THE MEG (M)
Released: August 16.
Story: Hollywood horror action. When a deep sea research team is stranded, former rescue expert Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) reluctantly comes out of retirement. But even hi-tech equipment won't help Jonas and his crew (Li BingBing, Cliff Curtis, and Australians Ruby Rose, Jessica McNamee) when they are stalked by a Megalodon: a mammoth shark.
Language: Twenty-one swear words.
Romance: Discreet references.
Violence: Attacks, shootings, explosions, deaths.
3 – 6 No, too many giant scary teeth.
7 – 12 Yes, if your kids have seen Jaws, 47 Metres Down or The Deep Blue Sea. This isn't afraid to have fun with cheesy horror clichés – the dog in the water, the characters FOOLISHLY(!!!) gazing at the sea. Young scene-stealer Sophia Cai will please the kids. It is 20 minutes too long.
13-plus Girl viewers aren't ignored with BingBing in action mode. Real life diver and Fast and Furious star Statham is a likable, super-fit hero who works well with every actor. Yes, the romance never sparks but it does avoid the expected pair-up.
Adult compatibility: Impressive computer effects mesh with clever cinematography and a music score which uses silence to ratchet up the suspense. This is the kind of big budget popcorn hokum which Hollywood does so well.
Critic's rating: 8/10
THE DARKEST MINDS (M)
Released: August 16.
Story: Hollywood teen action romance. Child survivors of a deadly virus acquire unusual powers, from harmless (becoming super-smart) to deadly (mind-manipulation). When imprisoned 16 year old Ruby (Amandla Stenberg) realises she is about to be terminated, she escapes with other runaways. Directed by Jennifer Yuh Nelson (King Fu Panda 2) from Alexandra Bracken's book.
Language: Eighteen swear words, all unnecessary.
Romance: A kiss.
Violence: Shootings, chases, falls, a harsh beating, explosions, deaths.
3 – 6 Disappeared parents and violent adults are too upsetting.
7 – 12 Up-close cinematography makes this intense. Think The Hunger Games meets X-Kids.
13-plus Target audience for an energetic 100-minute action drama which starts raggedy but settles. Talented actors extract the best from prime teen-tale themes (being different, feeling isolated). Stenberg, star of upcoming The Hate U Give, makes Ruby's growing romance with runaway Liam (efficient Ryan Gosling-lookalike Harris Dickinson) feel poignant, especially when Ruby's powers interfere. The male viewers at one screening (40% of the audience) seemed to have no problems with the female-led story. Good soundtrack, solid-to-impressive special effects. Deduct a point for a sketchy sequel-enabling finale.
Adult compatibility: This is all kids all the time, with Mandy Moore and Games of Thrones Gwendoline Christie in brief support.
Critic's rating: 8/10
THOMAS & FRIENDS: BIG WORLD! BIG ADVENTURES! THE MOVIE (G)
Released: August 2 (limited season, selected cinemas).
Story: Spin-off from the famed British animated television series. Thomas the tank engine (voiced by John Hasler) joins race car Ace (Peter Andre) on a globe-trotting adventure. But when irresponsible Ace disappears, Thomas is helped by friendly engines in Africa, South America and Asia.
Language: Cinders and ashes! Nothing, of course.
Romance: No, thank you.
Violence: Derailments, crashes; scary jungle noises.
3 – 6 Toot-toot-ingly good, thanks to an exhilarating pace, upbeat songs and non-stop action and humour. Australian-accented Ace turns out to be a tool, unfortunately. More rewardingly, this 81 minute feature aims to include; many engines and (human) rail staff are female and/or non-white, which makes the already lovely visuals more diverse. But the focus is still on Thomas, cranes, planes and all things mechanical. At one morning multiplex screening, the 3 year old male viewer felt there were enough boys (and trains) for him to enjoy while his 5 year old sister was happy to have friendly engine Nia (Yvonne Grundy) to follow. If you miss this at the cinema, catch it on the soon-to-be-released video.
7 – 12 Absolutely – if they're young train buffs.
Adult Compatibility: A real treat for any chaperone.
Critic's rating: 9/10
SLENDER MAN (M)
Released: August 23.
Story: American horror thriller. Four small-town friends foolishly contact an immensely tall, thin humanoid figure. But when Katie (Annalise Basso) disappears, her besties (Joey King, Julia Goldani Telles, Jaz Sinclair) decide to confront Slender Man. Based on the Slender video game.
Language: Thirteen swear words.
Romance: Kisses, sexual references.
Violence: Blows, choking, deaths.
3 – 6 Nooooooooo.
7 – 12 And again (no).
13-plus At one Friday night preview, previously-roistering teens were glued to the screen, their mobile phones forgotten (!!!!). This technically passes the Bechdel Test as the girls discuss their home life and fears although much chat is (Slender) man-oriented. The film also revels in typical screaming-girl shots which might explain why a third of viewers were older teen and young adult males. Still, there are sharp comments on online creeps emailing kids; a romance involving debuting film actor Tom Fitzalan offers both date-night warmth and date-night suspense. Well-shot Gothic-looking woods are a menacing setting. Pity an excellent female cast is let down by a second half which doesn't cap its shock-scare-repeat approach with a memorable finale.
Adult compatibility: Too schoolie-centric for grown-ups who would prefer a realistic drama about the associated real-life court case or the online 'Creepypasta' horror genre.
Critic's rating: 7/10