By Andrew Hamlin
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The most effective moment in “The Meg” comes softly, and almost silently. That’s a lesson the rest of the film can’t seem to learn — most of the film screeches and screams, visually, overboard and deeply immersed in CGI overkill.
But when little Shuya Sophia Cai, playing the obligatory cute kid, wanders through the underwater research facility, complete with huge corridors and transparent walls looking out at the deep sea outside, the monster slides up with subtlety. Its skin reflects the bright lights of the station. Its dark eyes reflect nothing. Its mouth, large enough to choke down a Metro bus, slides open and presses against the glass. The little girl looks at the giant. All is quiet. Until the relentless action comes crashing back in.
The movie’s monster, the main one anyway, turns out to be a Megalodon, properly “Carcharocles megalodon,” a species of giant sharks measuring up to 60 feet long. In real life, the immense toothy critters went extinct approximately 2.6 million years ago. For fictional purposes, though, they’re back, and eating their way through the world’s oceans.
Steve Alten published “The Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror,” in 1997. Alten gave his protagonist, Jonas Taylor, a best friend of Japanese ancestry, but Alten probably did not foresee the strong multicultural aspects of the film version, which differs significantly from his original story.
The little girl, half Chinese Shuya Sophia Cai in only her second film role, manages everything required from an action film’s obligatory cute kid: adorable, wise beyond her years, ridiculously intelligent, and very helpful when it comes to playing Cupid. Jonas Taylor, played by Jason Statham, is looking for love, but won’t admit it. So is Li Bingbing, playing Cai’s mother, an oceanographer.
Li Bingbing’s already a huge star in her native China, broke through to English-speaking audiences with such blockbusters as “Resident Evil: Retribution” and “Transformers: Age of Extinction.” Here, she puts up a tough front, only gradually revealing her character’s vulnerability beneath. Of course, like everyone else in this movie, she’s trying to keep herself, her daughter, and incidentally everyone else from getting eaten.
Taiwanese actor Winston Chao, playing Li Bingbing’s father, isn’t quite so well known in the West, although he’s played Sun Yat-sen on the big screen five times over, and even extended his range into Indian films, such as “Kabali” and “Tik Tik Tik.” He’s soft-spoken but with inner reserves of resolve, though sadly hampered by family drama he prefers to ignore.
Masi Oka, a native of Tokyo who grew up in Los Angeles, gained fame through the kids’ game show “Child’s Play,” and later the “Heroes” TV show. His character falls into jeopardy early, and must make a mighty sacrifice. He reacts with forthrightness, common sense, and prioritizing others above himself. His bravery in the face of disaster impresses.
As is usual in this sort of popcorn film, though, the monster proves to be the real star. The Megalodon, quickly nicknamed the “Meg,” eats anything in its path, tearing and shredding animals, vegetables, and minerals, gulping down anyone of any ethnicity, any small vessel that can’t get out of the way, and a few surprises. This movie doesn’t innovate. It doesn’t manifest any new directions, or much want to. It will go down good with gulped-down popcorn. Just don’t forget your soda!
“The Meg” is currently playing Seattle theaters. Check local listings for venues, prices, and showtimes.
Andrew can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.