‘Meg 2: The Trench’ review: Ben Wheatley hates you

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On its face, it’s absurd that Ben Wheatley is directing Meg 2: The Trench.

The English writer/director made a name for himself with a string of challenging indie horror films, like the cult-centered Kill List, the bleakly comic Sightseers, and the hallucinogenic period piece A Field In England. Sure, his films got a bit more commercial as he brought in big stars, like Tom Hiddleston for the joltingly twisted High-Rise, Brie Larson in the shoot-’em-up Free Fire, and Armie Hammer in Netflix’s lifeless adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. But within all of these movies, Wheatley has shown a cynicism, arguably even a mean streak, wallowing in the worst impulses of humanity with a snarl and a sense of showmanship.

So, when it was announced that this Ben Wheatley would be directing the sequel to the so-silly-it’s-superb shark movie The Meg, it seemed like a joke. He’d done action. He’d worked with big stars. But there’s a big difference between the pitch-black humor of, say, J.G. Ballard’s dog-eating satire and Jason Statham outmaneuvering a mammoth shark on a jet ski.

Meg 2: The Trench is begging to be treated like a goofy popcorn movie. And in some regards, it will satisfy there. But undeniably, there’s an undercurrent of resentment emanating from Wheatley, and it’s aimed squarely at his audience. In the end, Wheatley’s attitude undercuts the inherent bonkers buoyancy this movie demands.

What’s Meg 2: The Trench about?

Shuya Sophia Cai and Pippin the dog return for


Credit: Warner Bros.

The sequel to 2018’s The Meg picks up years after this first encounter, with major changes to the research team of the ocean-set facility Mana One. Most jolting, oceanographer Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing), who was the female lead/love interest in The Meg, has been unceremoniously killed off in between films. Apparently, this character died in 2021, and her plucky daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai, reprising the role) is being raised by Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham). And this hero of the franchise hasn’t only been promoted from surly father figure to adopted dad, but he’s also gone from deep-sea rescue diver to “the green James Bond.”

Jonas is now an “eco-warrior” who, when he’s not helping Mac (Cliff Curtis) and DJ (Page Kennedy) on the Mana One, is out bringing down ocean polluters, vigilante-style. This backstory is wedged in to make sense of an early action scene on a massive cargo ship, and to establish a grudge with a grumbling foe. However, it feels like the Meg movies’ producers are posing Jonas for a more ambitious franchise, where he can be more than a rescuer, he can be a superhero — like Captain Planet, but with a perpetual pissed-off face.

The other big change to Mana One is that dead Suyin’s estranged brother Jiuming (martial arts star Wu Jing) is involved, developing exo-suits that enhance the physical power of divers and training the meg they have in captivity. (Think Chris Pratt in those stupid Jurassic World movies where he tames raptors, but way less believable.)

Anyhow, Jonas, Jiuming, and 14-year-old Meiying end up on a diving expedition 25,000 feet down in the titular trench, where there are more megalodons and other terrifying Cretaceous-era critters. Naturally, things go sideways, leading back to terror on the ocean’s surface and a feeding frenzy at a beach full of vacationers. Because this a Meg sequel, and this is what is demanded.

Meg 2: The Trench is an absolute blast in much of its action.

Jason Statham races away from a megladon in


Credit: Warner Bros.

This creature feature gets off to a superb start, 65 million years ago. On a beach, we watch the food chain play out, with one little lizard preyed upon by a pack of larger lizards with razor-sharp teeth. Next, out stomps the poster-predator of Jurassic Park, a T-Rex, roaring, rampaging, and glorious. And then, as teased in the trailer, comes the megalodon, with jaws so big it makes that massive dinosaur into a snack.

This is why we go to movies like The Meg: action that is unapologetically bonkers and thrilling — in part because it’s something we haven’t seen before. The script by Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber, and Dean Georgaris sets up plenty of opportunities for such action. In the trench, the explorers are pushed out of their submarine’s relative safety and forced to walk among bioluminescent critters never before seen by human eyes. However, Wheatley isn’t as interested in the spectacle of these curious critters, which are used chiefly for jump scares. Soon, the focus will be narrowed to the eponymous shark species and a smattering of similarly ancient and nightmarish sea creatures.

Their kills will begin offscreen, suggested by a scream and a dropped piece of equipment. There’s a clever toying with our anticipation here as Wheatley delivers the blow without showing it. However, the film becomes bloated with action scenes and death as it lumbers into a third act bursting with both. And as it does, the sinking feeling sets in that Wheatley hates every moment of this.

Plenty of action, but Meg 2 makes it unappetizing.

Wu Jing in


Credit: Warner Bros.

Is there too much of a good thing? If you eat too much sugar, your stomach will rebel. And Meg 2: The Trench is packed with the cinematic equivalent of junk food. It’s not that there’s too much action, too high a body count, too much carnage. It’s that there’s so much of it that Wheatley seems to throw at us with a sneer. Death scenes go from offscreen yet hard-hitting to all-of-the-screen and numbing.

