Classic Film Review: Swamp Thing (1982)

Marvel vs. DC:

Swamp Thing, 1982

Directed by: Wes Craven

Starring: Louis Jourdan, Adrienne Barbeau, Ray Wise, David Hess, Mimi Craven, Dick Durock, Nicholas Worth

 

A DC film directed by Wes Craven (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Swamp Thing is an origin story for Alec Holland (Ray Wise) who becomes infused with a new liquid and the swamp to become the titular Swamp Thing, and then ahs to fight off the an evil leader, Anton Arcane (Louis Jourdan) who plans to steal the liquid for himself, all the while protecting the girl, Alice (Adrienne Barbeau) and his team who are being mercilessly killed off so there’s no witnesses for their actions.

It was a nice change of pace seeing this film, with its more gritty horror-style, as Wes Craven is famous for, yet still being a superhero movie with all the genre-defining moments. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a good film, just a nice change of pace. But there are many good parts of this film, from its visuals, which are quite impressive considering the time, and the location, completely changing it up from destroying a major American city in place of a swamp. However, there are probably more bad parts to talk about.

Firstly, the film is quite confusing during the middle part as to who we are supposed to be rooting of in it all. Anton’s soldiers are resented as if military and they’re tracking down a monster in the swamps, yet they’re the villains. I liked initially how it was a nice role-reversal to the usual tropes, but it goes on for so long with these men hunting down a monster that I almost began siding with them, especially as they’re so weak and pathetic in comparison. Swamp Thing kills them with ease and they barely make a scratch on him, so we don’t really get the moment where Swamp Thing is in danger. Even when they’re kidnapped later on and in handcuffs it’s not believable because Swamp Thing should have super strength. They make some small excuse as to why he couldn’t break out initially, but the writing generally for his character is so poor, we rarely get shown as to why he’s transformed, what his powers are (which make it all the more confusing when he miraculously re-grows his arm despite not knowing he could do that) and how come he’s become this monster. There’s also a poor series of answers where Swamp Thing basically says he’s become this because deep down he had strength and a henchman of Anton’s becomes a monkey-like creature because he’s dumb; yet Alec was a scientist, so it’s hardly a strong reason for him becoming super strong; why would a scientist experimenting on liquids have his main characteristic trait (apparently it’s that which the liquid enhances) be strength and not his brains?

Swamp Thing also has the most ridiculous topless-lady scenes I’ve ever seen in a serious film. After Swamp Thing saves Alice and she realises who he is, it cuts to a scene of her in a lake (because taking a shower is important when trying to escape soldiers) and she takes her top off and soaks herself, and the camera remains on her topless body for a very long period of time, with the old-style adult-film soundtracks over the back with no dialogue, then it immediately cuts away and the scene is finished. Another sees a couple minutes of dancing from a topless lady in a nightclub, before cutting straight away to the big table where Anton and his henchmen are eating their dinner; having these scenes is so bizarre in the context of the film, and just feels like Wes Craven wanted nudity in this film without it making sense (especially considering it’d be hard to have Alice and Swamp Thing be intimate).

There is some real emotional weight in this film, though, which kept me interested early on. The brutality with which Anton’s men kill everyone in sight (including Alec’s sister) really hit you hard emotionally. It makes it more understandable as to why Swamp Thing hunts them down (more so because he’s become Swamp Thing because of them) but she’s largely forgotten after the fact, and by the end I found myself not caring that she’d died in an impressive set of scenes.

Swamp Thing is a fine film, but when compared to other superhero films it doesn’t really hold up too well; it’s strange that DC chose, after the early Batman and two Superman films that Swamp Thing should be their next hero, but the added horror-style was a nice change-up to the genre. It’s not a great film by any stretch of the imagination, but it doesn’t ever feel boring, it doesn’t drag through moments, nor does it ever really invite us to be a part of the story or universe. We don’t find out much about Alec, or Alice, or the potion or Anton, so it makes the whole set of battles and fights quite meaningless.

 

Plot: * *         Acting: * *                 Writing: * *               Presentation: * *

Overall Rating: * *

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