Some films beg you to take them seriously. People aren’t heading to see Oppenheimer because of Cillian Murphy’s comic timing and pratfalls. But we filmgoers have proven again and again that comic mayhem stories, particularly those with great visual effects, are a winning formula. The multi-billion-dollar Fast & Furious franchise offers one very obvious example but plenty of action thrillers that weave in humor prove to be global box office gold. And then there’s the genre that’s always been near and dear to my heart; creature features. From the original 50’s Godzilla to the Creature from the Black Lagoon and even the bug movies Them! and Kingdom of the Spiders, there’s something very appealing about the cautionary tales of inexplicably canny but otherwise dumb monsters that threaten our otherwise benign world.
Ever since the extraordinary success of 1975’s Jaws, the first true Hollywood blockbuster, sharks and other toothy aquatic creatures have been high up on the creature list too. Search for “shark”, “croc”, or “gator” on IMDb and you’ll find literally hundreds of movie matches. 2018’s The Meg upped the ante with a 90-foot prehistoric shark that, well, ate normal sharks for breakfast. It was daft, but was also a surprise global hit, pulling in almost $450 million worldwide, mostly from the US and Chinese film markets. Five years later, our pal the Megalodon is back, along with most of the film’s original cast in Meg 2: The Trench…
This time, however, we learn that one of the Megalodons from the original story, Haiqi, has somehow ended up raised in captivity by cool-as-ice scientist and adventurer Jiuming Zhang (Chinese action film superstar Jing Wu). Floating just below the surface with a clicker while a 60′ Meg barrels towards him isn’t enough for Zhang to break a sweat, he’s that cool a customer. Meanwhile, the hero of the original film, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), has become an eco-warrior, as highlighted in a terrific opening sequence where he’s collecting evidence of nuclear waste being dumped from an enormous cargo ship. He jumps off in the nick of time, is picked up by uber-pilot Mac (Cliff Curtis) and is promptly whisked to Zhang’s research facility. Taylor has become de facto parental unit for now teenage Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), whose uncle turns out to be Zhang. As we learned in the first film, the Megalodons were trapped below a 5-mile-deep thermocline in the South Pacific. Zhang and company are now ready to go back and investigate the region further with new vessels, one piloted by Zhang, the other by Taylor.
But there’s more lurking in the extreme depths than just a few prehistoric fish and it’s not long before our group of heroes – including stowaway Meiying! – are having to walk 3km on the ocean floor in newly invented super-diving suits. 3km is a long way, particularly when there are creepy weird things that are apparently poised and waiting for unsuspecting humans in metal exoskeletons. A somewhat confusing underwater battle commences when they find a rogue mining operation in the thermocline region, including some unintentionally hilarious action sequences (trained SCUBA divers, remember “suspension of disbelief” is the heart of an action film in this genre).
The action eventually heads to the surface, where we find out that Zhang’s trained Meg Haiqi has broken out of her enclosure in search of some boy Megalodons. Spring fever in the South Pacific, ya know. A few social boy Megs looking for Megs Gone Wild aren’t the only creatures that have inadvertently escaped from the temporarily ruptured thermocline, however. Soon enough it’s complete creature mayhem and screaming bikini-clad young folk on rainbow floaties at “Fun Island” (actually Phuket, Thailand, a stunningly beautiful spot). Fortunately, our gang of heroes, along with amusing and unexpected man of action DJ (Page Kennedy), are on the job. To no-one’s surprise, it becomes a mano-a-fin-o fight, with Taylor going one on one with the monsters while most everyone else stands around and gets chomped. Not much on-screen blood but one presumes the collateral damage is pretty extreme. These critters are hungry after all!
There are some villains in the film too who are running the rogue mining operation and trying to take over the Mana-One offshore research facility too. Turns out that the sub-thermocline is rich with insanely valuable rare earth minerals (“this one rock’s probably worth a billion dollars” “billion, with a b?”), but they’re basically just action props to keep the story, such as it is, moving forward. It’s really all about the creatures, as is entirely suitable in a modern creature feature film.
There’s no question that Meg 2: The Trench is a formulaic action thriller with daft dialog and entirely unbelievable, laugh-out-loud action sequences, but in the spirit of all great creature features, it’s also ridiculously entertaining. I even found myself clapping after one particularly banal line of dialog capping a particularly dramatic action sequence. If you seek deep, thoughtful, and provocative stories when you head to the cinema, this is not the movie for you, but if you can check your brain at the door and just sit back to enjoy fun monster mayhem, there’s a lot to love about Meg 2: The Trench. As a huge fan of the original, this was a very satisfying sequel and one that I am sure I’ll watch again and again.