Matthew Le Nevez
Trivia Brett Leonard also directed The Lawnmower Man, Virtuosity, The Dead Pit and Feed.
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Man Thing (2005)
29th Apr 06
A swamp gets angry when an oil tycoon tries to develop it.
Another day, another Marvel superhero movie. And who can blame them? X-Men was the first to take the plunge, then Spider-man promptly cleaned up, and soon every Marvel franchise is looking to get that elusive three-picture deal. Yes, The Fantastic Four, the little-known and much-delayed Ghost Rider, even The Punisher got in on the act (sullying the name of the 80s Dolph Lungren classic) and Transformers is set to also make its big screen live-action debut any time soon. But while we’re waiting for that little gem to materialise, what bone do you think Marvel have thrown us in the meantime? Yes, you guessed it, Man Thing.
Things start promisingly enough (in a cheesy bad movie way) with a montage of a swamp that’s now being redeveloped by a greedy oil baron, even though the swamp land is apparently sacred to the Native Americans in the area. For some reason, the swamp takes offence to the redevelopment and somehow gives birth to a champion; a swamp thing… Sorry, Man thing, which then goes and very gorily wastes a guy who’s making out with his bird in a canoe, although thankfully at least Man Thing has the decency to wait until the girl has taken her top off.
Next up, we cut to brand new small town sheriff Matt Le Nevez (we love small town sheriffs here) who’s been called on to his first job of removing a bunch of protesters at the redevelopment plant, so they can get on with their work. He immediately gets into a confrontation with the lead protester, pretty local school teacher Rachel Taylor, and ends up arresting her and taking her back to the station, where she fills him in on the whole sacred Native American holy ground business and points him in the direction of a couple of locals who’ll tell him all about it, namely a local witchdoctor called Rene LaRoque and another old guy whose name is apparently Pete Horn.
From here on in things go downhill fast. Man Thing comes alive under the cover of night and sneakily bumps off a few random characters by literally skewering them alive. “How can you shove a twig down a man’s throat like that?” asks the sheriff very early on, only to be told that the twig came from the inside out. This doesn’t seem to make any sense until later on, when we realise how inaccurate the name really is; Tree Thing would have been more accurate, or perhaps Giant Tree Man. Anyway, Schist – the owner of the oil development business – immediately blames the protesters and puts pressure on the sheriff to make some arrests. The sheriff doesn’t know what to do, so heads in to the swamp and walks about in darkness for ages, shining his torch around. Meanwhile, some crazy photographer with dreams of getting on the cover of Time Magazine has other ideas and piles in to the swamp with as much photography equipment as possible. And soon the remaining members of the cast follow suit, all trudging into the swamp for various half-arsed reasons, with most of them having ‘Man Thing fodder’ tattooed in big letters on their foreheads.
What happens next is so obvious you might just want to watch it on fast forward, as the common comic book themes of revenge and redemption are played out against very brightly lit night time swamp scenes, where every man and his dog has a torch and they sure as hell know how to use them. And they do, all the time. And it gets really boring fast. The inevitable set piece ending where Man Thing steps out of the shadows to reveal the CGI monstrosity in his full glory is a mildly entertaining for its sheer ridiculousness, but it’s far too predictable to be worth the wait and doesn’t live up to the trashy promise of the first five minutes. Ironically, if this film were made in the mid 80s with full on latex silliness (Swamp Thing style) then we would probably have loved it. But it’s not, it’s only a couple of years old, takes itself far too seriously and, in that respect, has very little in it worth recommending.
And the name - Man Thing - does that not strike you as a little ridiculous in its own right? With only a little imagination, that title sounds like the movie is its own porn piss-take. Man Thing? “What shit are we watching tonight?” said the very supportive lady I live with. “Man Thing,” I calmly replied. And I’ve know learnt something; don’t tell your partner that you’re about to watch a movie called Man Thing when she’s halfway through a generous gulp of red wine, or you might end up wearing that wine. A bit like I did.
1st Nov 04 Above all though, it is the relationship between John and Laura Baxter which is the film’s central focus throughout, and the gradual disintegration of their relationship amidst a haze of grief.