MTV (US), June 5, 2003
The Stax Report: Script Review of Plastic Man
Stax here with my reaction to the Wachowski brothers' screenplay for Plastic Man! Longtime readers will recall that I previously reviewed this script back at my now defunct site, Flixburg. Ever since my old site went kaput, I've received lots of e-mail from readers who'd like to find these older reviews for such unproduced projects as Plastic Man. I've now gotten the okay to republish some of those here.
This script for a proposed live-action feature film of the DC Comics super-hero Plastic Man was penned by Larry and Andy Wachowski (The Matrix). It's a revised draft dated March 17, 1995. The production company listed is Steven Spielberg's Amblin Entertainment and the studio is Warner Brothers. Like The Matrix, the Wachowskis' version of Plastic Man, if produced, would most certainly push the envelope of CGI effects technology – and perhaps break the bank in doing so. But then again, someone probably said that after reading The Matrix and that film managed to be produced for under $100 million dollars and make a ton of money back at the box office.
By all accounts, Plastic Man has been dormant – if not dead – for some time now. Spielberg went on to produce another another comic book adaptation (and similar hybrid of sly comedy and wacky science fiction) with Men in Black, and Warner Brothers went on to self-destruct their Batman franchise. Perhaps it was fated then that Plastic Man remain unproduced in favor of those aforementioned projects. But with their current box office clout, the Wachowski brothers could probably get any risky genre flick green-lit now.
The title role could be a choice part for the likes of Brendan Fraser. Obviously, rubber-faced Jim Carrey would be ideal, too. As I read the Plastic Man script, though, one actor repeatedly came to mind: Keanu Reeves. The irony of casting one of Hollywood's most wooden leading men as comicdom's most pliable hero isn't lost on me. Reeves possesses that earthy-crunchy element that would suit Plastic Man's environmentally-minded alter ego, Daniel O'Brien, and he also has O'Brien's dim-witted but good-natured quality in spades.
The Wachowskis' adaptation of Plastic Man is smartly played as tongue-in-cheek. It simply can't take itself too seriously but that doesn't mean the Wachowskis devalue their characters or ideas. In fact, the script is loaded with enough scientific techno-babble to make Data from Star Trek stammer. Fortunately, Plastic Man's plot holes and scientific improbabilities are not as vexing since the story is played for laughs.
This script recalls the tone of several others films, some of which were produced after this draft was written. Men in Black certainly comes to mind, as does Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, The Mask, and even Flubber. This style suits Plastic Man, though, since he is among the most ridiculous of comic book heroes. The moments where Plastic Man threatens the villain's life actually jarred me since it was so at odds with the benign character that the Wachowskis had created.
All in all, Plastic Man was the closest to a children's film that I'd ever expect from the Wachowski brothers. In fact, it has all the earmarks of a hit PG-13 family film not unlike Inspector Gadget.
Plastic Man is set in the industrial hellhole of Calumet City. It follows environmentally conscious ex-con Daniel O'Brien, a pick-pocket and ne'er-do-well who was recently released from a labor camp for white-collar criminals. O'Brien is given to overwrought reactions towards litterbugs, a disorder that can be traced back to his days as a radical environmental student activist in the 1970's. His wacky persona has thus far prevented him from winning the heart of his one-time schoolmate, Dr. Susan Bright.
Susan now works for industrialist Icarus Argon, a standard-issue, power-hungry madman. Argon attempts to corrupt Susan's research into the polymerization of living organisms in order to attain immortality and make his mark on the world. Like his mythic namesake, this Icarus also flew too close to the sun and got burned – badly. Argon was once "a sexiest man alive" cover boy who competed in the Mister Universe contest. His past experiments at besting Mother Nature, however, have now left his body a sagging, wheelchair-bound "prison of rot"; think of that unfortunate henchman from Robocop who gets doused with chemicals and staggers around with his face and limbs melting off of him and you'll have an idea of what Argon looks like.
Aided by his vampish wife Poppy and security chiefs Sim and Doby, Argon will use any means necessary to force Susan to duplicate her polymerization process in order to restore his body to its glorious old form. When Susan balks, trouble naturally ensues. O'Brien, who has broken into Argon Labs to disrupt their experiments on animals, now becomes an unwitting guinea pig in Argon's new tests. This is how Daniel O'Brien becomes Plastic Man. Like the opening scene where we view the world from the terrified point of view of a lab rat, O'Brien's transformation mixes nasty humor with horror.
The WachowskisPlastic Man takes place over two days. Daniel must master his new-found powers in order to save Susan from the clutches of Icarus ("Icky" to his wife) and Calumet City from the toxic waste time bomb that is the result of Argon's experiments. The polymerization process and its nasty side effects are detailed in a confusing (and plot-hole creating) spew of scientific chatter that involves a plot device called a nanobot. The retrieval of this nanobot will reverse the toxic meltdown before it can spread beyond Argon Labs and turn Calumet City into gray sludge. The "incident" at Argon Labs has been pinned on an eco-terrorist named Daniel O'Brien who now has to avoid both Argon's goons and the law.
The latter part of the story shows the metamorphosis of Icarus Argon himself into a plastic man. It climaxes with an effects-laden showdown between him and O'Brien, as well as a romance between Daniel and Dr. Bright. O'Brien has transformed himself from an ex-con into a genuine super-hero, clearing his name in the process. He and Susan start a relationship together – but Daniel still can't shake his demented hatred for litterbugs, as the script's last shot amusingly reveals.
That is the rather simple plot of Plastic Man in a nutshell. Overall, the characters are all rather broadly sketched and two-dimensional. Argon needs more fleshing out (excuse the horrible pun) to avoid being just a sight gag. The plot is convoluted and kid-friendly but I'm nevertheless confident that if the Wachowski brothers were directing they could make Plastic Man a fun flick.
What made Plastic Man enjoyable was its biting wit, cleverness and visceral imagery. The imaginations that would later create the world of The Matrix can clearly be seen in this 1995 draft. The Wachowskis' ideas were, unfortunately, a few years ahead of their time (as well as too expensive) to be realized back in 1995 but they could certainly be accomplished now. As I stated before, Plastic Man could still be brought out of the mothballs if Warner Brothers and the Wachowskis still had any interest left in it.
If an A-list star could be attached to Plastic Man and the Wachowskis persuaded to direct then Warner Brothers might again strike comics-to-film gold. Alas, it's been a long, complicated road for Plastic Man thus far so don't hold your breath for it.