“A relationship, I think, is like a shark,” says Woody Allen in Annie Hall. “It has to constantly move forward or it dies.” Ditto franchises. A prologue set in the Cretaceous period hints that Meg 2: The Trench will exceed the enjoyably tacky thrills of the 2018 seaborne monster movie by going weirder and wilder – a suspicion encouraged by the presence of Ben Wheatley (Sightseers, A Field in England) as director. In fact, the sequel alternately treads water and splashes around frantically in search of an identity. Never settling on whether he wants his film to be Alien, Jaws, Jurassic Park or Sharknado, Wheatley serves up a bouillabaisse of all four.
Battling a 75ft-long megalodon with an 8ft dorsal fin and five rows of teeth is another sort of formidable, remorseless beast: Jason Statham, who returns as shark-hunter and ocean-defender Jonas Taylor but still hasn’t decided whether to play the role with a cockney accent or an American one. While he’s mulling that over, he commandeers a submersible on a research trip 25,000ft below, only to find the mission gatecrashed by megs and other assorted sea monsters. It’s the multiplicity of threats that scuppers any possible scares: everything from a giant squid and velociraptor-like land-dwelling lizards to a double-crossing entrepreneur and a gang of rogue miners leave the meg playing second fiddle in its own film. Matters have come to a pretty pass when audience and characters alike see an exploding head as little more than a minor setback.
Intermittent pleasures include a knowing reference to Jaws 2 and a Little Shop of Horrors-style shot gazing out from inside an open mouth, as well as plenty of “Hell no!” interjections from the endearing Page Kennedy as resident tech guy, DJ. And the film keeps Statham busy, whether he is taking to jet-skis for an impromptu midsea jousting tournament or scrambling along a pier as it’s being masticated. His deathless way with a line reading can still raise a smile. “Great – more megs,” is no one’s idea of snappy dialogue but his unimpressed cadence lifts it into the realm of the droll.
It’s just a shame the film makes him spend so much time playing dad to a teenage sort-of stepdaughter, Meiying (Sophia Cai). Along with her uncle, Jiuming (Wu Jing), who thinks he can tame a megalodon, they end the film as a sitcom trio, suggesting a potential new direction for the third instalment. A radical rethink is needed, that’s for sure. Anyone for Meg vs M3GAN?
• Meg 2: The Trench is released on 4 August in the UK and the US