Review: ‘Meg 2: The Trench,’ starring Jason Statham, Wu Jing, Sophia Cai, Page Kennedy, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Skyler Samuels and Cliff Curtis

August 3, 2023

by Carla Hay

Jason Statham in “Meg 2: The Trench” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

“Meg 2: The Trench”

Directed by Ben Wheatley

Culture Representation: Taking place in China and in or near the Pacific Ocean, the sci-fi action film “Meg 2: The Trench” (a sequel to 2018’s “The Meg”) features a predominantly white and Asian cast of characters (with a few African Americans and Latinos) representing the middle-class, working-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Deep sea diver Jonas Taylor and his colleagues once again battle deadly creatures in or near the Pacific Ocean.

Culture Audience: “Meg 2: The Trench” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the movie’s headliners and “The Meg,” but “Meg 2: The Trench” replaces the campy fun of “The Meg” with an onslaught of terrible filmmaking.

Jason Statham and Sophia Cai in “Meg 2: The Trench” (Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Even by low standards of stupid movies about animal attacks, “Meg 2: The Trench” is among the lowest of the low when it comes to idiocy. The movie also goes into a weird tangent of showing dinosaurs as much as sharks. “Meg 2: The Trench” (a sequel to 2018’s “The Meg”) is one of those moronic movies where people are supposed to be 25,000 feet underwater in the ocean, but they are able to survive without oxygen tanks and helmets. At one point, this vital survival equipment is discarded by the movie’s chief “hero” because this equipment just gets in his way when he was to travel across the ocean floor.

Apparently, getting “the bends” (getting injured from rising to the surface too quickly after being deep underwater) doesn’t exist in this world either. In “Meg 2: The Trench,” people who were 25,000 feat underwater are able to rise to the surface with no physical side effects. And apparently, face makeup stays intact for the women in the movie, despite all the life-threatening chases they go through underwater and above water. “Meg 2: The Trench” is based on Steve Alten’s 1999 novel “The Trench,” which is by far much better than the obnoxiously inept movie version of the book.

Directed atrociously by Ben Wheatley, “Meg 2: The Trench” is a giant mess of incoherence, with film editing so sloppy, it’s mind-numbing. Characters are “trapped” in one scene, but then in the next scene, the characters are suddenly “free,” with the movie quickly skipping over the details of how they escaped. One minute these people are stuck 25,000 feet underwater. The next minute, the survivors are in a canoe, with no signs of having medical problems from their ordeal. The movie doesn’t even bother to show them in wet clothes after rising from deep within the ocean.

The movie’s title character refers to the Megalodon shark (more than 60 feet wide), which is extinct in real life. But in the “Meg” movies, more than one Megaldon shark exists. “The Meg” was based on Alten’s 1997 novel “The Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror.” “Meg 2: The Trench” has very little resemblance to the novel on which it is based, in terms of the human characters. “Meg 2: The Trench” screenwriters Jon Hoeber, Erich Hoeber and Dean Georgaris butchered “The Trench” novel to come up with this awful screenplay.

In addition to battling Megaldon sharks, the human characters in “Meg 2: The Trench” have to contend with two fictional creatures that attack humans: (1) a giant octopus with the not-so-original name Mega-Octopus and (2) snappers (inspired by a dinosaur called Koreanosaurus) that look a lot like mutant iguanas that are about the size of sea lions. And then there are the movie’s human villains, led by Hilary Driscoll (played by Sienna Guillory), the wealthy CEO of a company that mines the ocean for resources.

“Meg 2: The Trench” takes place in and near China, but the movie was actually filmed in England and Thailand. Warner Bros. Pictures is co-distributing this movie with China-based CMC Pictures. “Meg 2: The Trench” begins by reminding viewers that dinosaurs lived 65 million years ago, but some of these dinosaurs were no match for a Megaldon shark. This opening scene shows a Meg attacking and devouring a smaller-sized dinosaur. In the “Meg” world, several animals that are supposed to be extinct are still alive in the 21st century.

The main protagonist in “The Meg” and “Meg 2: The Trench” is Jonas Taylor (played by Jason Statham), a British diver whose specialty is deep-sea search and rescue. Jonas is also an environmental activist who’s hired to bust up operations that violate environmental laws in large bodies of water. Near the beginning of the movie, Jonas is shown narrowly escaping from a cargo ship, where he was discovered as an intruder. Some goons chase him around the deck. And when Jonas is cornered, he jumps over the ship’s railing and plunges into the water unharmed.

