Although I have never been afraid of spiders or most bugs, I have to admit that I really did not care for the spider/bugs editions of ZooBooks that I had as a child. Human beings weren't meant to be able to see creepy crawly creature in such microscopic detail - showing them 5000% larger in vivid detail is just nightmare inducing. Their eyes were always creepy - they have too many of them, and they were always pure black and soulless. I didn't like their hair either - too bristley and stiff looking. And their mouths! Their tiny little fangs might be their least appetizing feature. I'm totally totally fine with most bugs in real life because they are too tiny to pose a visible threat to someone of my size - but you enlarge those sons of bitches and I'm out.
However, this week I watched two movies about gargantuan creepy crawlies - the first being a family friendly comedy that treated it's sofa-sized insects as wacky adventure companions and the second being a horror film where sentient roaches were trying to eat New York - and while you would think that the film that was more honest about how fucking nightmarish bugs are would have been the better movie, the opposite was actually true. Journey 2: The Incredible Island might have been more asinine, but it was definitely a lot more entertaining than the more logical Mimic.
Journey 2: The Mysterious Island is your standard Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson vehicle: it is first and foremost an unnecessary sequel, but it is also an old school adventure story and a fun little diversion. Johnson plays a stepfather who is having trouble connecting with his newly adopted son - which is strange because you would think that most kids would immediately realize how awesome the Rock is (...but that's the least of this movie's credulity problems so let's just keep going.) Anyway, one day the son gets a coded message from his AWOL grandfather that is meant to lure him to an uncharted island that is supposedly full of awe-inspiring sights. Johnson agrees to take the kid on this ludicrous voyage in the hopes that they will at least be able to bond on the trip even if they don't find the magic island or the missing grandfather. Little does he know that dinosaurs, gold spewing volcanoes and buffalo-sized bumblebees await them...
Now, this next section won't really fit in with the overall theme of my review, but then again the scene I want to talk about doesn't really fit in with the movie and it's so strange that I couldn't live with myself if I didn't bring it up. At one point in the middle of Journey 2 The Rock is giving dating advice to his stepson. (Since the kid is played by Peeta the baker from the Hunger Games series he definitely needs it.) The Rock's advice consists of two vaguely condescending aphorisms about what women really want and a pectoral muscle performance. That's right: the Rock tells his son that women are always turned on when they see a man's overly muscled pecs dance, and to prove the point he makes his son watch him as he flexes his nipples under his shirt. As if that wasn't weird enough he also demands demands that his stepson start bouncing fruit off his pecs. When the mortified teen refuses to throw any of the nearby cherries at this crazy man's pulsating muscles Luis Guzman (who is playing the comic relief sidekick) steps up to the plate. The great cherry throwing experiment works out well for about ten cherries, but then a cherry bounces directly off the Rock's sweaty chest and into Guzman's mouth, causing the poor man to start violently choking. For a second I was hoping that Guzman was going to survive a dinosaur attack only to be taken down by a homoerotic fruit encounter, but alas, he eventually managed to swallow the cherry safely.
Back to my larger point: the central gimmick of the Mysterious Island is that its animals are inverted - huge animals like elephants are tiny and small animals like bees are massive. At first our family of explorers is content to try to walk across the island at their own leisure, lazily interacting with whatever non-violent animals they happen to encounter, until the second act starts and they realize that the island is actually sinking into the ocean. This shocking discovery means that they only have a day or two to cross the Island to the last known location of a submarine that has been submerged for over a hundred years because it is their only option for escaping the Island before it rejoins the ocean floor. Unfortunately, the Island is too big to cross on foot in two days, so the grandfather tells them that they are going to have to hitch a ride on some nearby giant bees.. (Like I said: the Rock being an unwanted stepfather is the least of the film's credulity worries.)
