Drew reviews Man-Thing

“I believe that when a man’s chest becomes an insect’s palace, when his eyes are gone and his limbs ain’t there no more, and when I’m so scared I wanna handcuff myself to my bed to keep from comin’ to work — yeah, I believe it, man.”

The Scoop: 2005 R, directed by Brett Leonard and starring Matthew Le Nevez, Rachael Taylor and Jack Thompson

Tagline: The Nature of Fear

Summary Capsule: Desecrated Indian sacred land. Angry swamp monster. New sheriff in town. Rednecks with guns. And somehow, just not enough hardcore Man-Thing action.

Drew’s Rating: I hereby vow to limit myself to three jokes about the burning touch of the Man-Thing. After this one.

Drew’s Review: I know what you’re thinking; you’re thinking, “Drew, you’ve got yourself a pretty sweet gig here, man.” I can’t deny it has its perks. Business cards. Funny Jealous looks from people when you tell them the name of the website. Free backrubs from a hairy Italian man. But amidst all the glamour, there’s a dark side to this job too. It’s not all jetsetting and red carpets. You have to watch a lot of bad movies to make it as a Mutant. And sometimes, just sometimes, you’ve got to bite the bullet and take a long, hard look at the Man-Thing.

After a spate of bizarre disappearances in Bywater, Louisiana, new sheriff Kyle Williams is brought in to investigate. Vying for the new lawman’s time is Frederic Schist, owner of a nearby oil refinery, who wants Kyle to clear out some eco-protestors and put a stop to the vandalism that’s put him behind schedule. But Schist’s refinery is built on Dark Water, sacred land to a nearby Indian tribe, and his methods of acquiring it from tribal elder Ted Sallis may not have been on the up-and-up. If you guess that the second problem ties in with the first, give yourself five points. And if you guess that before it’s over we’ll see dead hillbillies by the bushel, a mostly off-camera muck monster, and a moonlight showdown in a swamp between the good, the bad and the fugly, subtract ten for spending way too much brainpower on this nonsense.

One of the perils of being a comic reader and a movie reviewer is that — the last few years notwithstanding — most comic movies are really bad. For every Spider-Man, there’s a Ghost Rider or a Superman IV. The best thing I can say about Man-Thing is that it’s just about as textbook B-movie as it gets. You could use this film to teach a course to aspiring direct-to-DVDmakers on the tropes of the schlocky horror genre. Seriously, what are you looking for? Awkward jump cuts with random flashes of images and screeching violins, the kind usually seen when a character has a bad dream or a psychic experience? Yep, except here all it signifies is that it’s time for the next scene. A romance that crops up out of nowhere between two characters with nothing in common and no real reason to be attracted to each other? If you guessed it was between the main male lead and the only female character in the movie, you’re right!

Really, this movie’s got everything. There’s villains stupid enough not to realize something that kills people by thrusting tree roots through their mouths probably can’t be handled by yourself with a rifle. (Bonus points: one of them derogatorily nicknames the hero “Yankee.”) It’s set in Louisiana but features actors who with some frequency lapse into Australian accents. This makes sense because the movie was filmed down under, but to be clear, a shrimp on the barbie is not the same thing as a po’ boy. Also, you’d better believe there’s a monster who inexplicably lets some characters live, only to come after them a few minutes later for no particular reason. Man-Thing even features that rarest of phenomenon, far less common but more satisfying than its famous parent, and that is the father/son double-evil cackle. Not since Austin Powers have I smiled so hard at this most welcome occurence.

Since it’s a comic movie, I’m obliged to briefly touch on the differences between the movie and the source material. Comic Man-Thing is sort of a lethal mood ring, driven to attack those with strong negative emotions like greed or hate or fear, like a grosser Master Yoda. Here he’s more like a living Indian burial ground, causing the land itself to kill anyone who ventures onto sacred territory. The notion of a greedy developer polluting Man-Thing’s swamp is taken from some of the earliest stories, as is the concept of the swamp containing the Nexus of All Realities. However, in the film this is mentioned once and then forgotten about, whereas in the comics it drives a number of plots. But really, the nice thing about a C-list comic character whose tagline sounds more like a gonorrhea PSA than a threat is that you can feel free to reinvent him and trust that no one will know the difference. Except colossal nerds, and screw those guys.

Ultimately, I’m sorry to report that Man-Thing just doesn’t satisfy: it’s too thin, you don’t care about it, and when it’s over you’re left feeling disappointed in yourself. Don’t fall into the trap; you deserve more than Man-Thing has to offer.

Ah, the "We're about to die" boob grab. Classic.

Intermission!

  • Man-Thing’s comic origin involved chemist Ted Sallis, who was attempting to recreate the Super-Soldier Serum that empowered Captain America. Fleeing from corporate saboteurs, Sallis injected his untested serum into himself (comic scientists always do that) right before crashing his car into a swamp in a fiery wreck. And lo, from the fetid murk did rise… the Man-Thing! A purely empathic creature, Man-Thing is attracted to strong emotions in others. Fear causes it intense pain, leading it to attack anyone who’s afraid of it… rather unfortunate since it happens to look like a monster. When angry, the creature secretes a corrosive acid capable of killing a human in seconds; hence the tagline, “Whatever knows fear burns at the touch of the Man-Thing!”
  • The film adds its own tagline, “Whoever commences to bonin’ gets really, really messed up by the touch of the Man-Thing. Like, so dead. You don’t even know.”
  • In the ’70s, Marvel used to put out extra-length issues of certain comics and refer to them as “Giant-Sized [comic name].” This led to several issues of what is arguably the greatest comic title in history, “Giant-Sized Man-Thing.” You’d expect me to make a joke about that, but come on. We keep it classy here.
  • Swamp monsters Man-Thing (Marvel Comics) and Swamp Thing (DC Comics) were created by competing comic companies, with their first appearances coming only a month apart. Even weirder than that, their respective creators (Gerry Conway and Len Wein) happened to be roommates at the time. Both have sworn that they never discussed their stories and it was simply an example of synchronous thinking.
  • Man-Thing was originally intended for direct-to-DVD release, then when superhero movies started becoming big, it was briefly considered for theatrical release. This didn’t happen, and it eventually premiered on the Sci Fi Channel before being released on DVD. It did enjoy a limited theatrical run internationally.
  • Several of the film’s characters are named after Marvel staffers who worked on the Man-Thing comic, including Steve Gerber (writer of the most acclaimed Man-Thing stories; also the creator of Howard the Duck), Mike Ploog, and Val Mayerik.
  • I’m always one for atmosphere, but may I ask why the random wolf howl with a full moon in the background? Are we supposed to think for a second that this has changed into a werewolf movie?

Groovy Quotes

      Coroner: New sheriff? Meet the old sheriff – Jim Corely. Poor guy. There’s hardly anything left of him.

Kyle: There’s too many things alive out here.
Fraser: Yeah, I’d like to remain one of ’em.

Kyle: You really believe in all this?
Fraser: I believe that when a man’s chest becomes an insect’s palace, when his eyes are gone and his limbs ain’t there no more, and when I’m so scared I wanna handcuff myself to my bed to keep from comin’ to work — yeah, I believe it, man.

Ploog: There it is! Gotta go! Good luck out there, man! It’s the cover of Life magazine, man!
Kyle: Life magazine? Life magazine went out of business, you [bleep]ing idiot!

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