Meanwhile, the other “alpha male” in “Meg 2: The Trench” is Jiuming Zhang (played by Wu Jing), the director of the Zhang Oceanic Institute in Hainan, China. His domineering father is well-known oceanographer Minway Zhang (played by Winston Chao), who’s not in “Meg 2: The Trench,” but he was in “The Meg.” Even though Jiuming is a respected oceanographer in his own right, Jiuming feels like he’s living in his father’s shadow. Jonas and two of his closest colleagues—dependable James “Mac” Mackreides (played by Cliff Curtis) and sassy Rigas (played by Melissanthi Mahut)—attend a reception where Hilary is honoring Jiuming, whom she wants to work with to find parts of the ocean that will be lucrative for her company.

As shown in “The Meg,” Minway and his oceanographer daughter Suyin Zhang (played by Li Bingbing) supervised an exploratory mission in the Mariana Trench (located in the western Pacific Ocean, near Asia), with Jonas on board for the mission, which turned out to be a deadly disaster involving attacking Megalon sharks. The vessel used in this fatal mission was the Mana One, which also doubled as an underwater research facility where single mother Suyin lived with her 8-year-old inquisitive daughter Meiying (played by Sophia Cai)—because nothing says “family bonding” like having an underage kid along for the ride in a dangerous underwater mission.

In “Meg 2: The Trench,” Suyin is now deceased. Meiying (also played by Cai), who is now 14 years old, is under the guardianship of Jonas, who treats Meiying like a daughter. Meiying wants to become an oceanographer, just like her mother, uncle and grandfather. “You need to take me seriously as a scientist,” Meiying tells Jonas when he says she can’t go with him on his next exploratory mission. And you know what that means: Meiying sneaks on the submarine where Jonas and his crew are doing their mission, once again in the Mariana Trench.

At the Mana One Research Center, the control room that is monitoring this mission is being operated by managing researcher Mac, level-headed engineer Jess (played by Skyler Samuels) and wisecracking engineer DJ (played by Page Kennedy), who is written like a buffoon and is saddled with some of the worst “jokes” in the movie. Mac and DJ were also in “The Meg,” so they already have an established bond. Most of the Mana One supporting characters who are new to “Meg 2: The Trench” are bland and have forgettable personalities.

Jonas is leading two submarines for his mission, which is going 25,000 feet underwater in the Mariana Trench. The submarine with Jonas on board also has Jiuming, surprise passenger Meying and crew members Rigas, Curtis (played by Whoopie Van Raam) and Sal (played by Kiran Sonia Sawar) and Lance (played by Felix Mayr). Viewers don’t really get to know the people in the other submarine, so you know what that means in a movie where groups of people can get killed at the same time.

Something goes terribly wrong when giant rocks surge through the ocean in a collision that crashes both submarines. Guess which ancient and monstrous shark caused this disruption? The submarine with Jonas and his crew is damaged but has no fatalities. There are no survivors on the other submarine, which has been completely demolished.

Making matters worse, although Jonas can communicate by radio to the Mana One Research Center’s control room, the control room’s radar to detect the sunken submarine is no longer working. Mac soon finds out that the radar’s system has been hacked into and destroyed. The people trapped underwater are running out of oxygen. Jonas makes the risky decision to walk the three kilometers (approximately 1.9 miles) across the trench to see if he can find anything to help them get back up to the surface.

A lot of people might think that “Meg 2: The Trench” takes place mostly underwater. They’ll be surprised to find out that at least half of the movie takes place on land, where there are more monstrous and human-killing creatures: the snappers. In typical villain fashion, Hilary has a chief henchman doing a lot of her dirty work. His name is Montes (played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta), who has a grudge against Jonas that is revealed in the movie.

Much of the last third of “Meg 2: The Trench” takes place in the South Seas, on Fun Island, which has a popular resort called Club Paradise. Fun Island is populated by numerous snappers, but apparently the people at Club Paradise had no idea until one particular day when the snappers attack. And let’s not forget that Mega-Octopus is lurking around too.

Club Paradise social director Coco (played by Sui Fong Ivy Tsui), who was a bride in “The Meg,” has her constant companion with her: a Yorkshire Terrier named Pippin. This dog is used as comic relief in the movie and in the marketing campaign for “Meg 2: The Trench.” But in actuality, the dog’s screen time in “Meg 2: The Trench” is less than 10 minutes. It’s “bait and switch” manipulation.

