Jason Statham has been low-key hot since stealing scenes as a scruffy hustler in Guy Ritchie’s Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. But dude went full-on smoke show in The Meg with one steamy scene that turns the tables on the typical action movie objectification dynamic. And so we celebrate.
Yes yes, Statham has been ruggedly handsome for literal decades. And his sexy smirk is intoxicatingly paired with a growling English accent and a sensual swagger. Plus, he’s funny! But never before has a movie recognized the full lust-worthiness of Statham. Most often, directors view him chiefly as the conduit for male power fantasies. So he’s shown as strong, macho, and just a bit smug. If his muscles are flashed, it’s to underline his strength. But in The Meg, Statham goes nearly nude, largely to please the too oft ignored Female Gaze.
Allow me to set the scene.
Spoilers ahead for The Meg.
In The Meg, Statham stars as deep-sea diver Jonas Taylor, famous for the incredible rescues he’s managed at the most treacherous depths. After a tense and not totally successful rescue mission, he faces the ire of brave and passionate marine biologist Suyin Zhang (Li Bingbing). After some heated words, he cools off with a shower in a scene that’s kept devotedly PG-13 and above the waist. But before Jonas can get dressed, he’s interrupted by Suyin storming in to apologize. She’s so fired up she doesn’t notice right away that he’s clothed only in a barely clinging white towel. And then she does.
“You’re naked!” she remarks in shock. And he basically shrugs. He does not cover up. He does not shrink from her stare or ours. Director Jon Turteltaub allows the shot to linger, offering the audience a view of Statham’s shirtless and very muscular diver’s bod. (Never forget that Statham was a real-life diver before he was an onscreen action star.) Usually in action movies, there’s a love interest tossed into the fray to wear skimpy clothes and bare her body for an audience that is assumed to be predominantly straight men. But in The Meg, Bingbing will keep fully clothed, favoring business casual out of the water and modest wetsuits when she’s in it. Instead, we’re offered the chance to objectify Statham’s body, to accept it as the tool not just for male power fantasies, but also for female sexual fantasies or gay male fantasies.
This kind of titillation isn’t completely unheard of in action. Lethal Weapon and Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves both offered up flashes of their heroes’ bare bottoms. However, scenes with random bare-breasted background actresses, bikini-clad babes, and upskirt shots in a wide array of action movies outnumber any male objectification by an embarrassing degree.
Still, the scene in The Meg doesn’t demean Statham or his character. While we’re meant to ogle him, we’re not meant to think of him chiefly as a piece of meat. Instead, this scene feeds into the film’s romance arc. In an old-school rom-com dynamic, he’s the macho wild man who catches the eye of the laser-focused career-girl. In this moment, Suyin was so focused on her apology, she missed that this sexy mountain of a man was nearly nude. Then she notices, and the film takes a breath with her. We share in her drinking in the view. And when she leaves, we laugh as she takes one last look because who among us would not!?
This scene begins a will-they-won’t-they dance, in which Statham gets to be more than the gruff but alluring bruiser. He treats Suyin with respect as they work together to sink the Meg, but finds moments in between attacks to gently flirt. And maybe most enchanting of all, he’s genuinely caring to her daughter Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai), a whip-smart little girl who playfully calls him “Crazy.” There’s something undeniably charming about watching Statham smile guilelessly at kids, be it here or in Fate of the Furious, in which he looped protecting a baby into a bonkers in-flight fight scene. I’m happily child-free, and yet these sequences had my ovaries screaming in excitement.
As TK can tell you, The Meg is surprising in a lot of ways. But for me, the most surprising, most thrilling bits were when Turteltaub offered something for the ladies. For decades, women have been told through the lack of representation and bevy of boobies that action movies are really for us. But the helmer of While You Were Sleeping sees us. And he wants us to be happy. So he gives us a side of Statham that’s sweet, cuddly, and still rock-hard.
I said what I said.