What does a giant shark movie really need? The visual effects, whether practical or digital, need to be believable. The actors need to be competent, the characters have to be a good mix of likeable and enjoyably hateable, and the plot needs to facilitate them coming within chomping range of the shark as frequently as possible. The Meg accomplishes all this, and it does it well.

From a secret, ancient ecosystem beneath the Mariana Trench emerges the Megalodon, a giant prehistoric shark thought to be extinct for millennia. The marine researchers responsible for its re-entry into the world–including Jaxx Herd (Ruby Rose), Celeste (Jessica McNamee), Suyin (Bingbing Li), Mac (Cliff Curtis), Toshi (Masi Oka), DJ (Page Kennedy), and others–enlist the help of expert badass Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) to take control of the situation. He’s the greatest deep sea rescuer on the planet, although a botched job in his recent past left him soggy with booze and beefing with the research station’s resident MD, Dr. Heller (Robert Taylor).

Jason Statham can’t help being Jason Statham. He brings nothing extraordinary to this leading role, leaning instead on his usual blend of 5 o’clock shadow charm and gruff cockney bravado, which works perfectly well for this movie. His character hits it off with Li’s Suyin, to the delight of her daughter, the adorable Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai). The other characters often mull around in the background, but each gets one or two moments in the spotlight, including the occasional death by giant shark. The whole operation is overseen by Rainn Wilson’s Jack Morris, the marine research station’s young billionaire benefactor, who toes the line between giving a hoot about the lives of his employees and ruthlessly fretting over his bottom line.

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These characters and the setting on the high tech research station provide lush waters for the story The Meg sets out to tell: A giant shark wreaks havoc on a bunch of well-meaning idiots who, for various reasons that run the gamut of plausibility, believe they need to solve this problem themselves (not least because they created it). As is often the case with this type of movie, you can’t help but feel like the situation would have played out much more smoothly had they just contacted the actual authorities (not that Jason Statham doesn’t demand a certain respect on-screen).

As a movie, The Meg is clearly ridiculous, and it’s self aware about it. One of the funniest moments comes when this group of scientists immediately and casually start referring to the beast as “the Meg,” shortly after identifying it. They don’t miss a beat. It never goes so far as Statham roundhouse kicking the Meg in the face–this isn’t technically a parody–but it legitimately comes close. And it gets away with that tone because in many ways that matter, The Meg is actually a solidly constructed movie.

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The Meg itself looks great. The movie does a good job establishing the shark’s scale, revealing it in bits and pieces, maintaining tension from beginning to end. With its international cast and sleek space station aesthetic, The Meg takes bites from the Pacific Rim buffet. There’s some really smart camera work both below and above the water’s surface, alternately creating claustrophobia and grandiosity where required. The movie’s final, climactic set piece is the one that provided most of the chum for its advertising campaign–a rainbow-hued, impossibly crowded bay provides a tantalizing feast for the prehistoric hunter, and the stakes feel appropriately high as our heroes race to stop it in time to save thousands of lives. The PG-13 rating holds it back slightly, as some added gore would have fit the tone well, but that’s a small quibble.

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In the end, The Meg provides everything you should want from it. It strikes a precarious balance between humor, tension, drama, and action, gives every character time in the spotlight, and looks great. The laughs are as big as the shark itself, but the movie never takes its goofy self-awareness too far. Most importantly of all, the Meg looks amazing, and it’s both thrilling and fun to watch its enormous fin slice through the water as it closes in on its prey–whether that prey is an innocent tourist paddling unaware on the surface, an illegal whaling boat full of poachers about to get a taste of their own medicine, or a sleek mini submarine equipped with some man-made teeth of its own.

Yes, I’m talking about missiles. They fire missiles at the shark. It’s awesome. Oh, and don’t ask me if the dog gets eaten. I’ll never tell.

The Good The Bad
Shark looks great R rating could have made it even more fun
Maintains tension from beginning to end Characters’ logic occasionally stretches plausibility
Likeable characters (and characters you’d like to get eaten)
Self aware about its ridiculousness

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