Here are four words you don’t expect at the end of a giant-prehistoric-shark blockbuster: ‘A Ben Wheatley Film’. And yet Meg 2: The Trench (no definite article this time) is exactly that – the Down Terrace and Happy New Year, Colin Burstead director making a splash in studio-land. It shouldn’t come as a complete surprise – he’s long been a genre-head (the all-out horror of Kill List, the deconstructed action of Free Fire), and occasionally dabbled in more mainstream fare too (Doctor Who episodes, Netflix’s Rebecca).
While Wheatley pivots from In The Earth to in the sea, don’t expect subaquatic kitchen-sinkery, or hallucinatory horror – here, he’s revelling in working with big studio backing and, well, an actual budget; and, in doing so, clearly intends on delivering the head, the tail, the whole damn thing to a splashy summer crowd.
On that front, he mostly succeeds. While 2018’s The Meg was a film whose marketing seemed more in on the joke (namely, ‘it’s Jason Statham vs. a prehistoric shark’) than the movie itself, The Trench is more overtly fun. Statham in particular – returning as Jonas Taylor, now near-indistinguishable from Fast’s Deckard Shaw – is given more license to wink at the audience: bickering with parrots, deploying gravel-coated quips (“It’s a Meg, you’re a snack”), and leaning into cool-guy kiss-off lines. The plot, too, is pulpier – stranding Jonas and his crew (much of them bland Meg-fodder, though a returning Cliff Curtis and Page Kennedy have fun) down in ‘The Trench’, from whence the Megs came, while several beasties escape to ruin the day of beach-goers at ‘Fun Island’. It is, to quote Kennedy’s engineer DJ, “some dumb-ass shit” – though knowingly so.
Ben Wheatley gears up for a stupidly fun finale that revels in unleashing toothy chaos.
Still, it could be zippier. There are clunky scenes to establish Chinese megastar Wu Jing as a co-lead – and uncle to Sophia Cai’s returning kid, Meiying – as well as stilted, politically-motivated exposition to wade through (“Protecting the ocean is crucial for China, and all mankind,” one character states; the film is another Chinese co-production) before diving down into the depths. And once there, the Trench itself is underwhelming, atmospheric moodiness (the ocean floor bathed in hellish red light) sometimes lapsing into murky incoherence.
Back on the surface, Wheatley gears up for a stupidly fun finale that revels in unleashing toothy chaos – a shot from inside a Meg’s mouth while it chomps victims en masse is a highlight. With efficiently crunchy action and well-timed jump scares, he gets the most important stuff right. His Meg 2 correctly understands that this kind of film should begin with a Meg-vs-T-Rex fight, and end with a jetski-riding Jason Statham wielding a spear like a katana. Your move, Colin Burstead.