Mercury Man (2006)NR

CapeCapeHalf a capeTentTentHalf a tent

Dood... it’s a Thai superhero movie! If that sounds to you like a ton of fun, then trust your ears. The original title is มนุษย์เหล็กไหล (Ma noot lhek lai). This was apparently a big budget attempt to have a major crossover export hit; by local standards it’s a monster blockbuster special effects extravaganza.

This thing keeps making nods to Spider-Man — or one might better say, taking pokes at Spider-Man — but Mercury Man’s powers aren’t spideyish, they’re a mix of Magneto, the Hulk, Wolverine, Colossus, and the Human Torch. When his heart beats fast, his body gets hot, and with sufficient hotth his blood and eventually his skin turns metallic, and this secondarily gives him super healing. If he’s out of control, he sets his clothes on fire, but if he’s in control, he can be near invulnerable and can telekineticize metal. And then he shows super agility, which comes from... um, they don’t explain that.

Just like Tobey Maguire, he suddenly has twice as many muscles once he puts a super-suit on.

He’s a firefighter before he gets superpowered (which is both practical and usefully symbolical), and also, he’s a lone wolf who can’t play by the rules because he’s just too naturally heroic. And even without powers he’s got muay thai. This comes in handy when the bad guys find his kryptonite, and gives us the film’s best fight scene.

Lots of other characters get their muay thai on too. There are several scenes that are overt attempts to homage, rip off, or outdo bits of Ong Bak. But the fight scenes are filmed with an ineptitude reminiscent of Pitof’s Catwoman, making a lot of the fight moves look faked even when they’re not.

On the plus side, the women tend to have just as much muai thai as the men. There are three major female characters who kick ass. One of them ends up being the hero’s wise trainer. Even though she’s Tibetan. (Wtf? Who ever heard of muay tibet?) But another one, um, well maybe the count isn’t exactly three. The hero’s sister used to be his brother before an operation, and is played by real-life tranny kickboxer Parinya Kiatbusaba, a.k.a. Nong Toom.

The boss baddie is named Usama, is apparently supposed to be Afghan, and aims to destroy the USA... but he looks Asian and speaks only very bad English. Very very bad. (“They savaged our country like animals” becomes “They salvaged ow country like ammuls”.) And he wears eye shadow and lipstick! What the wtf? Well, it turns out that they cast the role not with a real actor, but with a locally popular rock musician. His band plays over the end credits.

Much of the acting sounds quite bad even when it’s not in inept English. Besides Usama, the Tibetan lady is probably the worst... though it’s hard to tell when one doesn’t speak Thai. That language, when formally enunciated, can make just about anyone sound stilted. The hero actor seems mostly okay, though.

His powers come from magic meteoric minerals that come in “sun” and “moon” flavors. Our hero is dosed with the sun version, the bad guys have a chunk of moon... they aim to Cross the Streams and create nuclear-scale devastation. When people speaking in Thai discuss the powers, and the mystic stones they come from, then everything is explained in terms of magic, but when the bad guys talk about it in English the explanations become science based... and they give us some really wonderful concoctions of scientific mumbojumbo. For example, the hero is vulnerable to electric shocks because, you see, bee venom has ions.

The bad guys also have a random little kid with entirely different non-mineralacious psychic superpowers that never get explained at all. The kid is Cambodian.

There’s all kinds of stupid fun here:

  • The baddies kidnap the hero’s family, and then both sides forget about this fact for several days.
  • There’s a US Navy officer who’s British.
  • There’s really really cheap CGI.
  • There’s a graffito behind one fight scene that says SPIDY HOW R U? Between this and the suit and the urban gymnastics and the “power/responsibility” quotes, they really seem to be trying to say that their spiderman is better than ours.
  • There’s a missile that crosses from the edge of the radar to almost the center in fifteen seconds, and then has three minutes to impact. And wait till you see how they intercept it!

It’s hard to give this movie a cape rating that’s fair. On the one hand, plenty of movies with fewer capes are, in many ways, genuinely better. But on the other hand, this is just more fun to watch than a lot of films that I’ve ranked higher. The cape rating above is kind of a compromise.

What it adds up to is that this movie is a blast and three quarters. Check it out with all promptitude.