These days the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the gold standard in movies. Every other Hollywood studio hopes to emulate their success, from implementing their own shared fictional universes for their franchises (umm, Transformers?) to attempting to hit that same sweet spot of big-budget CGI action and bantery characters.
It seems bizarre that, just a few short years ago, Marvel funding the first Iron Man film partially out of their own pocket seemed like a mad idea. Sure, it all worked out, but people weren’t expecting much. Even that mention of the Avengers in the credits was considered a pie-in-the-sky idea that may never pay off.
There was a reason for this level of skepticism. Namely, Marvel had a history of putting out movies that just weren’t that good. Howard The Duck, Daredevil, Elektra, Fantastic Four, Ghost Rider, the list goes on. This brings us to the film we will be discussing today, 2005’s Man-Thing.
Long time comic book nerds will remember the Man-Thing character from his Marvel Comics series of the ’70s and ’80s. The story of a large, slow-moving, empathic, humanoid creature living in the Florida Everglades. Created by writers Stan Lee, Roy Thomas, and Gerry Conway and artist Gray Morrow, the character first appeared in Savage Tales #1 (May 1971), and went on to be featured in various titles and in his own series.
In the film adaptation, former big city lawman Kyle Williams (Matthew Le Nevez) has arrived in the town of Bywater, Louisiana to assume the post of sheriff. He’s looking forward to a quiet tenure in the tiny haven that borders the local swamp, but quickly discovers an alarming amount of disappearances that were covered up by his predecessor, who himself also mysteriously vanished. Kyle’s problems are compounded when bodies turn up in gruesome states of disrepair, with plants appearing to grow out of the decaying corpses.
The locals place the blame for the string of attacks on alligators and a renegade Indian, but Williams isn’t so sure. His investigation eventually uncovers the truth: It seems that an ancient Seminole spirit has risen from the depths, angered over the desecration of the swamp by a greedy oil company. Man-like in appearance but covered in vegetation, the creature possesses supernatural powers and feeds on its victim’s fear. It’s up to the new sheriff and a beautiful environmentalist (Rachael Taylor) to put a stop to the Man-Thing’s rampage.
In short, Man-Thing is the Marvel movie that couldn’t, if you can imagine such a thing. Co-produced by Marvel and Lionsgate subsidiary Artisan Entertainment, it never quite made it to theaters in the U.S. – in fact, it was only released theatrically in Russia, Singapore, Spain, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates – but debuted (of course) on the Syfy channel back in 2005.
From a technical perspective, there’s nothing terribly wrong with Man-Thing. In fact, it’s actually a pretty slick (if formulaic) piece of work that is much 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 nemesis 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.
While the overall end result of the movie leaves something to be desired, it’s still an interesting effort from the early days of Marvel. And while it seems unlikely that they will be making another Man-Thing movie any time soon (though he was recently teased on Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.), it would interesting to see them take another shot at a legitimate horror movie. A Diabolique movie would be pretty badass…
Share your thoughts on this forgotten gem(?) in the comment section below.