There’s this term that gets thrown around a lot to describe a certain kind of movie. The kind that, especially now in the summer blockbuster season, you find a lot of. Movies that you just turn your brain off for and have fun, the popcorn flick. I don’t have an inherent problem with the term. There are good movies you could classify as a popcorn flick, but too often is it used to defend some really bad movies that are missing the most important part of what makes a popcorn flick, the fun. The first Meg (2018) is the perfect example of such a movie. It sure is stupid and you will struggle to watch it till the end if your brain is active and running, but even if you disregard all logic, can somehow stand the unlikable characters, and pretend the plot makes even a lick of sense, it’s just not a fun movie.
You might be wondering why I would even bother watching Meg 2: The Trench if I had such strong opinions about the first one. That can be attributed to the man sitting in the director’s chair this time around. Ben Wheatley is an eccentric British filmmaker known for his rather low budget indie movies like Kill List (2011), High-Rise (2015), and Free Fire (2016). Upon learning that he was directing the sequel to The Meg (2018) my immediate reaction was… why? It’s so far out of his usual wheelhouse that I couldn’t help but wonder what would motivate him to direct a movie like this. The closest he had ever gotten to making a movie that would reach mainstream audiences was his Rebecca adaptation for Netflix, but even that wouldn’t be anywhere close to this 130 million dollar movie about Jason Statham fighting a giant shark. It’s this curiosity, and the hope for a genuinely fun popcorn flick with someone as crazy as Ben Wheatley involved, that got me to check out Meg 2.
Right away I can say that Meg 2 is better than the original, but for the record, that’s an unbelievably low bar to clear in my mind. Still, Meg 2 does, at times, reach that level of fun you’d want from a popcorn flick. At other times it decidedly doesn’t. Meg 2 almost feels like it’s three films rolled into one. For the first third, it’s a sort of sci-fi eco-thriller as it evokes Jurassic Park with Jiuming (Wu Jing), the new co-lead of the movie and a wealthy scientist, keeps one megalodon in a cage for scientific studies. As this is happening, the other co-lead of the movie, Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), is out and about taking on cargo ships that dump dangerous waste into the ocean. Wu Jing is a good new addition, making for a charming lead, while Jason Statham is a black hole of charisma as usual.
When the two go on another trip down into the trench, they discover an illegal mining operation at the bottom of it, and here’s where we jump into the second third, the claustrophobic action thriller at the bottom of the ocean. Putting an ensemble of characters into an enclosed space with a looming threat either trapped alongside them or waiting on the other side, always kind of works. But Meg 2 reminds us that you can still mess it up, and deliver a version of that lacking any thrills.
Before I describe the kind of movie Meg 2 becomes in its final third – about which I will be brief and refrain from mentioning any spoilers, but I do have to mention it because it’s the redeeming factor of the movie for me – I feel I need to emphasize the sheer stupidity that’s on display in this movie. It’s not surprising that a franchise built around the concept of “what if we made a shark movie, but with a megalodon instead?” is going full “bigger is better” with its sequel, but it still doesn’t help the fact that some of the stuff here is excruciatingly dumb. This time they’re not just fighting a megalodon, they’re fighting the alpha megalodon, an even bigger shark. And while they’re at it, they decide to throw a kraken and some baby dinosaur creatures in there as well. Oh, and did I mention that they now have some new technology as well? Like an exoskeleton, for example, that allows the wearer to walk around in the deepest depths of the ocean and gives them superhuman strength.
I wanted to mention all of this because the last third of the movie is where it goes all out with the silliness and essentially becomes the Fast & Furious of shark movies. The trailer shows a lot of this part of the movie, but I still don’t want to give a way too much. Just know that at one point Jason Statham, spartan kicks a dude into the jaw of a megalodon. And I have to admit, I thought it was kind of fun. The glimmers of a fun popcorn flick shone through in that moment.
At the end of the day, a somewhat fun final act is not enough to make up for a movie that consistently swims in various forms of badness. It’s another one of those movies people will refer to as a fun popcorn flick to defend what is an extremely mediocre experience in its best moments. If you found yourself disagreeing with my estimation of the average popcorn flick and tend to enjoy those movies, you could make your way to the theater and might have a decent time with this. It is a significant improvement over the first Meg (2019), but that doesn’t mean it’s good.