Wheatley’s latest ends on a gratifyingly silly monster movie third act, but viewers need to suffer through the rest of the film to get there.
Every month, The Spool chooses to highlight a filmmaker whose works have made a distinct mark on the cinematic landscape.
With his love of mixing horror, dark comedy, and crime Ben Wheatley has been flirting with but never breaking through to the mainstream. However, this month that may all change.
This piece was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the works being covered here wouldn’t exist.
Ever since James Cameron boldly wrote “S” after ALIEN on a chalkboard and then changed it to a dollar sign, the quickest way to sequel-ize your killer extraterrestrial/reptile/mammal/whatever has been to add more of it. You scored a hit with people fighting one giant mosquito? Great, here’s a sequel with six of them.
Meg 2: The Trench got that memo, adding another giant shark, plus a big old octopus and some historically questionable prehistoric aquatic lizards. When the monster mash descends on the resort tourist trap Fun Island, the film comes to life with dumb energy. All over the screen, viewers can witness the gobbling of humans, the wrecking of vehicles, and general joyous mayhem. For those wondering why director Ben Wheatley would sign on for this project, Fun Island seems the answer.
Unfortunately, one must make it through most of the movie to reach this fun, chaotic conclusion.
After a brief prologue in the Late Cretaceous period that reminds everyone that megalodons—Megs, in the movie’s parlance—were atop the food chain from the start, Meg 2 deposits the film five years after the original’s conclusion. Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) still works with the Mana One and has become something of an environmental vigilante as well. Suyin (Li Bingbing) died in the interim, but evidently, her nascent romance with Jonas until her passing. As a result, Jonas is now her daughter Meiying’s (Shuya Sophia Cai) stepfather. Despite being a teen, Meiying continues her tradition of sneaking into places it would be best that she avoid.
Other cast members from the first feature return, including Cliff Curtis’ Mac. Sadly, they’re largely vestigial to the plot. If you thought they didn’t have much to do in The Meg, imagine something around half as little. The new cast members are similarly disposable.
While the ocean holds plenty of menaces from the start, Meg 2 sadly gets mired in corporate machinations in the early going. Without going the same route as The Meg and utilizing a Rainn Wilson performance to represent all that’s bad about business, but in a funny way, these parts sag. We don’t know the characters betraying our hero enough that their turn surprises us. The evil business interests are discussed too much and yet remain only vaguely sketched. Understandably, the film cannot simply be “Jason Statham fights a huge shark for 93 minutes,” but the route to plot here is lugubrious and bland.
[I]t’ll probably play even more satisfyingly if viewers skip straight to [the climax] rather than endure the setup.
And then we get to Fun Island, which delivers on its name’s promise. Here, both the film and Wheatley’s direction come to life. After an unusually pedestrian 75 or so minutes, the Wheatley we’ve come to know throughout Filmmaker of the Month finally shows up. This last section of Meg 2 bristles with dark humor, delightful PG-13 carnage, and smart, economic action set pieces. It’s the controlled chaos of Free Fire on beach holiday, albeit bloodlessly.
The conclusion is also, admittedly, very similar to The Meg’s beached finale. Still, for the first time in the entire movie, “basically the same but bigger” proves plenty satisfying. But considering one doesn’t need to know anything about the characters or the plot to delight in the massive animal massacre, it’ll probably play even more satisfyingly if viewers skip straight to it rather than endure the setup.