Participation Required: ‘The Meg’ Is Enjoyable If You Know How to Enjoy

Yelling at the screen is its own genre.

Rules of the Theater: Don’t talk much. If you must talk to the person next to you, keep your voice down. Don’t use your phone much. If you must use your phone, dim the brightness as low as you can. Don’t talk spoilers. If you know what’s going to happen, keep it to yourself or ask the person you’re speaking with whether they’re sensitive to spoilers or prefer to go in cold. These are the rules we live by to keep the shared experience of movie-going pleasant, and to respect the film and everyone’s enjoyment of it. Except for films like The Meg.

Shark movies have long become their own sub-genre, complete with predictable plots of survival as a human-hungry shark defies most of what you learned in July during Shark Week. A shark is an easy villain –- non-verbal, blood-thirsty, terrifying -– that lends itself well to a simple formula.

Let’s not bury the lead: The Meg doesn’t change the formula. It doesn’t add to it or attempt a twist on its tropes. The story is one that you know so well you couldn’t spoil it if you tried: a super shark is on an insatiable mission to kill and can only be stopped when the right man has had enough, turns to face it, and stabs it in the eye. Slasher films and enclosed survival movies should rarely be judged on their originality or thoughtfulness (those are pleasant surprises for the few that exemplify those characteristics) but rather how fun you can have with them till they reach their end. The Meg is appropriately a participator sport, the kind where you abandon traditional rules of a shared theater experience and instead rely on crowd participation. Don’t sit back and enjoy the show, lean the fuck in. Enjoying the show actually depends on it.

The megalodon is a prehistoric shark (you will be reminded of this often) long thought to be extinct until a wealthy explorer (Rainn Wilson) finances a deep-sea exploration. What was thought to be the ocean floor is actually a frozen layer of ocean cloud that gives way to a sub-ocean of life never seen before by humankind. Its temperature serves as a barrier that keeps life below from coming above. Of course, this is where the megalodon has lived peacefully for thousands of years until an ocean rover of explorers come along, and since sharks don’t need a reason to be evil, it’s out to kill every last one of them and traps them on the ocean floor. Only one man can save them, but of course he’s thought to be unhinged, a washed up drunk despite chiseled abs and immaculate athletic physique.

Enter Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) as the one man who faced the megalodon before and survived, only everyone believed him to be crazy. The deep-sea rescue covers the first act of the film and sets the stage, because while the rescue saved lives it also released the prehistoric killer (you must never forget this) into the open ocean.

You can guess the remainder of the 1 hour 50-minute runtime from here feels like a ticking clock of failed strategies to kill the shark as it picks off cast members one by one; however, what you can’t predict is the improv theater of an audience watching a movie you’ve all seen and loved before. The film leans into its comedy in intentional and obvious ways where you can predict the punchline, because it’s the joke you’re also making yourself. A Black engineer plays proxy to the audience by constantly poking holes in the ideas that’ll get them killed.

We rarely get a full view of the megalodon, mostly flashes of its form as it attacks or sights of its fin above water as it remarkably swims near the surface at amazing frequency, though it rarely travels very far in the vastness of its new ocean. Its size is mostly felt through descriptions from terrified scientists, engineers, and divers who know what its 75-foot form can do and just how much pressure per square inch its jaws can deliver. There’s plenty of well-informed characters like the one played by Ruby Rose – recently cast as Batwoman – whose job it is to explain just how terrifying the threat of this shark should be.

More than anything, The Meg capitalizes on the rugged charisma of action star Jason Statham in every way imaginable, from quippy lines to shirtless sexual tension to winning the affection of an adorable child to only-one-man-can-save-them heroics. His only missed opportunity was having a scene saving a dog, and even then, he sorta does.

Make no mistake, this is a theater-only film, and The Meg is only as good as its crowd. Watching it is like watching the spectacle of a class clown at their best: you laugh at their jokes, instigate their defiance, and “ooooh” when they get in trouble. The Meg is the class clown of Hollywood. Every shark movie is at this point. The only person who hates them is the teacher’s pet and/or the purist, and nobody likes them anyway. So watch it as it’s meant to be seen, with the dying remnants of your MoviePass, full of an audience turned comedians at every joke, jump scare, and brush with death. It’s interactive fun, if you know how to interact. Rules of the theater are suspended.

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  • Jordan Calhoun is a writer in New York City. His forthcoming debut book "Piccolo Is Black" is a celebration of the common adaptations we made while non-diverse pop culture helped us form identities. He holds a B.A. in Sociology and Criminal Justice, B.S. in Psychology with a minor in Japanese, and an M.P.A. in Public and Nonprofit Management and Policy. He might solve a mystery, or rewrite history. Find him on Instagram and Twitter @JordanMCalhoun

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