One of the most prolific and distinctive British filmmakers of recent years, Ben Wheatley has been diligently ploughing his own furrow and leaving his mark on the film industry for some time now.
Though he has tried his hand at many genres, Wheatley’s work, often produced in partnership with wife and co-screenwriter Amy Jump, can generally be summed up as thematically dark, bleak in outlook, violent and intense, but also typified by a self-aware mischievousness and a liberal use of gallows humour.
Wheatley’s versatility and graft as a filmmaker won him a place on our 10 Directors with 3 or More Great Films of the 2010s list, and now we at The Film Magazine have ranked Ben Wheatley’s eclectic directorial filmography to date, from worst to best, least to most batshit crazy.
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10. Meg 2: The Trench (2023)
Diver and very literal eco warrior Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) returns with a largely disposable team to battle more megalodons as they break free from an underwater barrier damaged by illegal mining operations.
If your main criticism of The Meg was that it wasn’t silly enough, then its sequel definitely has you covered. Most of the characters are walking clichés ripe for some giant shark chomping, and some obvious twists and laboured setup to a truly ridiculous final act try your patience. But it’s got a certain visual dazzle, and when we eventually get to see Statham jet-ski-jousting a Meg with an explosive harpoon, and we get a surprise clash with another colossal sea creature, the amount you’re goofily grinning might be worth the loss of some brain cells you’re not using.
Meg 2 is at the bottom of this list not only for being the least good (though still not terrible) Ben Wheatley film to date, but also because it’s least recognisably Ben Wheatley. If big Hollywood paycheques help get his more esoteric and interesting films made then it’ll be worth it, but you do find yourself wishing more of his personality shone through.
9. Free Fire (2016)
A collective of incompetent hitmen, mercenaries and arms dealers have a fateful and messy meetup in a warehouse, the ensuing carnage that follows is documented with barely a pause for breath.
It’s impressive that they purpose-built a Boston warehouse in the UK and dressed it so convincingly with debris, not to mention how all the actors seem to be having fun playing broad 1970s stereotypes wearing garish threads and sporting bad hair. But aside from the love-to-hate entertainment value of Sharlto Copley’s Vern and the natural charm of Cillian Murphy’s Chris, the characters just aren’t interesting or memorable enough to be compelling.
It’s possible for a continuous action scene spanning an entire film to keep you engaged (just look at The Raid or Mad Max: Fury Road) but here the action rapidly becomes incomprehensible and quite monotonous too, as amusing as it is to see so many supposed tough guys hobbling around and failing to shoot straight. It doesn’t take long to lose track of where everyone is and how injured they are in the film’s one and only warehouse location, which is a problem, though it does make it funnier that the characters frequently shout out to get answers to the same questions.