Now, the bee riding sequence makes absolutely no logical sense because there is no reason why the bees and the humans should get along. The bees are wild animals - they aren't going to let strange creatures touch them, much less ride them through the sky. Furthermore, the humans are city slickers - how would they know how to mount much less navigate a prehistoric flying beast? Most importantly: why are none of the humans freaking out at the thought of entrusting their lives to such monstrous creatures? There's just no way I would ever put my hands - much less my whole body - on an animal like that. I give regular bees a wide enough berth that I'm 99% sure that if the choice is "you can definitely drown in the ocean or you can hop on a bee the size of a Volkswagen bug and hope for the best" then I'm picking the ocean.
But logic be damned, the flight of the bumblebees sequence is actually the highlight of the film because it is so joyously goofy. Their obvious delight in being able to maneuver freely in the open air sold me on the scene even though it's set up was so dubious, and for a brief bit there I just gave myself over to the movie completely. One scene that fun will go a long way towards helping me forgive a movie's flaws.
In contrast, Mimic is more logical about the way it depicts giant bugs but it is also a lot less fun. Mimic is about a scientist (played by Mira Sorvino) who releases a bio-engineered cockroach into New York City's sewers in the hopes that they will spread a plague through the city's insect underground that will kill off most of the city's regular roaches. Her jerry-rigged cure seems to be going pretty well... Until she discovers that the fake roaches she unleashed have actually bred 40,000 generations in the last three years, and over that span they've evolved to be about nine feet tall and have human-ish faces. (I said that this film was more logical than Island 2; I didn't say it was completely logical.)
There are some areas in which Mimic comes across like a poor man's Jurassic Park -Sorvino figured that it would be safe to unleash her super-bugs because they were all female and thus incapable of breeding but apparently nature somehow found a way to not only let them breed but to let them breed crazy fast. However, its overall feel is less Spielbergian and more like a generic monster movie. Most of it's action takes place in predictably claustrophobic locations like subway tunnels and the super bugs themselves are your standard dark, spiky and moist beasts. (Which actually reminds me: I can understand why they would evolve to have bigger pincers but why did they evolve to be so sweaty? Maybe another 10,000 generations from now they'll have figured out how to be less damp all the time.)
As far as monster movies go... well, you could do worse. Director Guillermo Del Toro has strong enough visual style that you can tell whats going on at all times even though the movie is mostly taking place in underlit environments and the script (which he co-wrote) has all of the characters reacting pretty believably to these super bugs. I can only imagine that if I was in their place I, too, would be saying "WTF is that thing, let's kill it immediately" But just because the fact that the characters have sensible reactions doesn't make them believable or interesting characters - in fact, quite the opposite, since there are a lot of forgettable movies where cardboard people are trying to murder personality-less man-eaters.
The sense of wonder that Del Toror often brings to his pulpy stories is completely lacking in Mimic. There are none of the one-liners that made Hellboy fun; there is none of the striking visual contrast that brought the neon-robot-vs-dark-scary-monsters scenes in Pacific Rim to life. Overall Mimic is a leaden bummer that has a few cool visuals to offer and not much else. At the end of the day it doesn't matter if I believe this people would really want to murder these giant bugs if I don't care about either the people or the bugs.
So, yes, Mimic is a lot more sensible than the eminently goofy Journey 2, but here's the thing: there is no point in applying the term "sensible" to films about giant bugs. We don't watch these movies because they provide us with challenging thinking material, we watch them because the sight of oversize insects can provide an immediate emotional thrill that can be fun to feel. However, that immediacy isn't going to be enough to sustain a whole movie if the rest of the film's elements don't hold water. Mimic has enough cool creature effects to be an entertaining short film, but it was full of stock characters in predictable situations so it grew tedious long before it's runtime was over. In contrast, Journey 2 kept upping it's own ante, adding ridiculous sight on top of ridiculous sight, and so I kept being engaged. I'm not going to quibble about a silly giant bee race if you also give me a giant lizard fight and a giant bird chase and a scene where the Rock makes his son stare at his chest for an uncomfortably long period of time. Well, maybe I'll still have some quibbles about that last one - but at least those quibbles will be unique to this movie, and not something that I would complain about with any old monster movie.
Winner: Journey 2: The Mysterious Island: Me
Winner: Mimic: The Cat