I really want to like the Meg movies, because, on paper, they really speak to my sensibilities when it comes to mindless summer blockbusters. I, like many (if the box office returns of late say anything), are tired of superhero films and shared cinematic universes that require me to watch two television shows to understand the plot of a sequel to a film that had nothing to do with said television shows, and sometimes I just want something that knows what it is, leans into it, and gives me a good time for a short while. Again, in theory, big-budget, Chinese co-produced action thrillers about gargantuan sharks should fit the bill, but upon release of The Meg in 2018, I found so much of the end product to feel, well, toothless. It’s not necessarily its PG-13 rating that holds it back, but rather its insistence on being a Jason Statham (The Transporter; Expendables series) action film first and a giant shark movie second. Blending action and horror together isn’t always as simple as it looks, but The Meg shifted its balance too far into the wrong direction, which, despite its fun style, left me cold. However, it’s never too late to course-correct, and getting a weirdo indie horror director like Ben Wheatley (Free Fire; Rebecca) behind the camera of your sequel is a great start…right?
Five years after his first tussle with the eponymous megalodon shark, rescue diver and environmental activist Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) has spent his time fighting environmental crime across the globe with his team, as well as with his stepdaughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai), following the death of her mother, and Jonas’s partner, Suyin (Bingbing Li). Meanwhile, Meiying’s uncle, Jiuming (Wu Jing), has been working to train Haiqi, an 80 ft “meg” shark, despite the trepidation of the rest of the crew. When Haiqi escapes captivity, the dive team attempts to avoid its reach in the depths of a nearby trench, but soon discover two more megs awaiting Haiqi, as well as an illegal mining operation run by the vengeful Montes (Sergio Peris Mencheta). The team of specialists must work to get ahead of their opposition and prevent the trio of megs from reaching civilization off the Hainan coast of China.
Does the plot to Meg 2: The Trench make even the slightest bit of sense? Absolutely not, but I would argue that a film like this doesn’t require even a semblance of cohesiveness to achieve its goals, as long as it’s in on itself and provides viewers with a ton of fun. So, that poses the question: where the hell is the fun here? Why is something so ridiculously over the top as Meg 2: The Trench so damned boring? Why is the majority of a film marketed as a giant shark romp spent in poorly-lit, claustrophobic quarters where we’re dealing with storylines involving personal vendettas and illegal mining? Why is nearly all of the advertised mayhem confined to the final 30 minutes of this nearly 120 minute film? And what happened to Ben Wheatley’s style? Where is any semblance of a vision here? Why is everything so ugly?
I understand that these questions will never truly be answered because I truly don’t believe that even those behind Meg 2: The Trench know what happened to cause this. This is a film made up of baffling decisions that result in a film that isn’t offensively bad as much as it is shockingly misguided, even more so than its first outing. Perhaps it has to do with the film being a Chinese co-production and that the wants of Chinese audiences in their big budget blockbuster fare differs from American ones, and that they might have been the first priority here (seeing that the film opened to $50 million in China vs. $30 million in America and had a final run of $110 million vs. America’s $80 million, I’d argue that it was the correct move), but that doesn’t change the fact that, for an English-language Jason Statham shark film, there is a distinct lack of shark that immediately gives whatever is left a distinct lack of direction that can’t be salvaged.
Speaking of direction…where is it? It’s somewhat shocking to see a filmmaker with as singular a director’s vision as Ben Wheatley be scrubbed so completely clean of any sort of directorial style, leaving nothing but a shiny, lifeless shell of a movie in its wake. I thought for sure that Wheatley’s involvement with the film would stand to inject some much needed nastiness and macabre content into the Meg series, and I was very much so onboard with the idea of him taking that step in his career, but I can see that faith was misplaced. I think it’s pretty clearly not Wheatley’s fault here, as I can only imagine with both the American Warner Bros. and Chinese CMC Pictures at his door every night, that there was little to no wiggle room to do anything of note here. It’s a real shame, seeing as the idea of a truly Wheatley-fied Meg sounds truly fascinating. I wish the studios had given him that freedom to let his freak flag fly.
Warner Bros.’s 4K Blu-ray home media release of Meg 2 is…fine, I suppose. The video quality of the film, while always clean and clear, can never escape the grasp that the film’s underlit, completely washed out image has on it. This, frankly, is just an ugly movie, so much so that 4K Dolby Vision simply can’t course correct beyond making the shadows in the dimly lit ocean floors and undersea vessels pop with rich black levels. Even when the party moves on shore to the aptly named “Fun Island,” a tropical resort off the Hainan coast, the film’s palette still is much more washed out than any sequence with a tropical theme has any right to be. Again, not the fault of anyone at Warner Bros. here, and it, frankly, isn’t a bad transfer at all, I just wish the film around it kept up with it.
However, the film’s Dolby Atmos track, thankfully, delivers the goods, and does so pretty flawlessly. From the first moments of the low-frequency underwater rumblings accompanying the Warner Bros. logo, to the high-octane score from Harry Gregson-Williams (The Meg) that really takes hold in the film’s final act, to the Mandarin rendition of “That’s Not My Name” by The Ting Tings that plays over the film’s end credits (the best sequence in the entire film, frankly), there is rarely a moment of the film that doesn’t have something at least moderately interesting going on in its soundscape. There are good uses of atmospherics, and the subwoofer utilization here is top notch. There really is only one thing in this entire release that’s practically faultless, and it’s absolutely its audio mix.
Special features for Meg 2: The Trench are sparse, but at least not completely absent, even if they are limited to two bog-standard EPK behind-the-scenes featurettes that aren’t particularly enlightening to the film’s production. I suppose it’s better than nothing. Special features include:
- The Making of Meg 2: The Trench – Featurette
- Up From the Depths: Even More Beasts – Featurette
It’s not just that Meg 2: The Trench is dull, but the fact that it drags on for nearly two whole hours on top of that — inexcusable. Still, even after going 0-2 with these films, I still oddly want to root for them. That far-off idea of a true Jason Statham shark movie still lingers in my brain, and I really do like the idea of truly international co-productions existing between Hollywood studios and studios of other countries (and I personally don’t think lessening the divide and mysticism between the U.S. and China is a bad thing), but let’s just make sure that when we do those things, that we do them right the first time around so I don’t have to continue waiting more than a decade down the line for a third installment to finally impress me. Will that happen? Doubtful, but I can’t say that I wouldn’t accept a third-act turnaround of quality with open arms if it were to happen. Still, what we do have is not that fulfillment of dreams, but it might elicit some dreams from you, as I imagine it’s a good film to put you to sleep if you were truly struggling to do so. Warner Bros.’s 4K Blu-ray release of the film is as standard as a studio release for a moderately successful franchise film is in 2023, for better or for worse, as much of its shortcomings come solely from the film itself.
Available on digital August 25th, 2023.
Available on Max September 29th, 2023.
Available on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, and DVD October 24th, 2023.
For more information, head to the official WB Pictures Meg 2: The Trench website.
Final Score: 1.5 out of 5.
This piece was written during the SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the movie being covered here wouldn’t exist.