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Shark weak: ‘Meg 2: The Trench’ takes the plunge into a too-silly sequel

Review by Brian Lowry, CNN

(CNN) — “The Meg” was agreeably silly, with a better business plan than a script: A mashup of “Jaws” and “Jurassic Park,” the movie paired Jason Statham with an international cast to boost its global appeal, particularly in China.

Washing ashore five years later, “Meg 2: The Trench” doesn’t overly mess with that formula, but it does muck up the simple strengths of the story with all kinds of unnecessary side plots. In the process, the film goes from Shark Week to shark weak – from playfully amusing to just plain stupid, eliciting enough laughs in the wrong places to make an advance screening virtually interactive.

Granted, the big-sharks-and-summer construct is generally reliable, but “Meg 2” does more than just renew the threat of ancient whale-sized Megalodons swimming into our midst. Instead, the film’s intrepid explorers – undertaking a mission to take submersibles 6,000 meters below sea level, equipped with high-tech Iron Man-type suits – run afoul not only of the giant beasts but a nefarious scheme to mine the ocean floor.

The latter complication forces Statham’s Jonas to segue into action-hero mode, facing a ruthless villain played by Sergio Peris-Mencheta (“Snowfall”), a distraction that seems unnecessary given the whole, you know, GIANT SHARK problem.

Then again, “Meg 2” isn’t content to trot out just sharks among its monstrous foes, which adds up to overkill in more ways than one. The cast also hasn’t stood in place, with the character played by Li Bingbing (who withdrew from the project) out of the picture and Jonas keeping an eye on her now-teenage daughter Meiying (Sophia Cai), while allying himself with the girl’s uncle (Chinese star Wu Jing), an adventurer every bit as fearless and foolish as he is.

Of the supporting characters, the only one who really registers is holdover Page Kennedy as DJ, who, having survived the first movie, functions as an amusing stand-in for the audience by constantly telling everyone how idiotic they’re being in terms of risking life and limbs.

Otherwise, this is one of those franchises where everyone you don’t immediately recognize represents potential fish bait, sort of like the red-shirted crewmen in “Star Trek.”

“Megs and humanity were never meant to mix,” Jonas grunts near the outset, which might be the most sensible thing anyone except DJ ever says in this outing.

Nobody can fault director Ben Wheatley and the movie’s trio of screenwriters for taking themselves too seriously; still, if they’d like to avoid flat-out mockery, they might have taken the odd combination of elements a bit more seriously than this, even allowing for the film’s throwback monster-movie trappings.

Perhaps the best thing that can be said about “Meg 2” is that there’s a great big ocean out there, which makes it more plausible that if a giant prehistoric shark somehow emerged from the deep after thousands of years once, others might escape again.

Yet if the first movie was fun consumed on its undemanding terms, the second mostly just feels like another one of those sequels that dive back into a shallow premise once too often.

“Meg 2: The Trench” premieres August 4 in US theaters and is rated PG-13. It’s distributed by Warner Bros., like CNN, a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.

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