Director – Brett Leonard, Screenplay – Hans Rodionoff, Based on the Marvel Comic Book Created by Gerry Conway & Roy Thomas, Producers – Avi Arad, Gimel Everett, Scott Karol & Christopher Petzel, Photography – Steve Arnold, Music – Roger Mason, Visual Effects Supervisor – Tony Clark, Visual Effects – The LaB Sydney (Supervisor – Steve Leacey) & Rising Sun Pictures, Special Effects Supervisor – John Bowring, Makeup Effects – Make-Up Effects Group (Supervisors – Paul Katte & Nick Nicolaou), Production Design – Tim Ferrier & Peter Pound. Production Company – Lions Gate Films/Marvel Enterprises/Screenland Movieworld.
Matthew Le Nevez (Sheriff Kyle Williams), Rachael Taylor (Teri Richards), Jack Thompson (Frederick Schist), Alex O’Loughlin (Deputy Eric Fraser), Steve Bastoni (Rene Laroque), Rawiri Paratene (Pete Horn), Robert Mammone (Mike Ploog), Pat Thompson (Jake Schist), John Batchelor (Wayne Thibideau), Ian Bliss (Rodney Thibideau), Brett Leonard (Val Mayerik)
Kyle Williams takes up a position as sheriff in the small town of Bywater located in the swamps. Immediately, he runs into the midst of a heated conflict between oil baron Frederick Schist, who has set up a drilling operation in the swamps, and local environmental protesters. Kyle is also attracted to the leader of the protesters, schoolteacher Teri Richards. At the same time, someone is killing people in the swamp and bodies are found impaled with branches that are somehow growing from inside. Kyle tries to track down to the enigmatic Rene Laroque who may be responsible for the killings and sabotaging the oil refinery. At the same time, Kyle learns how an Indian spirit has been reawakened in the sacred heart of the swampland known as Dark Water and is now killing all defilers.
Man-Thing is a Marvel Comics superhero. A creation of Marvel Comics writers Gerry Conway and Roy Thomas, Man-Thing first appeared in the Marvel anthology Savage Tales #1 in 1971. Man-Thing made several reappearances over the next few years and by 1974 had gained his own self-titled comic book Man-Thing. (One spin-off, Giant-Sized Man-Thing has become a comic fan’s joke because of its presumably unintended double entendre title). As Man-Thing’s backstory went (in an origin very similar to DC’s Swamp Thing), scientist Ted Sallis was fleeing from criminals who wanted a drug that he had developed, fell into the swamps dying and was resurrected as a swamp creature due to the chemicals in the swamp mixing with the formula. Man-Thing was unthinking but could empathically feel emotions, while his new oozy consistency made him invulnerable to bullets and damage, granted him super-strength and the ability to seep through doorways. It was later revealed that the Florida swamp where Man-Thing lived was The Nexus of All Realities through which he and his human companion, the sorceress Jennifer Kale, travelled to adventures in other dimensions. These adventures even included meeting Howard the Duck, who made his first appearance in the Man-Thing comic book.
This film version of Man-Thing cruises in on the back of the successes of various Marvel Comics adaptations on screen in recent years with the likes of Blade (1998), X-Men (2000), Spider-Man (2002), Daredevil (2003), Hulk (2003), The Punisher (2004), Elektra (2005), Fantastic Four (2005), Ghost Rider (2007), Iron Man (2008), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011), Thor (2011), The Avengers (2012), Guardians of the Galaxy (2014), Ant-Man (2015), Deadpool (2016), Doctor Strange (2016), Black Panther (2018), Venom (2018), Captain Marvel (2019), Black Widow (2021), Eternals (2021), Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) and various sequels to most of these, as well as the tv series’ Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. (2013-20), Daredevil (2015-8), Agent Carter (2015-6), Jessica Jones (2015-9), Luke Cage (2016-8), The Defenders (2017), Inhumans (2017), Iron Fist (2017-8), The Punisher (2017-9), Runaways (2017-9), The Falcon and the Winter Soldier (2021- ), Hawkeye (2021- ), Loki (2021- ), WandaVision (2021- ), Moon Knight (2022- ), Ms Marvel (2022- ) and She-Hulk: Attorney at Law (2022- ). There are all the requisite in-references to Marvel Comics throughout – no cameo from Stan Lee this time but there is a shed owner named after Marvel artist Mike Ploog, a character named after Howard the Duck creator Steve Gerber, while director Brett Leonard himself plays a character named after Man-Thing artist Val Mayerik.
After first appearing with mad scientist/zombie film The Dead Pit (1989), Brett Leonard was one of the first directors to climb aboard the CGI wave with the hit The Lawnmower Man (1992) and he then went onto make other films like Hideaway (1995) and Virtuosity (1995). Alas, all of these films were brainless and driven entirely by CGI effects. After the flop of Virtuosity, Brett Leonard seemingly could not get another job and retired to directing IMAX shorts – Man-Thing was Leonard’s first feature-length film in a decade. Unfortunately for Leonard, Man-Thing was the only Marvel film adaptation of the 00s to be released straight to video in most areas, to cable in the US. Brett Leonard is certainly a long way down the food chain here from the time when he started his own CGI effects company. Leonard subsequently returned to feature film works with the amazingly perverse Feed (2005) and the appallingly bad Highlander: The Source (2007).
Marvel’s Man-Thing is often seen as a rip-off of DC’s superior Swamp Thing, even if this is not the case – Man-Thing in fact appeared in print a month earlier than Swamp Thing. Swamp Thing has not fared well on screen – see the generally dismal likes of Wes Craven’s Swamp Thing (1982), The Return of Swamp Thing (1989) and the tv series’ Swamp Thing (1990-3) and the animated Swamp Thing (1991) and a halfway reasonable revival Swamp Thing (2019) – so you could not accuse Man-Thing of trying to copy or exploit the success of the various Swamp Thing screen incarnations. To be said in its favour, Man-Thing has much more atmosphere and makes more of its environmentalist themes than any of the Swamp Thing adaptations.
However, particularly oddly for a film cruising by on the success of Marvel Comics on screen in the 00s, Man-Thing feels more like a horror film than it ever does a comic-book adaptation or superhero film. (Man-Thing is the only of the recent Marvel adaptations to come with an R-rating for example). If one did not know of the Marvel pedigree behind the film, it would be impossible to tell from a straight viewing of Man-Thing that it is a superhero film/comic-book adaptation and not a horror film about something supernatural stirring in the bayous. Indeed, Man-Thing holds more in common with the pollution mutant monster in Prophecy (1979) than it does any of the recent Marvel superhero adaptations. Most of the aspects of the comic-book have been thrown out – there is no explanation of Ted Sallis or any mention of the origin story of Man-Thing, with Man-Thing now made into a Native American spirit of unspecified supernatural origin.
Brett Leonard conducts the lurking around the swamps passably well, shooting in a sickly green light and cruising his camera through midnight-lit swamps. Alas, as horror films go, the script is generic and there is nothing in Man-Thing that does not come by cliche. We also see surprisingly little of the title character – it is 70 minutes into the film’s 97-minute running time before we even encounter Man-Thing, for instance. Although to Brett Leonard’s credit, when we do, the unveiled Man-Thing is an impressive creation.