Much like in Jurassic World, there’s a turn where the audience is meant to go from rooting for the onscreen humans to survive to relishing the doom of anyone who’s not a lead. When we’re with the Mana One crew — even those introduced minutes before they become chum — we’re encouraged to relate to them, with mentions of their interests, inside jokes, and a sense of shared comradery with Jonas, who we all enjoy despite his gruff exterior! But as the movie hits its climax at Fun Island (a location that even Statham rolls his eyes at), the attitude shifts, as Wheatley urges us to root for the destruction of the joyful, oblivious tourists.

While there are obvious visual references to Jaws, Deep Blue Sea, and Jurassic Park, Wheatley tonally leans into the callousness of Jurassic World. There’s even a spin on the polarizing Bridezilla scene from Jurassic World, in which a woman dared to have an attitude while engaged and died gruesomely as a punchline. Here, the gobbling up of an obnoxious white male American tourist and a plump white woman on a paddle boat is treated with similar disdain, as if we are to celebrate their chomp-down as a comeuppance for being short-tempered, rude, or fat.

Then Wheatley steals a page from Nope‘s most harrowing scene, tossing audiences inside his creature to witness the helpless humans that flow into its jaws. In Nope, this scene made our blood run cold, perhaps as we imagined how a day at an amusement park could unexpectedly turn us into a meal. But the same idea used here doesn’t invite us to share in their terror; it invites us to chortle at the absurdity of the shot as shark teeth munch on screaming swimmers.

Meg 2: The Trench is trying to be Fast and Furious — and failing.

Melissanthi Mahut aims a harpoon gun in


Credit: Warner Bros.

Another example of ambivalent excess in the film’s third act is that several of the characters become action heroes out of nowhere. The hook of the first film (pardon the pun) was that Statham’s diver had a unique insight into the meg because of a near-death experience at its hands. He was already an expert diver, but this trauma was basically his Batman/Crime Alley moment, giving him a movie-feasible inspiration for being such an action hero in this preposterous scenario. His role was to protect the others, who were far more average humans.

This time around, however, there are three characters who share in the kind of derring-do that not only throws caution to the wind but also logic out the window. There’s some lazy exposition lines to explain some of this away, and the casting of Wu seems like a naked ploy for a potential spinoff, Hobbs & Shaw-style. But what it means for the movie is that the third act hops willy-nilly from one action hero to another, with little disregard for logic, pace, or emotional stakes. I felt punch-drunk as Wheatley delivered blow after blow after blow, bouncing around Fun Island and the ocean, throwing up blood and violence like a kid flinging spaghetti in a fit. It went from exciting to numbing, because for every thrilling bit — a jet ski-riding Jason Statham being chased by multiple megalodons — there were three bits that felt haphazard, as if Wheatley couldn’t be bothered.

This all brings to mind Fast X, which endlessly leaps from one of its impossibly invulnerable ass-kicking leads to another. There, this works, not only because the franchise has taken the pains to steadily establish its heroes and up their stakes, sequel after sequel, and with a knowing wink as they go, but also because there’s a deep-seated joy in these absurdities. Some might mock the Fast franchise for its soap opera antics, absurd plots, or corny “family” messaging, but you can’t deny that their makers revel in the game — even the goofiness — of it all. Call it mindless all you want; their fans are cheering, and they are laughing all the way to the bank.

Wheatley does not play here like he’s having fun. His Meg 2 may be stuffed with the action and outrageous creatures and summer movie-level carnage demanded by audiences. But there’s a dead-eyed stare behind it all, and not just from the megs but from Wheatley himself, who, after two duds, seems to have taken a paycheck gig and resents everyone who might see it. His ire is clear in the action scenes that are erratic instead of intense, clumsy dialogue that should have been punched up on set by this acclaimed screenwriter/director, and the shrug that is the film’s final beat.

This was always going to be a stupid movie. But Wheatley treats us as stupid for wanting that.

Jason Statham races away from a megladon in


Credit: Warner Bros.

There’s no shame in loving a popcorn movie. The world is a deeply stressful, often irrational place. And sometimes, there’s no better way to soothe ourselves than to watch a movie so profoundly stupid that it orders us directly, seductively, to shut off our brains and just submit.

From when Jaws first blew up Bruce, a shiver of shark movies have been spawned from the sleekly ridiculous (Deep Blue Sea), to the unnervingly grounded (The Shallows, 47 Meters Down), to the unabashedly outrageous (Sharknado 1-6). The Meg swam into these waters, hewing more to the first group. But Meg 2: The Trench cruises into Sharknado territory, albeit with a bigger budget and stronger spectacle. And maybe that wouldn’t be so bad if this sequel didn’t feel cynical in its showmanship.

While the screenwriters are rushing to push Jonas into rich franchise terrain, Wheatley seems to rage against the box this puts him in. That could have fueled a movie that dared to be smarter or more subversive than you’d expect. Instead, Wheatley’s wit seems pointed at the gauche desires of an audience who just want some big, mindless entertainment without being judged for it.

Meg 2: The Trench opens in theaters Aug. 4.



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