Sunday, February 14, 2016

Swamp Thing

   Without being able to see Deadpool this weekend, I decided to just dig up whatever ol' comic book movie I had laying around that I'd never seen before and give it a go. Swamp Thing just happened to be the pick of the night. I had no idea it was going to be so much fun! Swamp Thing is based on the DC Comics characters which I was well aware of, but never really 'into'. Now that I've seen the movie, I definitely want to read the comics, and I can confirm that this is exactly the kind of movie 8 year old me thought he was about to see when he decided to watch The Toxic Avenger on cable that one time. Suffice it to say... I would've had a lot more fun with Swamp Thing, and suffered a whole lot less mental scarring. But, hell, I'm 22 now, and Swamp Thing is still the movie I wish The Toxic Avenger was!

   Anyways, I was actually taken by surprise at how colorful this movie is. It's very alive with scenery and it's showcased with some moments of excellent cinematography. There's some downright gorgeous shots in this movie that feel less like they belong in a 'comic book' movie, and more like they belong in a black and white genre classic like The Creature From the Black Lagoon. I've no doubt some of the imagery and visuals were indeed inspired by that movie and others of it's kind, and it shows. The shot of the Swamp Thing himself carrying the unconscious heroine off, deeper into the swamps, while the villains shoot machine guns at them from a distance is positively iconic. These scenes, shots, and visuals, make the movie incredibly engaging- because it often looks simply fantastic.

   At the same time, a lot of the material the movie is working with hails from cornier realms of 50's drive-in sci-fi. As the trailer proudly touts, there's government agents, scientists, soldiers, master criminals, secret formulas, monsters and midgets! The movie certainly delivers on all of those promises with the energy and zest of a Saturday morning cartoon. You know when you're seeing the 'secret formula', even if you aren't really paying attention, because it's a half-quart of brightly glowing green liquid in a big open beaker. The scientific method in this movie involves dipping your hand in said glowing liquid, and flicking some at the floor to show your peers that it explodes. But, the argument that can be made in defense of Swamp Thing is that, don't all secret formulas simply look cooler when they're green and glowing...?

   Indeed they do, and that's the kind of energy this movie functions on. Big explosions, rich atmosphere with thick eerie fog, comically vile bad guys, and a reckless approach to some basic logic. Yet, it's still the kind of fun that puts the magic back into Saturday matinees, or a Friday night in with an old movie and a big bowl of popcorn. It's un-serious fun. Yet, nevertheless, Swamp Thing has plenty of good acting and genuine heartfelt emotions on display. Thanks in no small part to heroine Alice Cable, played with gusto by Adrienne Barbeau. The emotional weight of the movie is riding on her shoulders, and she carries it admirably. Her scenes with the Swamp Thing are great and approaching something resembling poignant. It actually surprised me how good these moments were and why this movie isn't talked about more often.

   But, then I notice that she's emoting next to a stuntman in a poorly fashioned clunky rubber suit that wasn't put together with any consideration for having to deliver dialog. Closeups on the hands of the suit even reveal seams, but that's par for course with this movie. The special effects and rubber suitery daring-do is all done in earnest, but it feels either a decade out of date (specifically out of date for back in 1982) or like it belongs in a parody of the genre it's so clearly in love with.  Nevertheless, Swamp Thing is so full of energy and fun that it's easy to look past or embrace the 'seams' and 'zippers' of the movie, and see a genuine character in that cumbersome rubber suit. Swamp Thing himself is a tragic character, like all good movie monsters- good or bad, and he's fun to watch.

   The action scenes in Swamp Thing are a a full cut above the 'biff!', 'pow!' fights of the 1960's Batman TV show, but they have the same endearing brand of irrepressible energy. It's hard not to smile as Swamp Thing throws bad guys across the screen, leaps into action, rips the tops off of jeeps, and saves Cable from a bunch of mercenaries. Of course nothing is more fun in Swamp Thing than the inevitable monster vs. monster throwdown that the filmmakers wisely kept reserved for the climax. Few comic book movies take the 'comic book' part to heart so legitimately, and Swamp Thing is one of them. Every scene is oozing with the most over-the-top comic book appeal. It embraces and idealizes the carefree fun of being a kid, with a stack of comic books and a bowl of cheetos. It was always an easy and vibrant form of escapism.

   It's also kind of funny to me how Swamp Thing, while serious, doesn't take itself seriously- especially in contrast to the big budget comic book movies of nowadays, but is a much more solid movie than most of them could ever hope to me. It may dive headfirst into the campiest of material, but it's pacing, plot structure, story and character motivation is all tight as drum. It's an impenetrable movie unless you're the type that rolls your eyes at the kind of uber villain who'd use his best henchman as a guinea pig for a 'secret formula'. Then yeah, you might not be the right audience for this movie, and I'll readily concede- this movie isn't for everyone. It's silly, it's low budget, but it's also colorful, energetic, and very action-packed.

   I don't know if I feel comfortable calling Swamp Thing a guilty pleasure, because there was nothing to feel guilty about. This was just good old fashioned, comic book, fun. Full of familiar faces (Ray Wise, Nicholas Worth, Louis Jourdan), whiz-bang sound effects, rich atmosphere, energetic action scenes, and some gorgeous scenery. It's real hard to not have a blast with Swamp Thing!

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