If you thought Sky Sharks was a cool idea, wait until you see Mutation on Mars (Mars Anomaly, 火星异变). What does it have? It has a whale with a mouth full of shark-like teeth swimming through the skies of Mars. Seriously, an international research mission is caught off guard by a meteor shower, which, in turn, spawns a superstorm. Rushing to escape the planet before the storm destroys their ship the team gets knocked from the sky by a giant creature that looks like a whale with a mouth full of nasty-looking teeth.
One of the crew makes it back to the base and sends out a distress call before being attacked by something unseen. Responding to the call another ship, a Chinese research vessel bound for Europa is diverted to rescue them. And for one of them, Feng Tong (Suo Xiao Kun), it’s personal, his long-absent father, Feng Weiyi (Shi Liang, Skyfire), is among those needing to be rescued.
Mutation on Mars opens like a sci-fi action film. The meteors hit, one of the scientists in a remote location trying to get back to base, the storm, the monster, etc. It’s a great start, even if the flying whale is a bit implausible. As is its origin when we find it out.
I do have to wonder how they got surprised by the giant meteor shower. It may seem picky of me to bring up logic in what is obviously meant to be a piece of popcorn entertainment, but it’s a recurring problem in Mutation on Mars. Because halfway through the film they suddenly detect a giant asteroid that will hit Mars, or “knock on the Mars” as the subtitles put it, in the next twelve hours. Was technology supposed to have regressed by this point in the future? Or is Mission Control totally incompetent?
Our heroes have more immediate problems though. They’re being stalked by a strange, but somewhat familiar-looking, creature. And they need to dodge it while finding fuel so they can take off again.
At this point Mutation on Mars turns into a more typical mad scientist monster movie. It seems one of the scientists, a maniacally grinning Caucasian (Nathaniel Boyd, Future Chase, Bleeding Steel), decided to do some unauthorized experiments with chameleons and a baleen whale embryo. He somehow grew a flying whale in a petri dish without anyone noticing. The chameleon creature shows its gratitude for being given life by eating him as he rants about what a great breakthrough he made.
If you can suspend your disbelief enough, or have drunk enough, to get past these lapses, and a load of Chinese propaganda, Mutation on Mars is enjoyably stupid fun. It all boils down to a mad race against time and the chameleon monster to get to the ship. And then to get past the whale.
Director Na Liu does a good job of keeping the pace fast and the plot moving along. She gets help from the VFX team, the CGI, which is usually horrible in these films, is convincing. The model work is also surprisingly well done for a change. I’d have to say that Mutation on Mars is a step forward for Chinese science fiction and creature films in terms of its effects and action scenes. But in terms of plotting it’s a step back. And, while it will play well in its homeland, the blatant propaganda will strike a sour note with international audiences.
Mutation on Mars is available on the iQiyi streaming platform in Chinese with English subtitles. The trailer is subtitled but you may need to hit the CC button to activate them.