Sunday, August 19, 2018

A Not-Quite Movie Review: The Meg

I fully intended to write a real review for this one. But then I thought: who am I kidding? What could I possibly tell you about the movie that you can't get from the trailer? If you pay attention, it gives out every major plot point, and more importantly, if tells you exactly what you'd be getting for the 10+ bucks should you decide to shell them out.

Thus, what follows below, is not so much the review as some thoughts, or more precisely, a sort-of open letter to those who might benefit from paying attention to what makes certain movies successful with the audience while most "serious" film critics scoff at their very existence.

To the collective brains behind Marvel, DC, and Star Wars:

This is how you write strong female characters who are interesting, brave, and superbly capable-- without coming across as Mary Sues, arrogant, or obnoxious.

This is how you, at the same time, write men who are admirable and unabashedly masculine, who respect the women and the choices they make, while never losing the protective attitude towards them. Not every man in the movie fits that description but enough do, to one extent or another.

This is how you write the dialogue that feels real even in the most implausible circumstances. (Marvel writers, to their credit, haven't lost that particular talent. The others, not so much).

This is how you take a corny piece of wisdom and make it work perfectly within the context of the movie, enhancing the big action scene instead of throwing a wet blanket over it. (Looking at you, The Last Jedi).

This is how you take a script where the viewers can predict most plot points, including who lives and dies, yet still have the theater goers holding their collective breath during the crucial moments.

The bottom line? The big secret? The reason why the first words out of my mouth after the credits rolled were "Forget superhero movies. This was better."?

  Forget the A-Listers (although the acting skills were adequate for the task). Forget the insane special effects (although the giant shark scenes and the underwater voyage into the uncharted depths of the ocean were well done). What you really need is good writing and respect for the audience.

Both are crucial.

Good writing without respect for the audience results in scripts that are too complex, too clever, too in love with the next plot twist and subverting expectations, too intent on Making a Point and Being Relevant, often neglecting the movie's main purpose: to entertain.

Respect for the audience without good writing gives us what's known as fan service, or pandering, or whatever term applies in a particular case. Checking off all the popular themes and whatever filled seats in the past doesn't necessarily work if there's no coherent plot and we don't care about the characters.

The Meg has a good balance. It appeals to the lovers of adrenaline-rush action, while providing enough human interaction and likable characters to make us invested. It switches effortlessly from camp to heartbreak and back to camp. It's not a great movie, but it's a good one. Let's make an effort, as consumers, to reward the good. If you want a couple of hours of pure fun that will leave you satisfied, go see this movie. The next Big Awesome Must See entry into one of the franchises will be here soon enough, but those are no longer the only game in town. And from where I'm sitting, it's not a bad thing.