Okay look, I’ve made no bones over the years about not being the world’s biggest Ben Wheatley fan; I found ‘Kill List’ (2011) daft and overrated, ‘Free Fire’ (2016) irredeemably annoying and the less said about his staggeringly misguided ‘High-Rise’ (2015) the better. It’s not that I didn’t think he had talent but more that his outré posturing always undermined my ability to enjoy his movies and that if he stopped biting off more than he could chew and simply set out to entertain then he’d possibly win me over, which is why I was curious to see how he’d handle a giant, prehistoric shark movie starring Jason Statham. And the result? Well…
The plot involves Statham and his aquatic buddies accidentally making a hole in the oceanic barrier that separates the Megalodons from the rest of the world meaning Statham and his aquatic buddies have to stop the Megalodons from eating the rest of the world. And that’s it with the film proudly displaying its own inherent idiocy with the uninhibited pride of a Swedish naturist.
The science is deliberately laughable, the characters so stock you could use them for soup and every narrative beat gleefully smothers itself in a glaze of ludicrousness with Wheatley exploiting all this by both leaning into it heavily and playing it completely straight. Until, that is, the inevitable happens and the entire movie buckles under its own preposterousness and starts corpsing at all the insanity, and if you’re also on-board then you’ll be laughing too.
What also helps is Wheatley’s very appealing use of colour, especially in the underwater sequences, and even though there’s some murky moments and blasts of shaky-cam he does an admirable job of keeping the action clear and uncluttered. I enjoyed LOOKING at this film.
The film’s also packed with a decent amount of invention and variation with almost as much practical effect work at play as there is CGI. In fact, my favourite moment is also the film’s simplest. It’s when the good guys are hiding in a shack thinking they’re safe only for a bunch of mercenaries to suddenly burst in to escape some monsters whilst tossing a hand-grenade behind them as they slam the door closed at the precise moment it explodes. It’s pure, basic, practical move-making at its best involving no special effects and executed with nothing more than some dudes, a door, a shower of dirt and immaculate timing. But it’s evidence of a director paying attention to, and being able to milk, every single beat in their movie for a laugh and I can’t help but respond when I know that’s happening.
Yet the film’s biggest strength is its pacing. I’d notice some people moan about the lack of Meg action, and it’s true the giant sharks aren’t front and centre, but Wheatley does a skilled job of keeping everything moving and always pushing forward, so there’s an exponential growth to the excitement levels and, again, I can’t help but respond positively to that.
The dialogue is intentionally laughable — “Billions… with a ‘B’?” (as opposed to what?), “It’s the deviated septum!”, “That’s why you don’t see fish wearing metal suits” — and there’s, not surprisingly, references to Spielberg’s ‘Jaws’ (1975), although what is somewhat surprising are the references to ‘Jaws 2’ (1978) AND ‘Jaws 3-D’ (1983), ‘It Came From Beneath the Sea’ (1955) and even Mel Brooks’ ‘History of the World: Part 1’ (1981).
‘Meg 2: The Trench’ is a furiously silly movie I can imagine many detesting it but I left the cinema giggling for quite a while afterwards (I enjoyed this movie in the same way I enjoyed Roland Emmerich’s ‘Moonfall’), and it seems as though Wheatley has finally made a film I genuinely enjoyed. He might not be cut out for Ballard but when it comes to unadulterated stupidity it appears he can pull that off with a surprising amount of intelligence.