Fantasia Fest Review: TERRAFORMARS

Takashi Miike has some issues with bugs.

Take a deep breath because summing up this film’s plot is going to take a second.

It’s 2599 and an overpopulated Earth looks to make a new home on Mars. The problem is, it’s too cold. But scientists discover that if they cover Mars’ surface with moss and a shitload of cockroaches, the now all-black surface will absorb the sun’s heat and raise the planet’s overall temperature. But whoops! It’s 500 years later and now there are too many goddamn cockroaches! So a twerpy Anime guy gathers a group of scummy criminals to go kill all the bugs. They arrive to discover the cockroaches have evolved into bodybuilders. Also, the humans all have bug-related superpowers thanks to some genetic fiddling.

You get all that? Good! That’s Terraformars, Takashi Miike’s new film, in a nutshell. Once that setup gets out of the way (and Miike plows through it in no time), the rest of the film is basically a battle between a bunch of bug humans and millions upon millions of crazy human-sized roaches.

This is a Takashi Miike film, so you can probably expect things don’t go too well for the humans. One of the film’s core strengths is how hilariously casual it is about offing human characters regardless of how “safe” they may appear. It’s also a real joy to discover what each of their super powers are, even when they die too soon to even use them.

It’s good to point out a positive like that up front, because the rest of Terraformers is a disappointment. The ideas are all there, but this is one of Miike’s cartoonish films that relies heavily on slightly subpar CG work, making the film’s cooler elements feel far too thin to matter when you’re watching it, or remember when you’re done.

It doesn’t help that the cockroaches don’t make compelling villains. Looking sort of like Mac from Mac and Me on steroids (a design that comes directly from the manga Terraformars adapts), the creatures don’t really do much. The film relies more on a strength in numbers approach to their threat instead of developing them into something more interesting.

The humans honestly don’t do much better. It’s nice that Miike starts out with a crew large enough to provide kills throughout the film, but we hardly get to know them. Even with the help of occasional flashbacks meant to give some more developed characters, they all come off as generic, and that’s before Miike turns them into stab-happy bug people you can barely tell apart.

There’s certainly some fun to find in Terraformars, but at 108 minutes, it’s way too long to sustain the kind of goofy, gory cartoon bliss it's going for. Once Miike begins exploring the premise, the film gradually runs out of steam leading to a big final battle between man and bug that should be way more exciting than it is.