There are so many cringeworthy and eye-rolling things about “Meg 2: The Trench,” it’s as if the filmmakers decided to take everything that people dislike about mindless action flicks and put all of it into this movie. People don’t mind cheesy dialogue if it’s done with the right tone, but “Meg 2: The Trench” can’t even have fun with its foolishness. When one of the villains gets killed by shark, Jonas utters, “See you later, chum.” (If you don’t know the sea creature definition for chum, look it up.) It’s supposed to be the biggest joke in the movie, but this “joke” just falls flat.

Needless to say, between the unfocused direction, the horrible film editing, the mediocre-to-terrible acting, and the junkpile screenplay, “Meg 2: The Trench” is not the type of bad movie that’s somewhat entertaining to watch. It’s just a series of awkwardly cobbled-together scenes where action sequences look jumbled and the visual effects often look amateurish. “Meg 2: The Trench” soon becomes a blur of nonsense, because this movie just doesn’t care about having a good story. If you want action movies to at least have a good story, then you shouldn’t care to see “Meg 2: The Trench.”

Warner Bros. Pictures will release “Meg 2: The Trench” on August 4, 2023.

Review: ‘Diving With Dolphins,’ starring Roger Horrocks, Didier Noirot, Tad Luckey, Joe Mobley, Laura Engelby, Angela Zillener and Paul Atkins

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

Roger Horrocks in “Diving With Dolphins” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

“Diving With Dolphins”

Directed by Keith Scholey

Culture Representation: This Disneynature documentary is a behind-the-scenes look at the making of the Disneynature documentary “Dolphin Reef,” with an all-white crew of filmmakers who worked in French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida to make the documentary.

Culture Clash: The film crew sometimes had to battle the weather and unpredictable nature of ocean life.

Culture Audience: “Diving With Dolphins” will appeal mostly to people interested in documentaries about ocean animals, but it’s not essential viewing for people who see the “Dolphin Reef” documentary.

Didier Noirot in “Diving With Dolphins” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

Disneynature’s “Diving With Dolphins” is a “making of” documentary about the Disneynature documentary “Dolphin Reef.” And just like “Dolphin Reef,” the movie gives almost as much screen time to humpback whales as it does to dolphins. People who’ve seen “Dolphin Reef” don’t really need to see “Diving With Dolphins” because it seems more like a series of outtakes strung together by narration rather than a documentary with a fascinating storyline.

Directed by Keith Scholey (who co-directed “Dolphin Reef”) and narrated by Celine Cousteau (granddaughter of Jacque Cousteau) has a lot of the same gorgeous cinematography that “Dolphin Reef” has, but the movie doesn’t really give much insight into the filmmakers’ personalities. It’s kind of a tedious repeat of “get to a location, set up cameras, shoot some film, and then go to the next location.”

The documentary takes place in three main areas: French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida. There are also separate shoots for the dolphins and the humpback whales. “Dolphin Reef” focuses on two bottlenose dolphins bottlenose dolphin mother named Kumu her 3-year-old son Echo), as well as two humpback whales (a mother named Moraya and her newborn female calf Fluke.

The people on the film crew include cinematographers Roger Horrocks, Paul Atkins, Didier Noirot and Jamie McPherson. They are accompanied by scientists Angela Zillener, Laura Engelby and Joe Mobley. And there are some skippers shown in the movie, such as Tad Luckey (whose Luckey Strike boat is in a lot of the humpback whale footage), Carl Ellington and Paris Basson, who’s a jet ski skipper.

Horrock has a clear preference for dolphins, which he’s been filming for decades. He says, “Dolphins are the probably most charismatic mammals that you can get in the ocean. They have a mammalian conscious, so we feel a kinship to them.” Horrock believes that dolphins are the “most welcome” animals he’s ever filmed and adds, “filming dolphins is the most physical because they’re constantly on the move.”

Meanwhile, Noirot, who used to be part of Jacque Cousteau’s crew, is described as someone who’s has more than 30 years of experience of ocean filming. He’s shown in the humpback whale film shoots. Noirot comments, “Hawaii is a good location to film humpback whales because of the whale population. You’re sure to see whales [and] crystal-clear water.”

