As a long-time reader of Steve Alten’s pulpy aquatic horror novels and a fan of shark movies – bad and good – I’ve long been hoping for a movie adaptation. Unfortunately, “The Meg” always seemed to find itself trapped in development hell, much like the eponymous monster is trapped beneath the thermal barrier at the ‘bottom’ of the Mariana Trench. But, in both cases, that’s no longer the truth – The Meg is loose, released by Warner Bros to terrorise the denizens of Mana One, a state-of-the-art oceanic research station.
Jonas Taylor (Jason Statham) is a veteran deep-sea rescue diver, drummed out of the service after he abandoned a submarine mid-rescue having claimed it was under attack by an unseen predator. Years later, a civilian research sub is sent to probe the sea floor of the Mariana Trench, testing the hypothesis that it is, in fact, a super-dense thermal barrier hiding a sub-ocean beneath it. The mission is a success, penetrating into this undersea lost world but comes to an abrupt halt when the sub loses contact with Mana One. Pressed unwillingly into returning to rescue diving, Jonas manages to rescue the stricken sub crew but in doing so, causes a breach in the barrier that releases a gigantic Megalodon into the wider ocean.
The adaptation of the novel cuts a few corners in favour of hewing closer to the generic shark movie plots we’ve grown accustomed to but where this gloriously tongue-in-cheek monster mash succeeds is in its starry cast, superb special effects and a nice balance of deadly earnest action beats and cheesy one-liners.
There’s a token effort to hint at how the ecosystem of the sub-ocean works in a brief sequence where the Meg snacks on a giant squid but it quickly becomes clear that the Meg has developed a taste for the humans which come packaged in crunchy metal containers. In fact, given its behaviour once it’s released, it seems people are the Pringles of the sea: once you pop you can’t stop.
The archly international cast makes plain this film is aiming for the international box office to get big returns and it does just about enough to justify its outrageously cocky attitude. Of course, Statham is a towering presence in this breezy blockbuster, but he’s surrounded by great performances from the likes of Rainn Wilson, Cliff Curtis and Li Bingbing. Characterisation is, as you’d expect, pretty superficial and purely in service of moving the story from one fishy encounter to the next. So we have noble scientists, ambitious billionaires, sassy engineers, gruff but lovable reluctant hero, a sceptical doctor with a grudge and a lovably precocious moppet. Even so, it’s hard not to think Li Bingbing’s Suyin makes some really questionable decisions given she’s a single parent and the movie leans into that fact pretty heavily.
But let’s face it, we’re not here for the characters and we’re certainly not here for award-winning performances (so relax, Ruby Rose) – we’re here for the marquee monster and the film doesn’t disappoint. The effects are pretty damn good and even if the film is relatively toothless in the blood and gore department (surely an unrated cut awaits home media release) it still packs enough thrills and kills to satisfy all but the most bloodthirsty of sharksploitation fans. Some of the best sequences are the literally incredible scenes where Statham and the Meg face off mano a diente, including the sensational final battle near a heavily populated tourist beach.
It might be so trashy that it could qualify as ocean pollution but there’s a goofy charm and good-natured energy to the movie that raises it way, way above its many many TV contemporaries in the shark movie food chain. It’s a whole lot of fin and a whole lot of fun to sink your teeth into. In a word: Meg-nificent!