Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing.
Believe it or not, there was a time when movies based on Marvel comics were a crap shoot. Sure, they started out strong with the first X-Men, Spider-Man and the first two Blade movies. But then, before a certain armored Avenger made his presence felt at the cineplex, things got bumpy.
Daredevil? Not very good.
Hulk? Ang Lee proved he had no idea how to make a comic book movie.
The Punisher? Thomas Jane? John Travolta? Next.
Sure, they rebounded pretty well with X2 which I think still stands as one of their best, but it was followed by things like the first Fantastic Four movie and Elektra.
It was rough going at the House of (Movie) Ideas.
What’s a Man-Thing you might ask? The simple answer is he’s Marvel’s answer to DC’s Swamp Thing, although, I believe Man-Thing (let’s call him Manny from here on out) predates Swamp Thing by a year or two. You want the more complex answer? Read this, then get back to me.
It looked like Marvel was scrapping the bottom of the barrel, almost literally, to bring the muck monster to the big screen. Things didn’t work out. The movie was created as a direct to video release. However, as superhero movies took off, the powers that be decided to schedule it for a Halloween release. They wisely reconsidered and moved it back to the straight to video queue.
The movie was eventually picked up by SyFy (then Sci-Fi) as a “Sci-Fi Original” and has gained a bit of a cult following since then.
What does all this mean to you my dear reader(s)?
It means I stumbled across Man-Thing during last Saturday’s vegetative monster movie marathon on SyFy and was finally able to record and watch the damned thing.
The movie opens with a group of crazy teenagers partying in the swamp as crazy teenagers are wont to do. A girl and her boyfriend wander off into the swamp for some extracurricular activities. As the festivities are about to begin, something frightens the girl and we cut to the opening credits.
Then we are introduced to the nominal protagonist of the movie, Kyle Williams, the new sheriff of Bywater, Louisiana, so named because, get this, it’s “by the water.”
Yes, the toothless guy driving Williams to his new post by boat actually made the joke.
I don’t even want to know what sort of horrific life decisions Williams made to bring him to Bywater. I just want to see Man-Thing burn stuff.
Sadly, I would have to wait. And wait. And wait. And wait.
We are introduced to the stereotypical cast of swamp dwellers, Native Americans, evil industrialists and, of course, the perky blonde school teacher who steals Kyle’s heart.
Kyle begins to investigate a series of bizarre murders that have taken place in the swamp. It seems that most of the corpses have plants growing OUT of them.
RED FLAG! This doesn’t bode well for Steve Gerber‘s vision of Man-Thing.
Then we are treated to a very badly written episode of The X-Files as Sheriff Kyle tries to sort out what is going on in Bywater. This would include lots of shots of Kyle with his pistol and flashlight draw Mulder style and some shaky first person camera work intended to be Manny’s POV.
After over an hour, there is still neither hide nor hair of Manny.
Kyle’s investigaton eventually leads him into the swamp and the ceremonial “dark water” (aka the Nexus of All Realities). It is there that we finally see Swamp….I mean…Man-Thing. Manny doesn’t have the power to make those that know fear burn. Instead, he has the ability to manipulate plant life in the swamp to seek revenge on those that have wronged him and/or the swamp.
The one thing that sets Man-Thing truly apart from Swamp Thing is that power. Rather than emphasize this, the producers decided, instead, to make Manny a poorly CGI’ed clone of Swamp Thing. I can only assume the film’s budget couldn’t handle the fire special effects.
Manny saves the day and Kyle ends up making out with the perky blonde school teacher as they stand thigh high in murky green swamp water. Now, I grew up in South Louisiana and I can tell you nothing ever made the girls quite as compliant as a chance to make out in the swamp.
This movie is pretty much exactly what you would expect given that it features a “D” list monster character. The fact that the company completely neutered that character speaks volumes about where the Marvel properties were in 2005.
Thankfully, it would only be a couple of years until Robert Downey, Jr. would put on a metal suit and save us all.
Man-Thing ultimately looks like exactly what it is billed as, a “Sci-Fi Original.” Those movies, taken with a grain of salt a couple of icy cold beers can be a lot of fun. This one? Not so much.
If you’re a Marvel completist, firstly, I’m sorry. Secondly, give Man-Thing a look, if only to remind yourself how lucky you are that those days are (hopefully) over. Hell, it’s still better than Ang Lee’s Hulk.
Otherwise, avoid this like you would a vengeful swamp creature bent on avenging the white man’s raping of a quasi-mystical piece of swamp land.
You have been warned.
- Marvel Comics Considering Live-Action Shows (escapistmagazine.com)
- The 18 Worst Comic Movies Of All Time (popcrunch.com)
- “’70s Marvel Rival Atlas Comics Relaunches” and related posts (deadline.com)
- Comics movies hit a slump (thestar.com)
- Swamp Thing, you make comic book Wednesday sing [Comics We Crave] (io9.com)