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Good luck The Meg 2, because shark movies are a nightmare to get right

The best shark movies can be utterly brilliant, but the bad ones really flounder. Here's hoping that new movie The Meg 2 avoids being dragged into rough seas.

Jason Statham in shark movie The Meg 2

When The Meg 2 trailer arrived this week, I immediately cleared my list of the best 2023 movies. Now there’s only one contender – and it’s a bloody massive shark. I’ve drawn a big circle around The Meg 2 release date on my calendar, and I’m fully expecting one of the best shark movies of all time.

But shark-puncher extraordinaire Jason Statham and director Ben Wheatley should tread carefully, because this genre is a tricky one. You don’t want to – and I can’t apologise enough for what I’m about to say – jump the shark. Look, I said sorry in advance.

It’s very easy to list bad shark movies. Hell, the Sharknado franchise embraced the concept so thoroughly that it became its whole raison d’etre. There’s also an entire franchise about sharks with different numbers of heads. They were at 6-Headed Shark Attack last time I checked. The bad shark movie has become an art.

It’s much harder to list the good ones. Obviously, there’s Jaws. Not just the best Steven Spielberg movie, it’s a strong contender for any list of the best movies of all time. It’s a nail-biting thriller on the high seas, as well as a nuanced and insightful study of masculinity. It didn’t matter that the mechanical shark was a menace on set because there was a genius behind the camera and some of the best actors ever in front of it.

Six-Headed Shark Attack

With all due respect to Statham, he’s no Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, or Roy Scheider when it comes to drama. He has a different skill set, mostly geared around growling, punching, and shooting. So The Meg 2, like its predecessor, will have to find a middle ground between the masterful drama of Jaws and whatever the shark with six heads was trying to achieve.

After all, sharks seldom end up at the centrepoint of blockbusters. Jaws turned the ‘summer movie’ into box office dynamite but, since then, they have been mostly cheap affairs. Even the best shark movies of recent years, like the excellent Blake Lively survival tale The Shallows or the underrated 2011 movie Shark Night, have been low-budget productions. The $60m mixed bag Deep Blue Sea from 1999 is the closest we’ve got to a studio spending serious cash on sharks.

The Meg bucked that trend. Depending on which source you believe, the 2018 film might’ve cost as much as $178m worldwide – 10 times the budget of The Shallows and almost 90 times what the first Sharknado cost to make. The movie rewarded the studio’s faith, though, earning in excess of $500m at the global box office.

Jason Statham delivered his best shark movie with The Meg

There was an elegance to what director Jon Turteltaub and writers Dean Georgaris, Jon Hoeber, and Erich Hoeber pulled off with The Meg. Fundamentally, it’s a very stupid movie about prehistoric predators living secretly in the deep ocean. The film never shies away from that silliness, helped by Statham’s unique ability to play ludicrous material with a straight face and an admirable intensity. He knows how to walk the line, and does it expertly.

As a result, critics didn’t seem to know how to review The Meg. Did they approach it as a low-budget curio, or a glossy studio summer product? The reviews were mixed, but the box office dollars rolled in. And rightly so; that movie is a hoot.

Based on the trailer for The Meg 2, idiosyncratic British director Wheatley and the returning trio of writers are leaning even further into the silly side of The Meg for this sequel. There are more Megs, bigger Megs, and other enormous creatures from the depths of the Mariana Trench. Given the trailer even shows a T-Rex being eaten by a massive shark, it’s double the mischievous Spielberg references.

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The trailer looks like delirious fun, but it is ultimately just three minutes long. There are another two hours of carnage to show us between those big scenes, and it’s all fraught with danger. The last thing anyone wants to see is a movie about giant dinosaur sharks that takes itself too seriously, but nobody wants to see a big-budget Sharknado either. It would undercut the joke somewhat.

It’s a similar problem to the one the MonsterVerse movies have faced, with the dismal 2019 movie Godzilla King of the Monsters skewing far too serious for a kaiju story. Thankfully, Adam Wingard righted the ship with the hugely enjoyable monster movie smackdown Godzilla vs. Kong, while Pacific Rim also got this balance spot on. We’d expect nothing less from Guillermo del Toro, after all.

The signs are good for The Meg 2, as long as it pitches itself at the right level. It doesn’t want to wade into the serious waters of Jaws, or the deep ocean of the many-headed shark franchise. There’s plenty of clear blue in between those two worlds, so hopefully Wheatley and Statham will manage to find it… and fill it with blood.

We’ve got a big guide to all of the new movies heading to cinemas and streaming services this year. Or for more from Statham, find out which Fast and Furious co-star was a director’s nightmare and learn about his real shark encounter when making The Meg.

You can also find out how to watch The Meg so you’re fully ready for the sequel. We know we are.