Review: Planet of the Sharks (dir. Mark Atkins, 2016)

Despite having one of the most credible plots yet for the shark-comedy-horror hybrid genre seeming as Planet of the Sharks promisingly adds ‘post-apocalyptic’ to the numerous other gimmicks the disaster-trash canon has graced the planet with so far, Planet of the Sharks is a little disappointing. I’ve never seen Waterworld, but it feels as though it was made in the same vein; with promise for great things of a game-changing nature…

Films I refer to/potentially spoil in this article:

  • Planet of the Shark (dir. Mark Atkins, 2016)
  • Waterworld (dir. Kevin Reynolds, 1995)
  • The Meg (dir. Jon Turteltaub, 2018)
  • Mad Max (dir. George Miller, 1979 – present)
  • Sharkenstein (dir. Mark Polonia, 2016)
  • Ice Sharks (dir. Emile Edwin Smith, 2016)
  • Shark in Venice (dir. Danny Lerner, 2008)
  • Mega Shark vs. Crocosaurus (dir. Christopher Ray, 2010)

To its credit, especially considering that films like The Meg manage to secure funding and global distribution, Planet of the Sharks has a great premise. In the near future, the world as we know it has been crippled by global warming, leaving only specks of land unscathed by mass flooding. Sharks have dominated and consumed all marine life and are evolving rapidly. Instead of turning on each other for food, the sharks turn to an alpha chief shark (that for some reason glows in the dark), which leads them on hunts against us ocean-fearing, landlubber humans who have resorted to living on Mad Max-style scrapheap floating cities. On paper, the film has it all; climate change awareness, the most advanced sharks on-screen yet (since Sharkenstein at least) and a heroic double act that consists of a Michael Shannon-meets-Jason Momoa (of course) male-lead and a Lara Croft-esque badass brunette in a constantly wet and low-cut tank top (of course) as our female lead.

Planet of the Sharks manages to maintain this dream-like atmosphere throughout the entire movie. Like a dream, certain scenes go on for too long or are brushed over too quickly. You’re aware that people are speaking and often speaking directly at you, but you have no idea what the hell they’re on about. Music may play which does not suit the mood or pacing or substance of a scene at any time. New characters come and go and magically appear and disappear, and most go minutes without being addressed properly or even introduced. If our dreams could be captured on camera, the direction and cinematography of those ethereal moments would undoubtedly bear similarities to how Planet of the Sharks plays out. One of the most distinct peculiarities is in how it uses the camera as merely a tool to film things as opposed to utilising its ability to convey emotions or tell stories inventively. In most films, when a character says or does something witty or out of the ordinary, we tend to capture one or two individual reaction shots, or in some cases a shot of the entire group’s reaction. Just look at any generic blockbuster, Marvel-strand film; it’s been done to near-death. Planet of the Sharks, however,decides to film everyone’s reaction to anything anybody says with a few uncomfortable seconds added to each shot. It makes you feel like an outsider trying to eavesdrop on somebody else’s strange shark conversation, its unbalanced pacing making it more nauseating than the choppy oceans the film is set upon.

Planet of the Sharks (2016) - Rotten Tomatoes
Image Credit: Rotten Tomatoes

I’d normally joke that with these kinds of shark-disaster-horror movies you’re not truly entitled to complain if you’ve spent real-life money on it. With this one, however, it’s difficult not to. Planet of the Sharks leaves you feeling a little cheated. Nobody is putting on this film with any genuine care for the story. With a title like this, the plot better not take itself even semi-seriously, let alone seriously at all. Unfortunately, it does, and if it claims that it doesn’t, it sure spends a lot of time with its characters not being eaten by sharks in hilarious ways. This is the quintessential line that these films mustn’t cross. Your audience wants a planet ruled by sharks, not a fleshed out yet horrendously flawed and confusing mission to save mankind where the sharks take the villainous backseat, the real threat being climate change. Also, for anyone uncertain on the term “exposition”, watch Planet of the Sharks and you’ll soon learn how important it is for the sanity of your audience not to have your characters explain to you the plot at every possible opportunity. It’s the antithesis of the adage, “actions speak louder than words”. Planet of the Sharks is a masterclass in achieving the opposite of this. Instead of the sharks-wreaking-havoc that we signed up to, we’re treated to probably an hour’s worth of characters talking about things that they must do to save mankind and nine times out of ten achieving this without difficulty. That’s another issue; the struggle is unusually low for a film that opens terrifically with flying attack sharks, leaping out of the ocean to drag humans to their thalassaphobic nightmares. Unfortunately, many of the characters that you desire to see mauled by poorly rendered CGI sharks leave unscathed. There are a few funny deaths that occasionally spike your interest, but few are outrageous enough to be remembered. 

My least favourite character is a scientist who is clever because he wears a bow-tie. He ends up killing a few sharks with a samurai sword which is cool, but nowhere near as cool as it sounds due to the rarity and lack of such scenes. It just acts as a sad reminder of what Planet of the Sharks was capable but also neglectful of.

Unfortunately, Planet of the Sharks suffers a similar fate to Ice Sharks, which is the highly contagious ‘tired shark syndrome’. In the first five minutes of the film sharks are going ape-s**t, leaping out of the water and leaving a town in fiery ruins with no survivors. F**k yeah! Sharks flying out of the water to catch humans? This is a landmark evolutionary achievement for shark-kind! What will they be capable of next? Flying? Talking? Before the end of the movie, there are a mere two notable shark fatalities; one is a shark leaping out of the water so high that he takes down a guy flying a plane/micro-lite/thing. The second is a shark beheading someone. They were cool, but also hard pills to swallow when you realised as each scene passed, that may have just been the best part of the whole movie. But, as always, the ever-present question is:

S h o u l d 

I

c a r e ?

I always parry that with:

I f 

I

d o n ’ t

t h e n 

w h o

w i l l ?

Compared with classics like Shark in Venice and Mega Shark Vs. CrocosaurusPlanet of the Sharks suffers the unusual fate of trying too hard. Watch if you’re a meta bad film connoisseur, a twisted individual entertained by films that are plain bad as opposed to films that are so bad they’re good. This is some meta-meta-level, seriously post-ironic bad shark film s**t. Maybe I wasn’t ready though. I may look back and see it as one of the good ones, one of the best, even. I did like the tribal drumming to attract sharks scene… Only time and a s**tload of more shark films will tell. 

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