Most of the filming was underwater, and the scenes that were film outside the water was done mainly by bot, by jet ski and by helicopter. Underwater, a scooter was used with a torpedo-like propeller to get some of the fast-moving shots. But there was a lot of down time during the film shoots, since it took several weeks to get close enough to a humpback whale and a calf to film for the movie.

Although scientist Zillener says that the crew got to know amore than 200 dolphins during the film shoot and that “to understand the animals, you have to be one of them,” there’s no effort made to single out any of the other animals (besides the four main stars) by describing their personalities in “Diving With Dolphins.” The movie would have benefited from more anecdotes about some of the animals who had standout personalities. In the movie, all of the animals appear to be generic. In “Dolphin Reef,” the some of animal personalities of the “supporting characters” seem to be crafted through creative editing.

The narration of “Diving With Dolphins” also tends to take on dramatic, hyperbolic tones, such as the description of the humpback whale courtship competition to become a female humpback’s chief protector: “It’s the most spectacular battle in nature.” Given all the wild animals in the world, that statement seems a bit too broad and subjective for a nature documentary.

One of the strengths of “Diving With Dolphins” is that it calls attention to the coral-reef crisis that desperately needs protection from human plundering and pollution that can cause climate change. The ocean is the foundation of almost every animal’s food chain, so it’s alarming that so much of the essential coral reef is disappearing due to climate change.  “Diving With Dolphins” mentions that in the three years it took to make this documentary, one-third of the film locations’ coral reef died. (More on this subject can be found in the excellent 2017 Netflix documentary “Chasing Coral.”)

“Diving With Dolphins” places a lot of emphasis on tiger sharks toward the end of the film, by saying tiger sharks are “misunderstood” and have an “overblown reputation as frightening and deadly predators.”  One of the reasons why French Polynesia was chosen as a location to film was because it’s one of the few countries that have laws protecting sharks, which are necessary for the food chain.

And cinematographer Atkins, who has more than 30 years of experience filming in the ocean, calls sharks “extraordinarily beautiful and graceful.” Atkins shows through a demonstration while being surrounded by tiger sharks, that giving them a gentle nudge on the face should do the trick in preventing them from attacking you. (It’s a lot easier said than done, and there should’ve been a caveat that only professionals with animal experience should try this tactic.)

Overall, “Diving With Dolphins” is kind of a scattered film that doesn’t reveal anything surprising about the making of “Dolphin Reef.” And the movie is much more than about diving with dolphins, since the filmmakers’ interactions with humpback whales and tiger sharks also take up a great deal of screen time.

Disney+ premiered “Diving With Dolphins” on April 3, 2020.

Review: ‘Dolphin Reef,’ narrated by Natalie Portman

April 3, 2020

by Carla Hay

A scene from “Dolphin Reef” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

“Dolphin Reef” 

Directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill

Culture Representation: This Disneynature documentary chronicles some of the coral-reef life in French Polynesia, Hawaii and Florida, with an emphasis on dolphins and humpback whales.

Culture Clash: The dolphins and humpback whales are in danger of being killed by orcas.

Culture Audience: “Dolphin Reef” will appeal primarily to people who like movies about ocean animals.

A scene from “Dolphin Reef” (Photo courtesy of Disney+)

Disneynature’s “Dolphin Reef” is a beautifully filmed and unevenly edited documentary about coral-reef life in oceans. Viewers should know in advance that the movie isn’t just about dolphins. Humpback whales get almost as much as screen time in the movie as the dolphins, but since dolphins are “cuter,” that might be why dolphins are made the selling point in the movie’s title. The documentary is a pretty good lesson on the ocean’s ecosystem, but it also serves as a warning that much of the ecosystem is in danger of becoming extinct by the end of the 21stcentury if environmental protections aren’t implemented.

Narrated by Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman, “Dolphin Reef” focuses on a bottlenose dolphin mother and child, as well as a humpback whale mother and child. (They’re the only animals in the movie that have names.) Kumu is the dolphin mother of 3-year-old son Echo, a mischievous, playful child with a short attention span. Echo has reached a point in his life when he has to learn to be independent from his mother, but he lets other things easily distract him. Echo becomes fascinated with Moraya, a 40-foot humpback whale and her newborn female calf Fluke. The dolphins and the whales sometimes cross paths with each other, as they mingle with other ocean life and try to dodge the deadly jaws of orcas.

