You know, it would be so damn easy to jump on the bandwagon with this seemingly oft criticised film. But I actually kinda enjoyed it, despite it's sometimes creaky nature. And I was honestly expecting to write an ultra scathing review of this film.
So 2005 saw the release of three Marvel adaptations: Elektra, Fantastic Four and Man-Thing. None of which exactly blew anyone's socks off. In fact, Elektra and Man-Thing have been heavily attacked from most quarters. 2005 was certainly the year of the bat. This horror comic adaption, despite its straight to DVD release nature, is an official Marvel adaption. It even has that classic (and seriously cool) Marvel logo seen at the start of Raimi's Spiderman films and the like. But after extremely negative preview screenings, a decision was taken to remove it from cinema schedules.
I've read a lot more comic books than I ever choose to admit to on the internet. Instead, I usually tend to play it down and merely enjoy reading what the other folks have to say - I mean come on, have you ever tried discussing comics on the internet? The average 'net fanboy is seriously (and rather scarily) obsessive, they've read and retained it all. Whilst my comic books are now gathered together in attic based cardboard boxes, those folks probably have them all arranged Mallrats Brodie style. No-one was more surprised than me, when it was announced that Man-Thing would be adapted to the big screen. Certainly one of the most unlikely contenders in my opinion.
I was a BIG fan of Steve Gerber's Howard The Duck comics. Apart from the fact that the unusual character smoked and read porn mags, the books were brave and highly satirical, often containing references to drugs and politics and also taking some amusing Mickey-taking digs at the rest of the Marvel universe. It was surprising that Marvel even released it. Mind you, if The Human Fly could see the light of day then I suppose that anything was possible! To explain how unorthodox Gerber's creation and work really was, I even own a HTD issue which isn't even a comic. Instead, it merely contains an amusing text essay with Steve Gerber explaining why he completely failed to meet his Marvel deadline.
Howard The Duck was a great cult classic until the Disney corp. took offence at the physical similarity to Donald Duck and told Marvel that they were gonna sue. The character's appearance was altered and the risky elements were toned down. In short, everything that once made the tome cool and subversive was gone. As you'd expect, sales plummeted! Why am I telling you all this?? Well, it was my liking of Gerber's work on Howard that led a teenage version of me to also start collecting his work on the Man-Thing franchise. Man-Thing was not only one of Marvel's more pulpy horror comics but it was also an opportunity for Gerber to attack red-necks, racism and puritanical religious viewpoints in the south of the US.
The Man-Thing comics never made any great shakes so you'd kind of expect a 5 million dollar motion picture adaption to follow that trend. I'm somewhat disturbed by an imdb.com piece of trivia which says that half of the preview audiences walked out early. I have seen far worse horror films in cinemas and never noticed numerous folks leaving. You have to wonder if those audiences were expecting a Spiderman or Daredevil type experience. This is nothing particularly special or overly impressive but it's certainly not an honest to God, awful film. Perhaps the film should have been previewed to actual horror fans? Anacondas 2 got released at the pictures whereas Man-thing gets pulled (please excuse the unfortunate choice of the last four words)??
I can only relate to the Steve Gerber MT issues when watching this film, and you know what, it really ain't that far from the source material! Avi Arad and co certainly saw fit to greenlight the project. The most controversial script issue is that Ted Sallis (who became Man-Thing) has been changed from a scientist who injected himself with the Captain America super soldier serum before entering the swamp, to a local Indian tribal leader who was buried at the comic's Nexus Of All Reality location. I can live with that, it's no biggie. The only thing that I really missed was watching victims burn at the touch of the titular character. Although the replacement set-piece death (complete with exploding eyeballs) was a lot of fun to watch.
My Man-Thing reads were always pulpy and kinda guilty experiences, and this film feels pretty much the same way. A film like this can even get away with the occasional lapse of Southern dialect into a suspiciously Australian sounding accent (it's especially noticeable during one scene). I can't say that it really bothers me after all of the apalling English accents that I've endured in countless US films and tv shows (Frasier, From Hell, Jesus, take your pick) for years on end. I'm confused by a complaint that we don't see enough of Man-Thing. They do this type of thing in horror films remember?? Showing glimpses of the monster and his kills creates some tension. And the lost 10 minutes shows absolutely loads of him. Plus the film only cost $5 million, not 50!
Don't get me wrong, I'm certainly not saying that Brett Leonard's film is great. Merely that it's nowhere near as bad as folks seem to enjoy making out. For most, this is NOT gonna be a purchase or maybe not even a rental, but it's stylised and violent enough for this fan to happily keep amongst his Marvel DVD collection. Looking at this as a fan of Gerber's work on Man-Thing, I don't feel too let down. A swamp composed creature that kills people - check. Ignorant Southern US characters interacting with the more intelligent or likeable ones - check. Some humour - check. Gore - check. No unnecessarily overly complicated plot - check!
This is a very simplistic horror monster movie, not award winning drama and on that level it sure delivers. There's even a cool scare to be found in one scene. I have to say that the DVD's almost complete lack of extras does irritate. Lionsgate have only provided trailers for other films but at least we get an anamorphic print and 5.1 sound. It's sad that Marvel, Arad and co couldn't decide to stick to their guns and help to provide at least one short featurette on the Marvel comic and character. Not only is this adaption a lot better than numerous other sites and comic fanboys had previously led me to believe, but I'm genuinely glad to have picked it up.
So what went wrong? I'll sum it all up here in the following sentence, so please pay attention: The film isn't so much at fault but more the decision of choosing to adapt this particular 1970's horror comic. I mean come on, Man-Thing?!! Avi Arad, just what the hell were you thinking?? Tomb Of Dracula - yes, Ghost Rider - yes, Man-Thing - um, no!! This was a really bad choice, plain and simple, it was never going to be anything special. And such a cheap budget didn't help it's case much either. You cannot turn lead into gold. Oh, and rest assured folks, this is still so much better than the truly shite Howard The Duck adaption of the 80's.