The story of Man-Thing is probably worlds more interesting than the movie itself. A Marvel Comics character, Man-Thing is a supernatural swamp creature, feared by mankind and protecting the environment, but was originally a man himself. If this sounds like DC Comics’ Swamp Thing, it should; the two characters have origins that are virtually identical in their first comics… and in real life, where the characters were first developed by writers who were sharing an apartment with each other. Man-Thing came out a year before Swamp Thing, but has historically been less popular and less well-known than its DC counterpart.
The film’s origins are an interesting little snarl as well. One of the pre-Disney projects, it isn’t part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and was farmed out to Lionsgate. Initial plans were for a theatrical release, but this was quickly scuttled for direct-to-video plans. A little while into development, box office plans began to be worked back into conversation, but were again eventually scuttled. Finally the film was released to television on the Sci-Fi Channel and it had a theatrical release in a small number of countries (though not the U.S.) The whole affair makes it look like the studio had little faith in the product. Having now seen the film, I can only say this lack of faith is justified.
The plot is simple and straightforward and predictable. A new sheriff (Matthew Le Nevez) comes into town to find his deputy and other locals are nervous about a long string of disappearances in the swamp. The swamp is being drilled for oil by an unscrupulous businessman, while protesters object to the defiling of sacred Native American land. And soon it turns out the murders are being caused by a Native American spirit brought to life to defend the land (although very indiscriminately, as the first victim we see was just a dumb teenager having a fling). As with many movies where non-Indians play and write about Indians, the tribe is never mentioned. In point of fact, I’m not even sure where the film is supposed to be set. The comic book story was apparently in Florida, with the involvement of the Seminole, but the town in the movie feels more like the Louisiana bayou. Of course, that impression is based only on what stereotypes the filmmakers have decided to use… and every character is a stereotype. There are racist caricatures and caricatures of racists, and standard story archtypes, but not one character who actually distinguishes themselves in any way. We root for the sheriff because he is the protagonist; no other reason, for there is nothing more to him. The love interest is there to fall in love with him (for no apparent reason) and to let us know who the good guys and bad guys are. The bad guys are there to spout racial slurs and posture. Nobody’s interesting. Nobody’s written with any actual personality.
The film is lousy on its technical merits as well. I suppose the basic scenes are shot well enough, in that one can see what’s going on, but that’s about all I can say in its favor. Scene transitions consist of a series of generic swamp scenes rapidly spliced together in a manner reminiscent of the blipverts from Max Headroom, and scenes jump from one to the next with so little continuity in transition that a viewer is always feeling slightly as if they missed something somewhere. When things are shown through Man-Thing’s eyes, everything is done in extreme shaky-cam. Man-Thing himself, once finally shown, looks less like a 2005 production and more like a barely-competent knockoff of Ray Harryhausen.
Even the sound editing is bad. Sound editing almost never gets mentioned in reviews outside of some very specific Academy Awards discussions, but that’s because when done well, people shouldn’t notice. People will notice this. It’s impossible to get the sound level right while watching this film. Characters mumble their way through almost every scene, while everything from the music to the numerous inept jump scares comes through at full blast. I was constantly increasing the volume to hear what people were saying and then turning it back down to keep my walls from shaking from the “spooky music”. It is difficult to become immersed in a film when one is constantly fiddling with the sound controls.
This isn’t even fun in a cheesy so-bad-it’s-good way. It’s just bad. It hasn’t one redeeming feature. I suppose I could theoretically applaud Marvel for putting out a Marvel film that’s not really a superhero film, but honestly, it makes a good argument for why they haven’t tried to do so since launching their own studio. Maybe they feel they should stick to what they’re good at. And maybe that’s for the best.