"Man-Thing" (2005): The Forgotten Marvel Movie
MAN-THING (2005) Directed by Brett Leonard
Greetings and welcome back to IT CAME FROM THE BARGAIN BIN, the column for the budget conscious B-Movie maven! Tonight's creature feature presentation, Man-Thing, is an environmentally aware monster mash that set your humble narrator back a mere $3.99.
Long time comic book nerds will probably remember the Man-Thing character from his Marvel Comics series of the '70s and '80s. Continuity geeks be warned, however -- any resemblance between the film version of Man-Thing and the comic series is coincidental at best. Even though it may not score particularly high at being faithful to Manny's four color source material, Man-Thing still delivered the gooey goods as a straight-up creature feature.
(MILD SPOILERS MAY FOLLOW)
Square-jawed Sheriff Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) comes to the sleepy village of Bywater, Louisiana to take over the town's top-cop position, and quickly learns that his new home has been plagued by an unusually large number of missing-persons cases - one of which involves his predecessor -in and around the local swamps. He also gets caught in the midst of an ongoing battle between a local Native American tribe and the shifty representatives of a oil company that has been drilling deep in the heart of the tribe's sacred swamp lands. The roughneck in charge of the drilling operations (Pat Thompson) claims that the company legally purchased the land from tribal elder Ted Sallis, who then skipped town with the money. As Sheriff Williams struggles to balance his investigation of the disappearances and the fight between the tribe and the oil goons, he begins to understand that the events may be related. It turns out that rather than purchasing the tribe's land nice 'n' legally, the corporation simply murdered tribal rep Sallis and then plunked their gigantic drilling platform smack in the middle of the "Dark Water" ... a mysterious part of the swamp where the tribe believes mystical things happen. These corporate shenanigans have now awakened the swamp's guardian spirit, a giant, slimy humanoid/plant hybrid creature known as the Man-Thing - who avenges these attacks on his territory by tearing any and all intruders limb from limb. As bodies continue to pile up, Sheriff Williams and the plucky local schoolteacher/convenient love interest (Rachael Taylor) have to make the trek to the Dark Water themselves, where all they have to do is survive a showdown between the oil hooligans and the Man-Thing. Just another day in the life of a Southern sheriff, right?
From a technical perspective, there's nothing terribly wrong with Man-Thing, in fact I found it to be a pretty slick (if formulaic) piece of work that is better than its IMDb rating of 4.1 out of 10 would have you believe. Of course, this movie begs the inevitable comparisons with Swamp Thing from Marvel's rival DC Comics (which has also spawned two feature films and a TV series), but while Swamp Thing was an intelligent, heroic character, Man-Thing is your basic mindless killing machine. This actually differs greatly from his comic-book roots, where Man-Thing was still mindless but also a gentle, almost benevolent creature... unless, of course, he was directly provoked.
Director Brett Leonard is best known for flicks that are short on logic but long on eye candy, like The Lawnmower Man and Virtuosity, and Man-Thing doesn't disappoint in that regard. Leonard's knack for cool visuals shines through in the film's dark, creepy swampland settings, awash in fog and mysterious green glow. Unfortunately we don't get to see much of the Man-Thing creature till the last fifteen or 20 minutes of the film. He may not look much like the comic book version but he's certainly a nasty customer (despite the fact that he appears to be rendered mostly in CGI).
Man-Thing's performances are about as good as you'd expect, though it must be noted that the film was shot in Australia with an all-local cast, so when a character occasionally "loses" his or her Louisiana accent and lapses into Aussie-speak (actress Rachael Taylor is most guilty of this), it causes some unintentional humor. Amongst the monstrous goings-on there are plenty of decent gory bits, some cool magical Native American mumbo-jumbo, a gratuitious naked girl, and an all-around atmosphere of creepiness and dread, all of which should be enough to keep B-grade horror fans entertained.
As an added Geek Note, several characters in this film are named after people who worked on the Man-Thing comic book back in the day - writer/creator Steve Gerber and artists Val Mayerik and Mike Ploog. It's a nice nod to Man-Thing's four color origins that only aging nerds like me are likely to notice. Surprisingly, the filmmakers somehow resisted the urge to make a cheap joke using the ironic title of the monster's 1970s comic book series - "Giant Size Man-Thing," which means they have WAY more self control than I would have.
Summin' It Up...
When I first came across Man-Thing in a store several years ago I didn't even know that the character had been adapted into a film. I wondered how I'd missed it till I flipped the DVD over and saw the Lionsgate Films logo on the back, then I smirked and murmured, "Ahhh, poor Manny. Direct to Video."
Indeed, despite its Marvel Comics pedigree and the fact that comic book movies continue to be a hot property, Manny's film didn't get nearly as much love as the mega-budgeted releases starring some of his fellow House of Ideas stalwarts like Spider-Man, the X-Men, or the Fantastic Four. Instead, Man-Thing shambled through several unsuccessful test screenings and an aborted theatrical release before being consigned to the ultimate fate - premiering on the SyFy Channel (oh, the humanity!) before going quietly to DVD...where it will now forever lurk in the Bargain Bin.
© 2011 Keith Abt