We can’t tell you how confusing it is to see Ben Wheatley’s name on the credits for Meg 2: The Trench. It might not mean much to other people, but this is a director that brought us Kill List, Sightseers and A Field in England, some of the most twisted and brilliant British horror of the century. And here he is, directing the Stath in a sequel to Meg. In what world does that make sense?
A world where people need money, clearly. Yet, thinking back to our experience of Meg 2: The Trench, it makes the tiniest sliver of sense. Because the first half, in a ramshackle, knock-off manner that is true to a lot of Jason Statham movies, is tense and good fun. While we wouldn’t have stood up and shouted “this must be a Ben Whatley movie!”, it’s compelling in much the same way as his other movies. The other half of Meg 2, though? Not so much.
Let’s set the scene. Jason Statham plays Jonas Taylor, a marine biologist by day and an ass-kicking eco-warrior by night. He’s still working for the Zhang family, in this case Jiuming Zhang (Jing Wu), who is developing the technology required to explore beyond the thermocline of the Mariana Trench. Clearly, the two of them didn’t get enough megalodon action in the first movie, and they want some more. Oh, and Jiuming Zhang has a pet meg, which he trains in a giant Seaworld-like pen, outside of the research facility. Jonas doesn’t like that too much, and he gives Jiuming all sorts of scowls.
Jonas is also a parent now. He’s adopted Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), and seems to be co-parenting with everyone else in the Mana One facility. She’s determined to get involved in all of the Mariana Trench exploration, even though she’s a teenager, which means more scowls from Jason. She stows away on an excursion beyond the thermocline with two-thirds of the Mana One team, which is something of a problem as things soon go wrong. There’s a rogue, rival team already ensconced in the trench, and they try to destroy Jason’s submarines. Whether or not this feels uncomfortable after the real-world Titan explosion is up to you.
The stuff that comes before this section is mostly risible stuff. Why on earth Jiuming is keeping a pet meg is beyond us, and there’s some duff manufactured tension as he swims around with it. There’s also some clumsy foreshadowing, as two people clearly look like they are getting into their bad-guy clothes. But hey, we didn’t expect subtlety from a Jason Statham joint.
But the stuff in the Mariana Trench? Whisper it, but it’s really well executed. Sure, it pilfers from just about every underwater and alien survival film, as it evokes feelings of Pitch Black, Alien, The Abyss and more. But those are some damn good movies, and Meg 2: The Trench has a decent stab at emulating them. The Deep Sea flora and fauna are exotic, interesting and ultimately threatening, and there’s no clear idea – outside of Stath and young Meiying – of who might survive. It’s here where the film feels most Wheatley-esque, as he enjoys the hell out of creating an underwater world that nobody has seen before. The megs become a footnote to everything else.
It doesn’t make sense, of course. The science is made up as they go along, and doesn’t even abide by the film’s internal consistency. You have to toss reasoning to the wind, and it’s best to get rid of it early, as it’s completely ignored in the second half of the movie. There’s also some oddnesses, as the second, malevolent company doesn’t make much sense. What they are doing, how they’re doing it, and why so few of them are here are all perfectly valid questions that won’t get answered.
We were strapped in and enjoying Meg 2’s unexpectedly good time. A dumb good time, of course. But then Meg 2: The Trench pivots in the second half of the movie to become Piranha 3D. And that’s not a good thing.
We don’t want to reveal too much about Meg 2’s second half, but needless to say that the action returns to the surface with several unwelcome visitors. What ensues is such a wild tonal shift that it felt like we’d passed through the thermocline ourselves.
There’s a hint that Meg 2 is going this way thanks to DJ (Page Kennedy) and Mac (Cliff Curtis), two Meg 1 alumni, who are left on the surface. They get involved in a kidnapping farce that involves fighting dozens of marines but winning thanks to dumb luck and dumb everything else. It’s played for giggles while the team down below are caught up in Ridley Scott’s Alien. Which is as much of a mis-match as it sounds.
But the pratfalling and stupidness wins out, as it becomes the dominant tone for the second half of the movie. DJ and Mac take a central role, everybody starts making the most goofy, unnecessary decisions (Meiying chief among them), and the creatures just become vehicles for ridiculous deaths. It’s less about the threat they pose – and they were very much a threat in the first half – and more about how many people the creatures can hoover up in a short space of time.
The chaste 12 / PG-13 certificate doesn’t help matters. At the start of Meg 2: The Trench, the megalodons and their friends are all about the threat they pose. When they pounce, it’s rarely on screen, and the effect is a heightened sense of anything-goes. But once the movie enters its final phase, the creatures are all out and visible, and they have to start paying off on that threat. Thanks to the 12 certificate, it’s noticeably censored. One of the enemies gets dealt with offscreen, but it’s so bloodless that we genuinely didn’t know if they survived or not. When your 12 certificate is causing confusion, then you know something is wrong.
Meg 2: The Trench is very much a film of two halves. Everything below the thermocline, in the world of the megalodons, is prime action tosh. We were swept up in it, feeling as claustrophobic as the teams sent down there.
We couldn’t stay down there forever, though, unfortunately. Returning to the surface, the claustrophobia gets swapped out for broad comedy and monster-movie silliness, and it’s not a fair trade. We found ourselves wistfully thinking back to the opening moments and wishing we remained there. In Meg 3 perhaps.
We’re still chewing over that Ben Wheatley directorial credit. Hopefully he’s got his pay day now, and can return to making insidious horror movies.