Unembarrassed about its own absurdity, The Meg 2 delivers amusingly over-the-top aquatic mayhem by the bloody bucketful.
The Meg 2: The Trench is exactly what we expected The Meg to be, which is weird because The Meg was not at all what we expected. Instead of a deliberately dumb CGI shlockfest, The Meg stuck fairly closely, at least for its first half, to the template of a classic monster movie, efficiently introducing its characters, settings, and situations while keeping the titular menace offscreen, its presence and power revealed through its impact (e.g., metal walls buckling beneath the pressure of whatever was ramming them from outside). It did a good job of building up to the revelation of its prehistoric Megalodon and got us invested enough in its story and characters to build some real suspense while moving toward the climax where the gonzo effects finally took over.
Dispensing with any pretense of credibility, The Meg 2: The Trench pretty much goes gonzo from the start, and while that might be disappointing, the sequel is so upfront about its intentions that it is easy to go along for the silly ride. This film expects us to believe that its hero, Jonas, can survive 500 atmospheres of deep sea pressure not merely because he is played by Jason Statham but more importantly because water, unlike air, does not compress under pressure; therefore, all Jonas has to do is fill his nostrils with water instead of air – it’s just that easy! (The script is unconcerned about the air in his lungs, and apparently the audience should be, as well.)
This nonsense would utterly destroy a serious film, but the The Meg 2: The Trench takes it in stride, wearing the absurdity like a badge of honor, and the audience lets the film get away with it because they paid their hard cash to see CGI shark mayhem, and that’s what they get by the boatload. Not only are there three Megs this time; a Kraken is thrown in as a special bonus monster. But, wait – there’s more! Deep in the titular trench, where they have evolved for tens of millions of years with no terrestrial contact, are some four-legged amphibians that can stroll around on land and breathe just fine, because why not? All that matters is that there are sea monsters attacking from every direction – on land as well as sea (not yet from the air, but we expect that in the inevitable sequel).
In case you are interested in the story, Jonas is back of course, but his love interest from the first film is dead (boo!), leaving him to become a sort of surrogate father to her daughter, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), because playing the “family” card is an easy thing that movies do these days to engage audiences. Meiying of course is one of those precocious movie kids who disobeys Jonas at every step, putting herself in danger but always surviving, because this is the kind of film that is supposed to be scary good fun, so the cute kid has to survive, and with a few exceptions, the victims are horrible jerks we are happy to see ground into shark chum.
There is also a new character, Meiying’s uncle, Jiuming Zhang (Jing Wu), who has a pet Meg named Haiqi in his super-duper underwater facility. He has been clicker-training it like a puppy – a Chekov’s Gun plot point that the film seems to forget but then suddenly remembers near the end, creating something almost like a dramatic payoff (so kudos for making an effort, screenwriters!).
Anyway, Haiqi escapes when mating season arrives, and she hooks up with a couple of male sharks in the Trench (in case you had any doubt there would be sequels). Jonas, Meiying, and Zhang – along with a few expendables – end up stranded in the Trench; their submersible disabled, they have to walk across the dark ocean floor to a facility operated by some evil villains doing evil villain stuff because apparently monster sharks are not enough to pad out the running time to feature length.
But all that’s okay because their trek through the trench is an awesome opportunity for suspense. Movies tend to go overboard with undersea visibility (which is limited even in well-lit, clear water), but for once we get a sequence where the divers in the pressure suits can barely see anything except for some eerie bioluminescence. This creates a skin-crawling sense of anticipation as the audience creeps out wondering what might emerge from the darkness at any moment. It’s one of those sequences that almost screams at nitpicking viewers: “No matter how stupid you think this movie is, you have to admit you’re scares shitless now, aren’t you?”
This eventually leads to Jonas sucking water into his proboscis as we mentioned before, and eventually after all the crew wearing red shirts are dead (oh, wait – that’s Star Trek), the characters we care about (sort of) get back to the surface to regain control of Zhang’s facility from the bad guys, who are mostly expandable now that they have served their plot function (i.e., creating conditions that allowed the oversized sea creatures get out of the Trench, without which there would be no movie). One hysterically funny thing about battling the bad guys is that DJ (Page Kennedy), who managed to survive the first film despite being black, has apparently learned his lesson and taken some serious martial arts training in case he ever found himself in a sequel, so he unleashes an unexpected can of whoop-ass, and you just have to laugh in gratitude that The Meg 2 did not simply rehash the frightened black guy thing. Cool!
Of course, no one paid to see humans fighting over unauthorized mining of minerals in the Mariana Trench, so the film quickly switches attention to the multi-pronged monster attack on a nearby resort named Fun Island, where most of the fun for viewers is guessing who will be eaten. This is pretty easy because the dumb-ass characters all but announce, “I deserve to die,” but that’s a good thing because it makes it fun to see them die while the nice people mostly make it out alive. Anyone want to cast bets on the fate of the cute little doggie?
As or the rampaging sea beasts, the CGI is pretty sketchy – with that glistening, pretty but unreal look – but since the whole film is basically a live-action cartoon anyway, it’s not a deal-breaker. We did like the distinctive appearance of the huge Alpha Meg, whose hide bears more scars than any lethal leviathan since Moby Dick; it’s as if the history of his battles for survival are etched on his skin – a living testament to age, endurance, and strength. It does not exactly give the Meg personality, but it does make him feel iconic, and we just wish the film had done more to personalize the battle between him and Jonas – the two thick-skinned alpha males on a collision course where only one will survive.
That was perhaps too much to ask for, but at least Haiqi, the pet Meg, plays an important if ambiguous role in the climax: is she just obeying her predatory instincts, or has she bonded with Zhang? Whatever her motivations, when the script fires its Checkov’s Gun, we are genuinely uncertain what the results will be. But rest assured, everything wraps up as neatly as sashimi in a fish market ripped apart by a hurricane, which is about as neatly as a film with such a massive, unenumerated body count can possibly be.
Now the only question is whether Meg 3 will develop the notion of clicker-training into a Jurassic World-type scenario featuring a well-schooled pack of Megalodons functioning as aquatic attack dogs. It sounds ridiculous, but being ridiculous certainly worked well for The Meg 2.
The Meg 2: The Trench (2023)
1 – Avoid
2 – Not all bad
3 – Recommended
4 – Highly Recommended
5 – Must See
The Meg 2: The Trench cannot be taken seriously, but it does not want to be. Completely unembarrassed about its own absurdity, it delivers over-the-top aquatic mayhem by the bloody bucketful. Many summer blockbusters invite their audiences to turn off their brains; this particular invitation is worth accepting.
Cast: Jason Statham, Jing Wu, Shuya Sophia Cai, Cliff Curtis, Page Kennedy, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels, Melissanthi Mahut, Sienna Guillory.
Credits: Directed by Ben Wheatley. Screenplay by Jon Hoeber & Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris. Rated PG-13. 116m. US Theatrical Release Date: August 4, 2023.