Meg 2: The Trench, review: a Jason Statham giant shark battle shouldn’t be this boring

Jason Statham in Meg 2: The Trench
Jason Statham in Meg 2: The Trench

Some of our hearts quickened when it was announced three years ago that the sequel to the 2018 monster shark movie The Meg would be directed by Ben Wheatley. Jason Statham and some disposable crew mates tangling with aquatic terrors, courtesy of the impish British lo-fi master behind High-Rise, In the Earth and Kill List? It sounds like a dream late-summer guilty treat – and during Meg 2: The Trench, you may find yourself wishing, as  I did, that you were watching that film instead.

More generous viewers will try to find ‘the Wheatley touch’ in as many incidental details of this empty sequel as possible: for instance, the first scene contains a swearing parrot. Truthfully, though, you could take almost any director out there, from Béla Tarr to Nancy Meyers, and make just as persuasive a case.

Meg 2, by design, is a completely anonymous bag of lukewarm McDonalds – it’s hard to be mad at it, but only because nothing in it stands out enough to get mad at. Rather, it’s a numbing two-hour wash of shiny visual effects and multinational mugging – some of it diverting, most of it not, but all of it just about palatable to undemanding audiences worldwide.

Statham returns as Jonas Taylor, an ocean-based environmentalist whose career to date seems to largely consist of murdering rare sea creatures. Because this is a Chinese co-production, he is joined in a largely chemistry-free buddy act by Wu Jing, that country’s biggest action star, who plays the athletic and endlessly resourceful director of a dazzlingly advanced and entirely benevolent Chinese oceanography institute. (No complaints from the CCP’s censorship board over that.)

This place, in its wisdom, is holding captive a giant prehistoric shark known as a Megalodon – or ‘Meg’ to Statham – which emerged some time ago from a deep, dark corner of the Mariana Trench. While exploring a similarly fathomless spot of the seabed, Statham and Wu discover an illegal undersea mining operation, and the explosions which ensue open a gap in a layer of icy water which lets a few more ancient monsters swim up to the surface.

The vaguely Alien-esque adventure in the mining station’s clanky corridors is the part that really makes you wish Wheatley was making a Wheatley film – ideally on around a tenth of the $129 million budget that makes the setting here so glossily bland. The typically drily funny Statham is also particularly badly served by a script which has no sense of its own inherent preposterousness.

Here, for instance, is Sienna Guillory’s mining baroness explaining her nefarious plan: “Before you start whining about the ecosystem, who cares? We’ll make billions – and no-one will see the damage we do.” Nutritional information panels have been written with more flair than that.

A final battle between Statham, Wu and the beasts at a resort called Fun Island – come on! – is carried off with the odd glint of panache. But the pro-China skew (a given on all such co-productions) is also grimly conspicuous, with the local holidaymakers portrayed as lightly satirised glamourpusses and the western tourists as leering, burger-guzzling morons. At the end we’re cheerfully threatened with a Meg 3, though given the general condition of this one, the script should be hoiked off the side of a boat forthwith.

12A cert, 116 mins. In cinemas now