofy thrills promised.
In fairness to Wheatley, the lackluster screenplay by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris does the film no favors. Adapted from Steve Alten’s Meg novel The Trench, it fails to fully deliver on the hilarious absurdity promised by the tagline “New Meg. Old Chum.” and poster of Statham in giant teeth. The script only sporadically leans into the ridiculous premise. While Statham receives solid support from returning cast Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy, the rest of the ensemble is forgettable. The pedestrian writing underserves Wheatley’s talents for B-movie thrills.
The rest of the cast is also unremarkable. This includes a greedy corporate villain (Sienna Guillory) who is a knockoff of Marcia Gay Harden, bent on destroying the environment for profit. Her emotionless young henchwoman (Skyler Samuels) gives orders to kill with as little gravitas as a junior publicist. The tagalong kid (Sophia Cai) was cute in The Meg but now her precociousness is more grating than charming.
Sadly, this also includes Chinese action star Wu Jing as institute director Jiuming Zhang, the girl’s uncle. While he pulls off some impressive stunts, like dangling from a helicopter and battling a giant octopus, he seems uncomfortable acting in English. This hinders the jokey rapport between his character and Statham’s Jonas Taylor, and prevents the two heroes from connecting on equal footing.
Meg 2 opens strongly with the amusing prehistoric prologue from the trailer, charting the food chain from a dragonfly to an amphibious lizard to a T-Rex snacking too long on the shoreline before becoming meg food. Just as you begin questioning how a 65-foot shark could maneuver in such shallow water, we fast-forward to the present day. Here Statham is in his action sweet spot, bursting out of a cargo container to pummel scuzzy pirates dumping radioactive waste in the Philippine Sea.
The promising Jurassic opening and Statham settling into ass-kicking mode initially suggest Meg 2 could deliver the B-movie goods.
Back at the Oceanic Institute in China run by his friend Jiuming, Jonas has become a gruff father figure to teenager Meiying (Cai), whose oceanographer mother has died, since Li Bingbing left the production. The writers barely explain her absence, though they have Meiying gaze at a captive megalodon and ask, “Do you miss your mom, big fish?”
The Institute holds the world’s only captive meg, Haiqi, trained by Jiuming’s click commands. Jonas is skeptical: “It’s a meg, and you’re a snack.” Meiying stows away during an exploratory mission, and when things go awry, the team gets trapped on the ocean floor 25,000 feet down.
The clumsy exposition and abrupt recasting show the script’s laziness. But the aquarium shark bonding and underwater disaster plant the seeds for aquatic action.
Sure enough, Haiqi has escaped, attracting other megs during mating season (sequel bait). The divers discover a rogue mining operation led by the sweaty mercenary Montes (Sergio Persis-Mencheta), plundering rare earth metals worth billions. He detonates an explosion breaching the thermocline, allowing the megs access from the Pacific depths.
With damaged submersibles and limited oxygen, Jonas, Jiuming and their crew are forced to “walk” the ocean floor in robotic suits, picked off by megs, giant salamanders, and other threats. But we feel little as these thinly sketched characters meet their demise.
The mining scheme kicks the shark chaos into overdrive. But the lack of character development makes the deaths weightless, squandering the sequel’s suspense.
The film falters when the underwater action drags on, causing momentum to sink as we’re left dwelling on obtuse tech-talk delivered in inscrutable accents. Wheatley struggles to find the right balance between awe, suspense, and humor in the deep sea setting.
Things improve once back on land with Jonas brawling against Montes, but Meg 2 takes time to regain its footing even then. The final act follows the template of The Meg, shifting to the ominously named Fun Island resort where heroes have close shaves with megs while tourists meet grisly fates. Here Wheatley seems more at ease, bringing back fan-favorite Pippin and unleashing seaside carnage akin to shark thrillers since Jaws.
The deep sea action bogs down the middle section, but Wheatley ultimately taps into B-movie shark thrills during the resort rampage finale.
There are enjoyable winks to shark movie lore, like when DJ reveals Jaws 2-inspired poison bullets. Kennedy also flaunts his rapping in a silly end credits song. Harry Gregson-Williams’ score amplifies the action, especially as Jonas and friends try stopping a feeding frenzy amid armed mercenaries. Chris Lowe’s production design impresses, but the CGI megs disappoint in closeups.
As fun as Statham harpooning from a jet ski is, Meg 2 only provides sporadic thrills. Too absurd for real scares yet too uneven to commit to the joke, even the mindless summer fun falls short due to the bloated runtime. I grew so disengaged that shouts of “Megs!” had me fantasizing about Meg Ryan cameos instead.
Statham’s charisma and playful references can’t rescue the schizophrenic tone and choppy pacing. The overlong sequel fails to deliver the breezy B-movie experience it promises.