All hail the biggest, meanest, sharkiest diva of the ocean. She’s sauntering into theatres in the form of Meg 2: The Trench. The film is everything you need to round out the summer. There’s Jason Statham’s smooth dome, lots of humans doing dumb stuff, small dogs barking at mega predators, dinosaurs getting chomped, and a tentacled monstrosity otherwise known as the Kraken. And that’s just in the trailer.
The first Meg film, released in 2018, packed in just about every preposterous narrative contrivance available. The sequel naturally ups the ante, piling in even more. More sharks. More adorable children and lovely ladies in peril. More impossible stunts. More — just more, okay? Cram it in there. Use a shovel if you have to.
A gentle word of warning for all those about to enter the cinematic waters: there be monsters here, but they’re not the toothy, finny ones you might think. Nay, lubber, they’re the greedy rapacious creatures busily eating the world. In other words, billionaires!
I’ll spare you any recap on the actual plot of Meg 2. Even the word “plot” is stretching things, unless you’re referring to a stitch of land in a cemetery, because this film is dead on arrival. Even the extremely odd decision to hire director/auteur Ben Wheatley doesn’t do much to vivify things.
In short, sharks escape (again) from the deep-sea trench, wreck people’s vacation on Fun Island (really, that’s what it is called) and are summarily dispatched by J. Statham and his baldy pate. There is one scene in Meg 2 that I did like, however, in which tourists in a paddle boat attempt to paddle madly out the way of the giant shark while never even dropping their fruity drinks, even as they’re chomped into sashimi. Oh, humans.
My point is that sharks are metaphors. Humans insist on making them stand in for any number of failings, be they moral, environmental or economic. This has been the case pretty much since 1851, when Herman Melville published the canonical sea-beast epic Moby-Dick.
While Melville’s book is about a whale and not a shark, the quest for human justice against a giant, injurious sea creature continues. In Jaws mastermind Peter Benchley’s 1994 novel White Shark, the titular beast acts as a moral arbiter of sorts. A fin for sin, if you will. In Jaws, the mayor of Amity Island who wants to keep the beaches open for the July 4 weekend — even though folks were getting eaten — is regularly trotted out whenever any politician or public figure suggests that economy should trump any other consideration.
Speaking of shark films, if you need, want, or must have a full-length version of the greedy guts mayor getting their due, I give ye The Black Demon. The film released last spring to little, if any fanfare. Like Megs 1 & 2, it also features a megalodon prehistoric shark, except unlike its paler cousins, this beast is black as oil. Because, well, it’s soaked in oil.
In the story, a white executive named Paul Sturges (played by Josh Lucas, who chews more scenery than any shark ever could) and his family are visiting rural Mexico, ostensibly so that he can inspect a creaky old drilling rig, and so that his Spanish-speaking wife and kids can get in touch with their heritage. The first indication that things are off is the fact that the charming rural village has fallen into dissolution. Gangs of scary-looking dudes dot the streets, and no one seems to have a job.
It’s all because of El Demonio Negro, a.k.a. the black demon. Turns out the leaking oil rig has summoned the wrath of an ancient Aztec god who has had up to here with humans messing up the ocean. He sends a giant shark to teach them some manners.
It’s one nasty beast. Not only is it the size of a school bus, but it also has the ability to control people’s minds, causing all manner of hallucinations and creepy visions, stuff like dead bodies parts and imaginary rescue vessels. This isn’t just any old shark; it’s the embodiment of the earth fighting back. And so one’s sympathies get duly shifted from the humans to the creature.
Since no one with a lick of sense will watch this film, the big reveal is that oil executives are the true monsters in this world. Wha…? Yes, it’s true. Turns out that Sturges, in good stooge fashion, has been turning a blind eye to the leaking oil rig for years. In doing the bidding of his corporate masters, he gets a salary that affords fancy shirts and SUVs.
For a B-grade movie, there are a surprising number of nice little touches in this film, including a rather startling sequence when the film slaps its cards hard on the table and offers an extended montage of human crimes against the natural world. It’s a long parade of catastrophes, oil spills, forest fires and oceanic pollution. It’s an old trope. But gosh darn it, even more apropos than ever.
At the heart of every beast attacks film is that humans have got to go. This is evident in the mutated grizzly bears in the 1979 schlocky shocker Prophecy, and in the most recent iteration of Meg, where deep-sea mining for precious metals is what allows all of the various overgrown sharks to escape from the trench.
Prior to human intrusion, the sharks had been tootling about the bottom of sea, eating themselves to epic size and growing ever more surly. Like any reasonable creature, they come to the logical conclusion that humans need to be served some serious comeuppance. Maybe with a light salad on the side. And a fruity drink, of course.
But the current level of humanity’s enviro-crime requires something more than a light spanking and no supper. In keeping with this well-trod (swum?) narrative, the only way back to balance is a wee bit o’ human sacrifice. This leads to perhaps the most satisfying moment in The Black Demon, when the white oil man gets eaten by the Aztec Shark demon. If the notion of feeding oil executives to the sharks gives you a certain warm glow, then perhaps seek out this film.
But it indicates a certain sea change in exploitation films. If it’s hard to feel much sympathy for people, Meg 2 goes out of its way to make humans seem like the worst creatures alive. Whether they’re strip-mining the ocean floor or engaged in annoying wedding proposals, eat them! Eat them all, Meg!
‘Meg 2: The Trench’ is in theatres now.
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