Without question, the best thing about “Dolphin Reef” is the gorgeous, immersive cinematography, which is usually the case with Disneynature documentaries. (And the atmosphere of “Dolphin Reef” might look kind of like a real-life version of the Pixar animation classic “Finding Nemo,” but without animals talking like humans, of course.) The vibrancy of the colors and animal life in the documentary’s coral reefs will give viewers the feeling of experiencing the beauty and dangers of the ocean firsthand.

However, unlike Disneynature films, which tends to focus on only one kind of animal, the story in “Dolphin Reef” isn’t as focused and could have benefited from tighter editing. Soon after viewers are introduced to dolphins Kumu and Echo, it veers into an educational narrative about other ocean life. The corals are the foundation, and they are kept from overgrowing by the ocean’s “gardeners”—the animals that feed on the corals. The gardeners are food for meat-eating ocean “predators” (such as dolphins, humpback whales and sharks), who are in turn eaten by “superpredators,” such as orcas.

The movie explains that Moraya the humpback whale has arrived from a cold polar location to give birth in warmer, tropical climate of the Pacific Ocean. A good deal of the documentary then shows how her whale calls attract the attention of male humpback whales, who sing and dance and then compete to become her protector. One only whale can emerge victorious.

There’s also a lot of screen time given to some of the memorable ocean residents who come in contact with the dolphins and whales. Razorfish are popular dining options for dolphins, which look for food by using a highly sophisticated sonar called echo location. It’s a skill that takes dolphins years to develop. Even though razorfish can hide in the sand, they can be detected if a dolphin has a highly attuned echo location.

Other fish who get a spotlight in the movie are humphead parrotfish, which are described as “the single most important protectors of the reef,” since they are essentially the “garbage collectors” of the ocean. In turn, the humphead parrotfish, whose enormous teeth can start to rot if not cleaned enough, are groomed smaller fish and other animals, in a ritual that goes back eons. If you ever wanted to know that humphead parrotfish excrement looks like sand, and they excrete about five tons a year, then you have this documentary to thank.

Cuttlefish are cast as the mysterious “villains” to smaller creatures, since cuttlefish have the ability to disguise themselves by changing the appearance of its scales. Cuttlefish can also transfix its prey by making its scales glow in the dark. It sounds like the kind of villain that you’d see in a Disney cartoon movie.

Also part of this ocean community are peacock mantis shrimp (notable for their obsessive grooming), crabs and sting rays. The editing of “Dolphin Reef” is clearly inspired by “Finding Nemo,” since these different ocean animals are sometimes made to look like they have cartoonish personalities, such as when the camera focuses on a wide-eyed fish that looks around and ducks when predators get into a fight. That footage might not actually be of the fish reacting to the fight, but it’s edited to look that way.

There’s even a “Finding Nemo” moment in the movie when Echo gets separated from his mother, is stuck with a friendly turtle in a very deep crevice. There’s a race against time for the Echo and the turtle to try to find an opening in the crevice, so they can rise to the ocean surface to breathe in much-needed oxygen. Moraya and her daughter Fluke also have a scary moment when they’re surrounded by orcas. Viewers can watch the the movie to find out what happened in both situations.

“Dolphin Reef” (directed by Keith Scholey and Alastair Fothergill) gives the impression that it was filmed mainly in the Pacific Ocean (including French Polynesian islands and in Hawaii), but Disneynature’s behind-the-scenes documentary “Diving With Dolphins” shows that filming of the movie spread all the way to the Atlantic Ocean coast of Florida. Therefore, there’s a lot of editing that looks manipulated to appear that things are happening in the same general location, when in fact they are not.

Portman’s narration is much like a the conversational tone of an elementary school teacher when she has to say lines describing the Polynesian islands’ as providing a “backdrop of an amazing story, with characters as fantastical as a fairy tale, but as real as you and me.” And she has a dramatically ominous tone when she says of the ocean: “This world operates under a different set of rules.”

Because the movie spreads the storyline across two types of ocean mammals—dolphins and humpback whales—as well as various “supporting characters” of ocean life, a more accurate title for the movie would be “Coral Reef,” even though it’s not as eye-catching as “Dolphin Reef.” Although dolphins and humpback whales are very different in many ways, they both have striking similarities, since they are each very intelligent, group-oriented animals that have distinctive languages and show affection through touching.

“Dolphin Reef” is not the best Disneynature documentary, but it can be enjoyed by people looking for a family-friendly film that gives some eye-popping views of ocean life.

Disney+ premiered “Dolphin Reef” on April 3, 2020.

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