Film review: Terra Formars – mutant man-bugs do battle in Takashi Miike’s live-action adaptation
On paper, this film is a delirious blend of video-game storytelling and the grotesque, but it could be much more entertaining; there is too much action and its superb cast is criminally underused
For a sci-fi fantasy that revolves around the cartoonishly violent battles of mutant man-bugs on the Red Planet, Takashi Miike’s live-action adaptation of the Japanese manga should be rather more entertaining than it is. Terra Formars features far-out character designs, glossy technology and a star-studded cast that is criminally underused; from a dramatic point of view it is too hollow to properly exploit its stranded-on-Mars story, with its delirious blend of grotesque body horror and video-game-like exposition.
It’s set in the year 2599 and earth is dying from overpopulation. While scientists had the idea to launch a terraforming mission on Mars 500 years earlier, where they let cockroaches roam free to spread moss on the planet surface, the plan backfired; the roaches have evolved to look like beefy brown men with bug faces. It’s against this backdrop that a sinister scientist from Japan, Honda (Shun Oguri), secretly sends out a crew of 15 unsuspecting criminals and outcasts to exterminate the lethal mutants.
To prepare for what transpires to be a suicide mission, members of this motley crew have each been surgically transformed with the genes of a different deadly insect, which can be activated to trigger a powerful mutation before they go into battle. Like a superhero movie dreamed up with the yuckiest of imagery, Terra Formars meanders through battle scenes linked by the flimsiest survival plot lines. There are enough decapitated heads, mutilated bodies and slimy bug fluid to keep the fans excited, however.
Hideaki Ito’s murder convict stands out as the nominal hero, even if his effort to protect his sister (Emi Takei) proves short-lived. From Kenichi Takito’s creepy serial murderer to Rinko Kikuchi’s double-crossing ex-cop and Takayuki Yamada’s deprived recluse, the movie is blessed with superb actors in outlandish roles. Rather than spending an excessively long time watching the mutants tear each other apart, however, a superior ensemble film could well have been made by trapping these characters on their spaceship.
Terra Formars opens on May 19
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