‘Meg 2: The Trench’ Review: Not Quite Jaws-Dropping

Aaron Neuwirth reviews Meg 2: The Trench, which once again finds Jason Statham taking on a giant shark, but to what end?
User Rating: 5

Whether or not 2018’s adaptation of Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror lived up to what many enjoyed about author Steve Alten’s bestseller, it was a hit film that satisfied many for what it was. Meg 2: The Trench is only loosely connected (at most) to Alten’s own sequel novel, but its aspirations are essentially the same. The first time around, Jason Statham led a colorful cast in a film designed to pit the Brit action star against a prehistoric shark. This being a sequel, you’re getting that and more, as The Trench features more megalodons, other giant creatures, and a higher body count. Is bigger always better though? Well, the goofy sensibilities that naturally come with the territory and were clearly being leaned on the first time around are still intact. I just wish this film sharpened its teeth a bit earlier.

I guess you could say the plot is pretty straightforward. Take away all of the work done to re-explain who these characters are, and it boils down to a team of marine researchers and a rescue diver/activist/sentimental tough guy played by Jason Statham once again heading deep underwater to explore the hidden world below. This time, however, a secret mining operation not only jeopardizes the lives of our heroes but leads to multiple creatures escaping their concealed environment. Naturally, Statham’s Jonas Taylor and the others will have to stop the deadly beasts from the ocean’s greatest depths while also dealing with a human threat.

Much of this film feels like the result of Statham being unsatisfied with being unable to punch and kick a bunch of guys the first time around. In this film, he’s re-introduced as a man working hard to show corruption at sea by getting photo evidence of pollution and then fighting his way out. When stuck at the bottom of the ocean, he’s forced to deal with a rival played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta, whose character was previously imprisoned by Jonas. So naturally, they have a few bouts. Even other cast members get into shootouts and fistfights with various henchmen.

The Meg was not a great film, even in the realm of sharksploitation (it’s no Deep Blue Sea or The Shallows). However, it had a level of charm that came from the effort to endear us with its characters. They weren’t all that deep, but there was some silly fun that came from letting the film’s middle act, amid everything else going on, find the time to have Jonas’ ex-wife give advice on how he can start a new relationship with Li Bingbing’s character (who was apparently killed off in between films). I’d even argue the movie had something to say about the environment and big corporations.

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By comparison, The Trench doesn’t really land as well when it comes to how to use its cast and pretty much ditches any level of commentary. It’s more preoccupied with being a clear-cut action flick, which is not inherently bad, but I found limits in its entertainment. While I was okay with its opening section, which introduced Chinese superstar Wu Jing as a part of the cast, much of the film’s focus in its first half was underwater. Done right, it can certainly be fun exploring this unknown area and matching that excitement with genuine tension. Here, however, it just became increasingly tedious, even when judging it on a scale of ludicrousness.

Things do pick up once the action heads back above water. While director Ben Wheatley’s penchant for bloody violence in his previous efforts, including Kill List and Free Fire, were always going to be watered down to compensate for Meg 2’s PG-13 rating, he does clearly relish the opportunity to let giant CG sharks demolish all that they can in creative ways. Various nods to other shark movies emerge as well, including one particularly wonderful shot set from the POV of inside the mouth of one of these killer behemoths.

To make it clear – this movie has a lot of shark-related action. An opening prologue sets the stage for how big a Meg can get by putting it up against another notable prehistoric creature. The first half loses sight of this by removing a sense of scale due to the underwater focus, but a deliberate choice to have multiple megalodons (and other things) terrorize a vacation island does allow the film to satisfy in the area of “and now a bunch of crazy and over-the-top things occur.” If anything, The Trench feels modeled more on what to expect from a modern Chinese blockbuster, which is a novel approach but feels limiting.

Still, is the wait for Statham on a jet ski versus a Meg worth it? Well, there’s the rub. It’s not as though the film has a deeper agenda, nor do I feel the only way to do this right is by having great characters and plotting. However, even with an agreeably daffy tone, I just couldn’t help but feel underwhelmed during the time taken to get to the film’s more exciting second half.

That said, these films ride primarily on Statham’s inherent charisma. These Meg movies trade in any chance one may have at feeling as though this guy is ever really in any danger in exchange for a performer who truly knows how to look cool at any given moment. Adding on Wu Jing was a nice touch, as it at least guarantees a massive Chinese box office that, in turn, will likely provide support for Meg 3: People 0. I’d even credit some returning cast for being willing to have fun, specifically Page Kennedy’s DJ, who uses his time to shine.

For all of its key moments bound to inspire cheering or at least high amounts of laughter that go with the absurd display of ocean-based action, Meg 2: The Trench isn’t doing a lot to be more than what it suggests – a sequel to a film where the premise is “that’s a huge shark.” Granted, sometimes that’s all you really need, but this second entry feels a bit too loosely strung together. It provides some decent entertainment, but it’s not quite jaw-dropping.

Meg 2: The Trench opens wide in theaters on August 4, 2023.

5
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Written by
Aaron Neuwirth is a movie fanatic and Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic from Orange County, California. He’s a member of the African American Film Critics Association, the Hollywood Critics Association, the Online Film Critics Society, and the Black Film Critics Circle. As an outgoing person who is always thrilled to discuss movies, he’s also a podcaster who has put far too many hours into published audio content associated with film and television. His work has been published at Variety, We Live Entertainment, Why So Blu, The Young Folks, Firstshowing.net, Screen Rant, and Hi-Def Ninja.

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