Meg 2: The Trench is ‘plain awful’

Must read

The follow-up to The Meg is a “very distant, shabby descendant of Jaws”, writes Caryn James, with some glimmers of meta wit but also plenty of “leaden dialogue and predictable action”.


The sequel to the 2018 hit The Meg raises one of the timeless questions about cinema: when is a film so bad it’s good – hilarious in its crumminess – and when is it just plain awful? Meg 2: The Trench definitely falls in the terrible category, and it didn’t have to be that way. The Meg knew exactly what it was: a formulaic movie with Jason Statham as Jonas Taylor, a diver battling a megalodon, a giant prehistoric shark previously thought to be extinct. The movie had no more or less ambition than to be a slick commercial adventure, and while it wasn’t great it fulfilled that goal well enough to have earned more than $530m (£420m) worldwide.

More like this:

Oppenheimer is a flat-out masterpiece

‘Joyous’ Barbie breaks the mould

A big disappointment from Wes Anderson

Meg 2 doesn’t know what it is, other than a movie sort of like that first movie, but messier. Often it seems like a serious but very distant, shabby descendant of Jaws, yet at times it also has glimmers of meta wit, with nods at its own genre. In some scenes, the look is deliberately low-tech retro and cheesy, but the action that is meant to be thrilling and explosive is pretty lousy, too. All those bits and pieces don’t add up to one entertaining movie. “We need to make a stand, turn and fight!” Jonas tells his crew when he realises that many megs are about to overtake them. That’s the kind of leaden dialogue and predictable action a viewer of Meg 2 is up against.

Jonas now works at an oceanic institute devoted to saving the ecosystem, where a meg raised from a pup lives in a giant aquarium in the office. We know that Statham has a sense of humour; we’ve seen it in films like Spy. Here he walks, runs, punches and jet-skis around with a perpetually furrowed brow; a scowl as an acting choice.

The end of The Meg teased Jonas’s romance with the oceanographer Suyin, who had a young daughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai). In the sequel, we learn that Suyin has died, and Jonas seems to be 14-year-old Meiying’s stepfather. It’s all murky, but relationships were never The Meg’s strength. Suyin’s brother, Jiuming, has also joined the institute. He is played by Wu Jing, a Chinese superstar. His presence speaks to the film’s global box-office aspirations, but he fits in smoothly in a bland, unexciting role. Cliff Curtis returns as the level-headed manager, Mac, and Page Kennedy sits behind a computer as DJ. He is the film’s meta voice, the “Don’t go in the house” guy.  

Jonas takes a crew that includes Jiuming and even little Meiying (don’t ask how; it’s ridiculous) 25,000ft below the ocean floor to explore a trench that these megalodons seem to be escaping from. When things inevitably go wrong and every major character is in danger and soaking wet, the gang end up in a raft. “This feels unpleasantly familiar,” DJ says, and Rigas (Melissanthi Mahut), another crew member, says, “I just hope it goes better than last time.” Ha. That rare moment, with the audience meant to laugh knowingly, stands out. DJ seems to be in a different movie, especially when he takes out a gun to defend them from the supersharks and says, “I even made poison-tipped bullets, just like Jaws 2”. No other character is that aware that they live in an echo of other movies.

The director, Ben Wheatley, is the latest indie filmmaker to take on a big commercial project, as Taika Waititi did spectacularly with Thor: Ragnarok and Chloé Zhao less so with Eternals. Wheatley’s films are quirky and different from each other, ranging from black comedy Sightseers, to the eco-thriller In the Earth. But each has a single distinctive tone, something the floundering Meg 2 lacks.

Meg 2: The Trench

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Sophia Cai, Page Kennedy

Run-time: 1hr 56m

Release date: 4 August

The low-tech effects are sporadic and distracting. One shot has Statham holding a spear up to a looming megalodon’s mouth, which cuts to an overhead look at a big grey surface with a spear sticking out of it. Guess he speared the meg. But even when Wheatley tries to ramp up the action and special effects, the jump scares never make you jump, no matter how many times a gigantic CGI jaw full of teeth lunges toward the camera.    

When a gigantic octopus tentacle reached out of the ocean to grab Meiying, it suddenly made me think of a very good octopus dish at a local restaurant. I wasn’t even hungry. It’s just that easy to lose interest in anything going on in this movie.


Love film and TV? Join BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community for cinephiles all over the world.

If you would like to comment on this story or anything else you have seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or message us on Twitter.

And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.

More articles

Latest article