“Man vs Meg is not a war, it’s a slaughter!” – Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham)
Of all the ridiculous scenes in The Meg, I’m most happy to report that at no point does the killer megalodon shark roar. Shark roars have been a staple in SyFy killer shark movies for years. That and people holding conversations underwater through re-breathers. Another scientifically impossible trope that doesn’t make an appearance in the movie, thankfully.
What we do get instead is a fast moving action-adventure with a surprisingly game and diverse cast facing off against a gigantic shark that makes Jaws look like a catfish in comparison. Jason Statham stars as Jonas Taylor, a former deep sea rescue diver, who has hung up his flippers after losing his team in the prologue. Jump forward a few years and we meet the crew of Mana One, a deep sea research platform investigating the Marianas Trench. There is an accident and Jonas, as the living foremost expert in the world on deep sea rescues, is called in to save them. Through some scientific sounding mumbo-jumbo a prehistoric monster that had been trapped in the really deep deeps is able to make its way to the surface and cause chaos. Jonas and the researchers, lead by SunYi (Bingbing Li) set about to find and destroy it.
Within the simple story framework, adapted considerably from Steve Alten’s 1997 novel Meg: A Novel of Deep Terror (yes, that’s the full title) Director Jon Turteltaub and the writers wisely keep the focus on the cast. As much as we are there to see the Meg wreak havoc, the characters are likable enough that we don’t necessarily want them to be turned in to chum for the marauding monster. The film takes some buildup to get to the giant shark but once it does the movie rarely lets up on the action for the reminder of the movie.
No shark movie trope is left untouched as the humans race against time to stop the monster fish before it can reach populated beaches. There are undersea chase sequences, harrowing cage dives, and an open water swim that turns in to a thrilling action sequence rivaling a Bond film. The Meg is great popcorn munching fun and if you are a fan of movies like Deep Blue Sea, The Shallows, or even the many SyFy entries in the genre you will have a great time.
The Meg takes the framework of the book, including just enough of the scientific rationale to be plausible, and supercharges the action with a number of thrilling sequences. All things considered, the movie is better than the book. That is damning with faint praise but for a movie that was in development hell for this long I’m shocked the movie is as good as it is.
SPOILERS BELOW THE PHOTO FOR BOOK vs. MOVIE FOR THE BOOK READERS
As mentioned, The Meg is based on the novel Meg which as of this movie is up to the 6th novel in the series coming out this fall. The movie makes considerable changes from the book, most of which are good ones. If you’ve read the books, and if you are a killer shark fan you really should, you want to know what the filmmakers used and what they didn’t. The movie combines plot points from the other novels in the series for good effect. In addition to Jonas his trusted right hand, Mac (Cliff Curtis), is along for the ride. The undersea research facility from Meg 2: The Trench is a primary setting, and the furturistic submarine gliders from Meg 4: Hell’s Aquarium are used for a thrilling ending sequence that is as much fun as I always imagined they would be.
Most of the characters in the movie are new. Strangest is that Masao Tanaka and Terry Tanaka are both dropped for new characters Zhang (Winston Chao) and Sunyi. Sunyi in turn has a daughter, Meiying (Shuya Sophia Cai). These characters seem to be stand ins for the Tanakas, especially since a romantic subplot brews between Jonas and Sunyi.
The action is changed from the US west coast waters to China, likely because the movie was largely financed by a Chinese production company and the Chinese market is so important now for the international box office. I’m fine with this trend and I think the setting to Asia makes the movie more interesting than if it was yet another American city being ravaged. It amounts to a cosmetic change but does make the movie more diverse in the process.
The big twist at the end of the novel when the meg gives birth to the shark that will be known as Angel for the following novels is absent here. Instead there is a Jaws moment where the hunters kill a smaller megalodon, thinking they got the right fish until the much, much larger mama shark makes an appearance. Speaking of appearances, the sharks do not glow with bioluminescence the way they did in the novels. I was disappointed by this change at first but my guess is it was hard enough to realistically animate a 100 foot shark, let alone a glowing one. So I understand why the change was made.
The infamous ending of the novel when Jonas guts the fish from the inside before cutting out it’s heart is tweaked to be a bit more PG-13 friendly. Instead, Jonas uses a piece of jagged metal on the torn wing off his glider sub to slice the belly of the beast open so that dozens of other sharks swarm in to tear it apart.
All in all The Meg takes the framework of the book, including just enough of the scientific rationale to be plausible, and supercharges the action with a number of thrilling sequences. All things considered, the movie is better than the book. That is damning with faint praise but for a movie that was in development hell for this long I’m shocked the movie is as good as it is.