Monday, February 15, 2016

The Return of Swamp Thing

  The Swamp Thing is back! And, he seems like a pretty nice guy. Posing for pictures with kids, giving thumbs up, and mouthing off witty one-liners. He seems less like a complex and deeply tortured character, and more like a guy who you'd expect to break out into an anti-drug PSA at literally any moment. Where do I know this kind of behavior from? Ah, yes... it's only a small leap from the tone of this movie... to the 1960's Batman TV show. Granted, I said the fight scenes in the previous movie had the same kind of 'daring-do' energy of that show, but this movie embraces the wholesale cheesiness of it and Dick Durock (Swamp Thing) seems to be channeling Adam West himself. All he needs now is a sidekick to shout things like "Holy toxic waste, Swamp Thing!"

  As much as that Batman show does not properly represent the complexity and darkness of the character you'd see in his best material, neither does The Return of Swamp Thing do any justice to it's own eponymous hero. I'm very aware that this movie, while amazingly fun, is still a bad Swamp Thing movie. The first movie, for all intents and purposes, is actually the better film. But! Is it the better superhero movie? Not at all. When Swamp Thing shows up in this one, an energetic hero theme flairs to life, and butt starts getting kicked left and right. Bad guys, be they genetic mutant freaks, or just stock security guards, get punched, chopped, and hurled across the screen with gusto. The Return of Swamp Thing is obviously very, very action packed.

   It makes for a better 'superhero' tale, and Swamp Thing seems much more able to fill that role than he was in the last movie. There's less of Frankenstein and The Creature from the Black Lagoon about him, and more of 60's Batman and Christopher Reeve's Superman. He even looks more heroic. The Swamp Thing suit is way more detailed and convincing looking here, not to mention it's muscled. He looks less like a melted green toy army man, and more like... well... a swamp thing. There's bits of stuff hanging off of him all over, and the texture of the suit is exceptionally convincing as well. I wouldn't be surprised if a third of the total budget for the movie went into making this suit look as good as humanly possible. It's the best the character has ever looked on-screen in my opinion, and that's out of two movies and a TV show. He looks pretty darn badass if I do say so myself.

   Along with his improbably large muscles, the movie is loaded with improbably large explosions. Not that I'm complaining about either thing, mind you. It really helps the movie's watchability that it's so fast paced- not giving the viewer time to have anything but fun. Which is probably a smart move. During the action scenes, of which there are many, and Swamp Thing is kicking butt- I was having so much fun that you couldn't have wiped the stupid grin off my face if you tried. I'll say it again, this is exactly the kind of movie I wanted The Toxic Avenger to be as a kid. Silly, but jam packed with action and cool looking monster effects. I was actually surprised at some of the grotesque monster effects in this one- they definitely shot for some lurid thrills here and there.

   However, the movie is mostly content to get by on a wink and a smile. Almost literally. It's a much... much sillier movie than the first one, especially considering how all shades of classic monster-horror like the aforementioned Creature from the Black Lagoon, are absolutely gone. This movie abandons the semi-serious and earnest tone of the original, opting instead to let you know what you're in for with some bombastic opening credits set to CCR's Born on the Bayou. This shift in tone is a double edged blade, both helping and hurting the movie. Any sense of legitimacy or genuine emotional heft is completely gone. Out the window of a burning building- gone. In it's absence, the best the movie can shoot for is quasi-parody.

   Which isn't surprising given that it's directed by Jim Wynorski... the genius mind behind such cinematic masterpieces like Busty Cops 2, Body Chemistry 4: Full Exposure, and Hard to Die. I'm sure Wynorski doesn't have a single serious bone in his body. However, he seems to understand what makes a basic superhero-themed movie fun, and that aspect of this flick is just great. The heroic theme music, the relentless butt-kicking, the mad scientist, his secret laboratory, massive explosions, and of course the quippy one-liners. The Return of Swamp Thing is so gleefully energetic and colorful that it's hard not to enjoy it for what it is, despite it's issues. Where the first movie had legitimate characters you could feel for, this one simply has placeholders. Walking, talking, vehicles for quips, jokes, and anything else that an inanimate prop can't do.

   There's also a horribly awkward and shoe-horned in romance sub plot that comes out of precisely frickin' nowhere. "I'm a plant" Swamp thing says, "That's okay, I'm a vegetarian." the girl relies. Aggh! What?!?! Then they proceed to have some sort of weird hallucinatory make-out session involving some sort of drug-leaf Swampy plucks off his body so that she can eat- and visualize him as a normal human man. Which is creepy enough as is without wondering how Swamp Thing already knows what that leaf does. The movie is always horribly cringe worthy whenever Swamp Thing tries to be funny- joking about his 'home', referring to it as a messy bachelor pad, which is all kinds of embarrassingly bad. It really makes you appreciate the different tone and flavor of the camp used in the first movie.

   The first movie was earnestly serious despite it camp and cheese. There was no wink and nod to the audience. It was an homage to cheesy 50's monster flicks, but it still let you know that it wasn't joking around. The Return of Swamp thing isn't an homage to anything, and is all for joking around. But, it does embraces a more colorful comic book, superhero, flavor with aplomb and gusto, cranking out more mano-y-swampo fights than the first movie had any patience for. Both movies have their pros and cons, and while I feel like this movie is going to edge out as way more fun and easily watchable, it's by no means the better movie. But, there's just something about how freaking cool Swamp Thing looks on screen, and how exciting all the action is. There's a whiz-bang quality to the whole movie that doesn't really let up.

   The Return of Swamp Thing is unabashedly entertaining, which is saying something because it's story is inert, and it's plot is just barely there. It's a series of back-and-forth nonsense that even the characters in the movie seem to be aware of- which is probably the only genuine laugh that sticks the landing in the whole picture. I had more fun with this movie than I did with it's predecessor, but I appreciate the first one for what it is a lot more. Nevertheless, for cheap, low-budget, over-the-top, and vibrantly colorful superhero thrills, it's easy to recommend The Return of Swamp Thing- with a grain of salt. I'm sure this movie is about as faithful to it's source material as Batman & Robin is to it's own. The difference is, Batman & Robin isn't half as fun or charismatic as this movie, and it doesn't have a fraction of the B-grade charm that makes The Return of Swamp Thing so damn enjoyable.

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