Over the past 15 years, Ben Wheatley has established himself as one of the most captivating directors working today.
But while he’s received critical acclaim for the likes of Kill List, Sightseers, High-Rise, and Free Fire, each of which were made on lower budgets, Wheatley’s sensibilities have always seemed suited to Hollywood blockbusters, too.
That’s why there was plenty of excitement when it was announced that Wheatley had signed up to direct Meg 2: The Trench – the $129 million sequel to the 2018 sci-fi action film that made a surprisingly big splash at the box office.
The original revolved around a group of scientists, led by Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham), who encounter a 22-metre long prehistoric megalodon and try to keep it from attacking a crowded beach.
This time around Taylor and his research team embark on an exploratory dive into the deepest depths of the ocean, otherwise known as the Trench. But their mission soon hits a snag when they discover another mining team are already down there in this incredibly remote and dangerous area.
In order to protect their mysterious backer, they try to blow up Taylor and his crew. This only brings them all to the attention of more megalodons, as well as other prehistoric creatures, who then try to break out of the trench to hunt down oblivious humans.
Meg 2: The Trench is full to the brim with sequences that should keep viewers on the edge of their seats. Starting with a cold open that takes place 65 million years earlier, it does a great job of showing just how dominant the megalodon was even against the most ferocious dinosaurs. Then, every few minutes, there’s a new nautical obstacle or terrifying creature for Statham, Wu Jing, Page Kennedy, Cliff Curtis, Melissanthi Mahut and Sophia Cai Shuya’s characters to contend with.
Considering that most of these moments take place thousands of metres underwater, you also can’t help but wonder just how far the creative team have stretched science to keep their characters alive.
Which makes it all the more disappointing that Wheatley is unable to deliver the thrills expected from Meg 2: The Trench. Sure, there’s a great pace to the film, as well as a few engrossing scares and jolting moments, but there are also too many wasted opportunities.
Especially when it comes to the scenes in the Trench – they are just too dark. So much so that you either don’t know where you are, what’s happening or which character is actually in peril. At the same time, you don’t get a good sight of the monsters that are wreaking so much havoc.
Initially, this feels like a purposeful ploy, so that Wheatley can build up the tension and allow viewers’ imaginations to wildly fill in the gaps about just how ruthless and dangerous the megalodons are. But by the chaotic final act, where all logic and narrative cohesion are dispensed with, you can’t help but wonder whether the film ran out of money or they just toned down the violence to get a more family-friendly rating.
It’s not just Wheatley at fault, though. The script from Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris lacks originality and humour. Even the actors seem to lose interest in providing the intensity required to pull viewers into the bombastic and over-the-top story – although Curtis and Kennedy, both of whom are clearly having a whale of a time, do eat up every scene they’re a part of.
The film’s simple premise and various action set pieces should have resulted in Meg 2: The Trench being a hugely enjoyable summer shark movie that’s both gruesome and exhilarating. Instead, those involved ended up biting off more than they could chew.