Tom Jolliffe looks back at The Meg and other ludicrous films that audiences will love or hate…
Jason Statham has fought international terrorists, mobsters, the yakuza, probably carb cravings and more throughout his career as an action man. Some might say he’s become a little one note with his excessive scowling, growling and intense raspy delivery. He’s a fine British export and I count myself as a fan, and for the most part you tend to know exactly what you’ll get. He’s almost become meta of late. There’s a certain self awareness of the Statham caricature that he’s been able to send up slightly with films like Spy and indeed in the ever increasingly silly Fast franchise (more on that later).
He’s not ‘doing Statham’ to quite the same knowing degree as Nicolas Cage does ‘Nic Cage’ these days, but he’s found himself gain something of a surge in popularity among mainstream audiences. Where as Statham’s movie model used to be the moderate budget actioner that turned a tidy prophet across theatrical and home market, he’s jumped into the leagues of the $500 million plus worldwide grosser. In fact, being a significant part of the Fast franchise now, Statham is on board a billion dollar club juggernaut.
So a few years ago, somewhere earlier in that rise, studio bosses decided that a part Chinese produced blockbuster was in order. First they needed a central antagonist that would show off some CGI skill. That would be a 25 foot Megalodon, accidentally let loose from beneath hidden depths of the ocean. Then they needed a star with international appeal, and still in need of enough of a springboard to launch himself even higher by doing a megashark film. They got Statham. The film itself is a safe as houses, preposterous (as inherently most big budget creature features tend to be), and CCP friendly film that munched the box office like Jaws gnashing down on Robert Shaw.
Even not accounting for the concept, the delivery is a doubled down dose of silliness. There’s a relentless repeat of the heroic self sacrifice to save others. Usually in a disaster film you might get one, two. The Meg has just about every character trying to take one for the team and humanity at some point. “Go! Save yourselves!! “Repeat, ad nauseum. It’s big, it’s dumb, inexplicably it took three people to write. Whoever decided Statham would fight the Meg in hand to fin combat (and win) probably deserved the biggest slice of paycheck.
Here’s the thing, we can all have a high brow cinema moment. Even a high brow blockbuster which might engage the brain (whatever Christopher Nolan is putting out at the time). Sometimes you just wanna get daft. Brain at the door, entirely too much popcorn and a soda with enough ice in it to fix the polar ice caps. Can you tell I miss cinemas? The Meg is preposterously goofy, but as enjoyable (or not enjoyable depending on your mood/standpoint) as you’d expect. You can file it with films like Rampage, Godzilla, Kong: Skull Island and the rest, and certainly file it as coherent (narratively and visually) enough to be far more worthy of attention than the last few Bay-lead Transformers films.
As for Statham too, as I said, he’s no stranger to silliness, having joined the Fast franchise long after they’d jumped the meg. It’s now a franchise which has become thoroughly goofy, with every new instalment ramping up the carnage and turning down the logic to -11. It has also become an amusing point to see Vin Diesel still consistent as a franchise evolves around him, with his character Torretto perpetually playing the game more seriously than the rest, and almost blissfully unawares what universe he now exists in. He’s like Mr Bean wandering into a Kumite and carrying on as normal. Dwayne, Jase, the rest all playing it big and winking at the sheer bewildering middle finger to physics, whilst Diesel is happy to look po-faced and growl ‘family’ intermittently.
With comic book films becoming the core of cinema bank vaults of late, their natural goofiness hasn’t put off audiences, who at one time would have found the notion of a Marvel/DC adaptation just way too uncool to watch. That was reflected in the comic book film being deemed an all too risky gamble that only Batman and Superman managed to pull off successfully prior to this century. If Chris Nolan could make Batman feel like Heat, there was a suggestion these ‘childish’ ideas might just work for adult moviegoers. Still, sometimes even the silliness needs acknowledging.
The MCU has successfully kept their films enjoyably comical, and in particular someone like Taika Waititi did a perfect job of incorporating his irreverent humour in the world of Thor. Less successfully (critically) though was Aquaman, which didn’t quite hit the right wink/sincerity balance but was still the most ludicrous comic book, nay blockbuster of recent years. Dolph Lundgren in a red wig riding a seahorse? Laser sharks? A non-stop barrage of kaleidoscopic LSD trance colour, and relentless noise? It was a film I couldn’t quite decide whether I enjoyed or hated, but I definitely left bleary eyed with a shitting headache (much like a hangover, okay, I kind of enjoyed it).
It isn’t just blockbuster genre films which have taken a monopoly on ridiculous concepts. We’ve seen plenty which have been used successfully (or not). Comedy tends to be a genre where a concept could be made intentionally ludicrous, allowing you to step into farcical situations and find the inherent humour in them. It might be Mrs Doubtfire with Robin Williams posing as a Scottish Nanny and fooling his estranged wife and kids. It may just be something as bonkers as Weekend at Bernies where two pals keep up the appearance that their boss is alive and well when in fact he’s very much dead. The film, often the target of snide gags about being one of the dumbest films ever (or in articles about ridiculous films…sorry), never pretends to be anything other than what it is (and it is still a lot of fun). Or less successfully you have Stallone’s ill fated attempt to make the Rocky of arm wrestling in Over the Top.
Whatever your choice of dopey cinema, and whether you enjoy dumbing down and switching off for a complete escape from logic, it’s fair to say that cinema shows no signs of an aversion to films like The Meg (indeed, a sequel is on the cards from director Ben Wheatley). Hell, I wrote a film called Scarecrow’s Revenge (though it’s only vengeful against the audience watching it). What’s the dumbest film you’ve ever seen, and did you enjoy it? Let us know on our social channels @flickeringmyth…
Tom Jolliffe is an award winning screenwriter and passionate cinephile. He has a number of films out on DVD/VOD around the world and several releases due out in 2021, including, Renegades (Lee Majors, Danny Trejo, Michael Pare, Tiny Lister, Ian Ogilvy and Billy Murray), Crackdown, When Darkness Falls and War of The Worlds: The Attack (Vincent Regan). Find more info at the best personal site you’ll ever see here.