Written by: Dirk Blackman
Directed by: John Pogue
Starring: Tania Raymonde, Nathaniel Buzolic, and Emerson Brooks
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman (@brettgallman)
Deadlier than ever.
Deep Blue Sea 2 was one of the confounding sequels in recent memory. It wasnít so much WBís decision to randomly resurrect the title after two decades since you have to expect pretty much any IP to be exploited at this point; rather, it was the decision to mount a dull redux of the original movie instead of moving the concept forward in any meaningful way that baffled. I canít imagine the thought process behind just doing the same movie, only without Renny Harlin and that incredible cast at the helm on a noticeably diminished budget. Literally just re-releasing the original movie into theaters would have been more productive, but what do I know? Iím just a guy who willingly paid money for Deep Blue Sea 2 anyway, and I definitely didnít hesitate to toss the latest sequel into my cart when I spotted it on the shelf the other day. Iím in no position to judge WBís strategy, it would seem, though I have to ask: why didnít they name this one Deep Blue Three?
That misstep aside, though, Deep Blue Sea 3 brings good news, at least if youíre hoping for an actual sequel this time around. Thereís not a whole lot of deja vu here, especially once it strikes off and does its own thing. It deals with the fallout of the previous film, which ended with a bull shark and her pups surviving the ordeal. Here, theyíve descended upon a floating village off the coast of Mozambique, where a team of scientists led by Emma Collins (Tania Raymonde) are studying the effects of climate change on the local ecosystem. The rogue sharks also capture the attention of Emmaís old grad school flame Richard (Nathaniel Buzolic), whoís been dispatched with a team of mercenaries to hunt down and capture the sharks so the nefarious corporation responsible for the snafu can tie up its loose ends. Naturally, the two factions butt heads as they discover the full, inexplicable extent of the genetically modified creaturesí abilities.
You could perhaps be forgiven for not holding high hopes for Deep Blue Sea 3 during its first 30 minutes or so. Itís pretty much the same thuddingly generic shark movie youíve seen in recent years, albeit with production values that are a touch more robust than SyFy fare. The performances are also slightly more captivating, as the chemistry between the cast does have a nice lived-in feel to it. You can believe that this crew has been living at sea together, trawling the depths and doing mundane check-ups every day. Their warm camaraderie especially stands in stark contrast to the icy mercenaries who come in and threaten to destroy the precarious ecosystem and village in its deranged quest to find these sharks. In a genre thatís often lacking a human dimension, you appreciate that Deep Blue Sea 3 at least makes an effort to establish some stakes beyond mindless carnage.
But Deep Blue Sea 3 delivers plenty of that, too: just when you start to worry that it might be a little too invested in the human dimension, it serves up a clever, gnarly bisection gag that recalls the demented playfulness of the original. Fret not: Deep Blue Sea 3 does realize this is the sort of thing youíre actually here for, and this gory outburst is a prelude to the outlandish second half of the film, where director John Pogue stages some impressive mayhem, tossing sharks, martial arts (!), multiple explosions, and riveting suspense into a blender and jamming it on the highest setting. The script cleverly takes advantage of the setting, as the floating, ramshackle collection of buildings tethered at sea becomes a sinking crucible of aquatic horror, where the sharks arenít the only danger.
Frankly, itís about as purely entertaining as most of the recent shark movies in recent memory, including WBís own, more robustly budgeted The Meg (and this one has the good sense to be rated R). Pogue and screenwriter Dirk Blackman honor the pulpy, wry approach of the original with an over-the-top approach that stops just short of feeling like absolute bullshit. These types of movies have to hit a sweet spot: play it deadly serious, and youíre left with a dull retread; play it too absurdly, and youíre left with Sharknado. Never go full Sharknado. Deep Blue Sea 3 lands a glancing blow on the sweet spot pretty often with a fistful of fun sequences, some of them not even involving sharks at all. They even dare to recreate the iconic Samuel L. Jackson jump scare from the original twice, and pull it off both times. One might actually be the best jolt Iíve seen in a while, too. Itís a far cry from the complete and utter void that was Deep Blue Sea 2, a movie thatís so thoroughly evacuated itself from its brain that I had to pull up my review just to remember anything about it. I wonít have this problem two years from now with Deep Blue Sea 3, which clears this bare minimum hurdle with ease.
It doesnít quite stick that landing though due to the usual suspects associated with ambitious filmmaking on a low budget. Most noticeably, the shark effects are wildly inconsistent: at times, theyíre quite convincing, maybe even some of the best Iíve seen on the DTV circuit. But for every great shot, thereís two or three bafflingly cartoonish CGI bits that take you right out of the movie and remind you that true greatness is a little bit out of reach for this one. Even at their worst, theyíre not on the level of the SyFy nonsense weíve grown accustomed to, but itís still frustrating to see Deep Blue Sea 3 get so much right but stumble on this obviously important aspect. Likewise, despite Pogueís best effort, the entire production canít quite outrun the DTV vibes: the all-too-slick digital photography and droning, wallpaper score that seep into your subconscious, constantly reminding you of how low-rent the whole ordeal is. Maybe that kneejerk bias is a little unfair, but it remains a sticking point when so many other low-budget filmmakers avoid these pitfalls on even smaller budgets.
Still, Deep Blue Sea 3 is just fun enough that you can overlook these snags. Once it roars to life, it becomes a nice little surprise, full of suspense, action, and even some fun characters. Emerson Brooks is a noteworthy standout as Shaw, Emmaís longtime, loyal assistant who also provides the muscle when the mercs grow more aggressive. His resume is littered with TV, background, and voice work, but this is a nice showcase for his obvious screen presence and will hopefully lead to some more high-profile work. The same is true for most of the cast, especially Alexís crew, who eventually team up with some locals to form a scrappy, ragtag crew. Itís nice to actually be invested in the characters for once: what Deep Blue Sea 3 might lack in seamless production values, it makes up for with a genuine heart and a demented imagination (just wait until you see how the sharks get it--letís just say they can take it as well as they can dish it out).
In fact, with a more impressive budget and some bigger star power, Deep Blue Sea 3 might have passed as a standard, theatrical release. Itís that close to being an actual, honest-to-goodness production, putting it fathoms away from its lifeless, retreading predecessor. This is the movie part 2 should have been: it takes the central idea associated with the IP--genetically modified sharks--and turns it loose in a different environment, hopefully pointing the franchise in a viable direction to boot. It says a lot that I would eagerly watch another sequel from this crew. Letís just hope they have enough sense to title it Deep Blue Sea 4-Ever and get L.L. Cool J back to at least rap the end credits song. The world needs to know if his hat is still like a shark fin or if the fashion world has moved in another direction.
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