After sipping on a blue “sharktastic” cocktail, “Meg 2: The Trench” suddenly transforms from a self-serious sequel to a hilarious one about halfway through the film. DJ, the quick-witted tech expert played by Page Kennedy, tells Mac (Cliff Curtis) that he has poison-tipped bullets just like in “Jaws 2.” Finally, the movie becomes aware of its own joke, and we can laugh with it instead of at it. However, before this turning point, the moments of humor are unintentional, such as when a character tries to explain how Jonas (Jason Statham) can swim without a pressurized suit underwater. Director Ben Wheatley only loosens up and has a little fun after we’re out of the trench and up on the surface. Unfortunately, the first half of the movie is dire straits. Wheatley takes over from Jon Turteltaub, who directed the original “The Meg” in 2018, and the script by the first film’s writers, Jon and Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris, glosses over the setup and characters that die don’t even get a passing interest.
The main characters of the film are Jonas and Meiying, who he is responsible for. Meiying’s mother, Suyin, was featured in the first film and has now passed away under mysterious circumstances, leaving her brother Jiuming to take on her work. Jiuming, played by popular Chinese action star Wu Jing, is an enthusiastic marine biologist with a passion for protecting the oceans through underwater exploration. He has taken Haiqi, a young megalodon, under his wing and forms a close bond with the giant prehistoric shark. However, during an expedition into the trench where the megalodons live, the team discovers a secret mining operation that puts them all in danger. The plot twist uncovers some nefarious characters and ultimately results in the release of the apex predators. Despite borrowing from the 2020 film “Underwater,” the incorporation of capitalism adds an intriguing element to the story and caters to both American and Chinese audiences since the “Meg” films are co-productions.
The group ventures to “Fun Island,” a fitting name for the latter part of the film. The beach is infested with ancient sea creatures that terrify unsuspecting tourists, giving Wheatley a chance to riff on classic creature features like “Predator” and “Jurassic Park.” He even gives a nod to Renny Harlin’s “Deep Blue Sea,” with Kennedy delivering LL Cool J-inspired one-liners and a rap song about sharks during the credits.
Statham manages to deliver his fair share of ridiculous action scenes in the crystal-clear waters of Thailand, playing against a Meg with only a Waverunner, a spear he rigged together, and his usual scowl. His straight-faced performance adds to the campy atmosphere, both intentionally and unintentionally. Wheatley also unleashes his secret weapon, Jing, a charismatic daredevil who rivals Jackie Chan and Tom Cruise in his approach to stunts. Jing’s enthusiasm is much needed after the lackluster first hour, as he gracefully fights krakens and amphibious dinosaurs, flings himself onto and off helicopters with zeal, and even takes pratfalls for comedic effect.
It can be an unusual viewing experience to have the second half of a movie not necessarily make up for a dull first half, but rather bravely become what it wants to be: a fun, silly summer shark film. With a blue drink in hand and the icy air conditioning of the movie theater blowing like sea breezes, there are worse ways to spend an August afternoon.