There’s a Megalodon-sized reason “The MEG” is a better movie than “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom;” the former is a Jason Statham versus a giant shark B-movie that knows exactly what it is, has a cheeky sense of humor about itself and is free of franchise-building expectations (or any high minded expectations). The latter is a joyless, here-we-go-again sequel to a reboot, needed  to bridge a trilogy nobody asked for. Whereas Chris Pratt’s lavish property is running out of steam (and lava), “The MEG” is aware that its junk and doesn’t have a T-Rex sized budget but goes above and beyond to entertain a popcorn-lovin’ summer audience.

Jason Stathan stars as Jonas, a marine biologist who is summoned to lead a rescue after his ex-wife and two colleagues are trapped at the deepest end of the ocean. While Jonas is in the midst of his attempts to save lives, he realizes that his once-believed-to-be-crazy theory about a giant megalodon shark is indeed real. A greedy billionaire (played by Rainn Wilson) sees monetary possibilities but Jonas and his crew know their lives, and the world itself, is in great danger.

“The MEG” is based on Steve Alten’s novel “MEG: A Novel of Deep Terror,” an airport read that has been around since the late 1990’s. While Alten’s book has Michael Crichton aspirations, the film adaptation cribs pieces from of “Deep Blue Sea,” Sphere” and “Jaws 3;” to the credit of the film’s director, Jon Turtletaub, its better than all of the above. Turtletaub (who made “3 Ninjas,” “Cool Runnings,” and both of the “National Treasure” installments) is no Steven Spielberg or James Cameron, but he’s clearly a student of those filmmakers and can ably stage gripping action sequences. Less sturdy is the screenplay, overstuffed with dialog ranging from occasionally clever to completely stupid. There’s also the opening prolog, with sketchy special effects and shaky cam so extreme, I wasn’t completely  certain what was happening. Once the film settles into its premise, it’s fun and exciting. It’s also 20,000 leagues better than the “Jaws” sequels, or anything from the “Sharknado” canon.

Statham is in good form, even if he’s been playing the same screen persona since the first “Transporter.” He has a great scene at the mid-point, where his macho, “I’ll Be Right Back Speech” before plunging into the MEG-infested ocean is met with his grumbling to himself, “I am so stupid.” He then sings a classic Disney jingle as he swims towards the giant monster. It’s a glorious bit and a lead up to the first of a handful of inventive, suspenseful action sequences.

Wilson is less effective as the apparent “comic relief” and the rest of the supporting cast is around to basically react to everything Statham and the shark do. The whole movie is easily stolen by Shuya Sophia Cai, who milks the role of the cute 8-year old along for the ride, and Pippin the Dog (played by a Yorkie named Kelly), whose now iconic shark showdown is a comic riot.

While the CGI runs hot and cold (at times, its vivid and scary but overly cartoonish and underdeveloped in other moments), the scenes that matter most are truly spectacular. When the MEG attacks hordes of beachgoers in broad daylight, the sequence brings to mind the riveting opening to Bong Joon-Ho’s 2006 “The Host” (one of the best monster movies ever made). The set up offers some stunning visuals, particularly when we get a view of the world that has been housing the MEG and other deep water wonders.  To the credit of the filmmakers, the funniest moments appear intentional, including the cheeky title card that closes the whole thing.

If “The MEG” seems very of its time (namely, the end of the 20th century, when movies like this and “Congo” could play a drive-in double feature), then it’s a giddy example of the genre. If this is the definition of movie junk food, then it’s a nachos with so much beef, jalapenos and chili cheese sauce, the paper container it comes in is about to break apart. In other words, a perfect summer movie. Don’t worry about how implausible it is, just buy a ticket, grab some snacks and take a giant bite.

Three Stars

-originally published in Maui Time Weekly