Of all the characters in the Marvel Universe, you have to wonder why Lion’s Gate chose Man-Thing, a lower tiered comic book character, to make into a movie. Unless you’re a die-hard comic book fan, it’s doubtful you’ve ever heard of the character; and even if you did used to read comics, it’s even more doubtful you’re a fan of this particular one. For whatever reason, Lion’s Gate did decide to make the plunge, and the result is a surprisingly good effort.
In “Man-Thing”, 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 (Rachel Taylor) to put a stop to the Man-Thing’s rampage.
Usually when a film sits on the shelf for almost two years, it’s a sure sign that it’s not particularly good, but “Man-Thing” manages to buck the trend, being both an atmospheric and entertaining horror movie. Helmer Brett Leonard turns in one of his best directing jobs to date, giving the movie an eerie feel that constantly holds the audience’s attention. Leonard also does a wise thing by moving the film along at a rapid pace that leaves little time for the audience to question the plausibility of what they’re watching. Comic book scribe Hans Rodinoff turns in an equally good screenplay, allowing for plenty of gory deaths and suspenseful moments. The titular Man-Thing gets a makeover, transformed from a little known comic book character from the 70’s into a frightening and powerful force that can appear almost anywhere without warning.
As Sheriff Williams, Matthew Le Nevez is good as a man expecting an easy job, but instead finds himself fighting for his life and the people he’s sworn to protect. In many instances, you can see the concern and determination play across Le Nevez’s face, as he confronts a foe no one has met and lived to tell the tale. Rachel Taylor is decent as the environmentalist who teams up with Williams, but she only delivers an occasional spark and is useful mainly as eye candy. And sharp-eyed viewers should be on the look-out for director Brett Leonard in the small but pivotal role of Val Merrick.
“Man-Thing” does have some glaring faults, one of which is Man-Thing itself. We’re told the creature exists solely to avenge the ecological rape of its home, but it seems to kill indiscriminately, taking out anyone it comes across. That discrepancy in script logic lowers Man-Thing from a hero of nature to just another murderous monster. Another huge problem is the film’s set design. Instead of looking like an actual swamp setting, it instead looks like the producers decided to film the movie at a local botanical garden. For a film with a $30 million dollar budget, “Man-Thing” should at least look like it takes place in an actual swamp, or at least a much more decent facsimile.
Nevertheless, “Man-Thing” exceeds expectations thanks to excellent direction by Brett Leonard, a good lead performance in Matthew Le Nevez, and a sharp, if sometimes illogical script by Hans Rodinoff. Horror fans and fans of the comic books in general will probably want to check out this version of the Marvel superhero, and those who don’t fit into the two categories might still want to join them anyway. With some voluntary suspensions of disbelief, “Man-Thing” can prove to be quite enjoyable.
Brett Leonard (director) / Steve Gerber (character), Hans Rodionoff (screenplay)
CAST: Matthew Le Nevez …. Kyle Williams
Rachel Taylor …. Teri Richards
Jack Thompson …. Frederic Schist
Rawiri Paratene …. Pete Horn
Patrick Thompson …. Jake Schist