DC’s “Swamp Thing” finally gets the right tone

DC’s “Swamp Thing” finally gets the right tone August 30, 2019
Image: DC Comics

It’s pretty common knowledge that The Dark Knight has ruined the subsequent DC movies. And if it isn’t common knowledge, it should be. Warner Bros. made money (and deservedly so) with Christopher Nolan’s Batman films, and has apparently decided that grittier and grittier is the way to go. Which is why we have Superman murdering people, Batman trying to murder Superman, and Aquaman doing… well, also dark-ish stuff. (I’ve seeen it, but I don’t remember all the details.) And Titans doing all manner of awful things. At least we’ve still got Wonder Woman and Shazam to keep things a bit brighter.

One of the effects of this is to make a show like DC Universe’s Swamp Thing stand out much less than it should have. Because it is grim and dark, and unlike most of the DC characters, Swamp Thing should be a darker show. It is set in a swamp, it involves bad people doing bad things and good people warped beyond human recognition. It has evil corporations and corrupt government officials. And, well, you get the idea.

And yet, because we’re increasingly accustomed to gritty and dark from DC, instead of being an interesting work striking a dissonant note with the rest of the canon, what is otherwise a perfectly serviceable series just feels like more of the same (I suspect that’s why DC didn’t bother to renew it for a second season–why do we need Swamp Thing when Titans has exactly the same tone?).

Still, if you’re the sort of person who appreciates dark themes in your TV, I’m happy to recommend Swamp Thing. It is well-cast with solid acting, coherent plotting, and (especially) a fantastic setting.

With that said, there are still some technical issues that could have been addressed without too much difficulty. For example, a show set in the bayou for some reason only has one person with any kind of accent at all (and of course, it’s the villain). Would it have been too much to ask to throw in a few rural Southern accents?

Likewise, it is apparently a rule somewhere in the script that people can only go into the swamp at night. I know this makes for more atmosphere (which they were clearly aiming at), but there are times when this becomes disruptive to the plot. As in, a character leaves to go to the swamp in the morning and when she gets there it’s after dark. Maybe this is a quibble, but it happened often enough to be noticeable.

Finally, I’ve been in the South. It is hot there. I realize it’s not great TV to have your lead actors covered in sweat 24/7, but again if we’re supposed to believe that these people are actually somewhere in Louisiana, then there were far too few people sweltering.

And that’s enough complaining. Like I said, this is a solid and well-made show. We follow Abby Arcane as she seeks to save her friend Alec Holland, who has been transformed into the Swamp Thing. Will she be able to find a cure before the bad guy gets his hands on Alec and carves him into pill-size miracle cures? (Told you it was a great plot!) Along the way, we get reflections on the nature of humanity, good and evil, the influence of the past on the present, and the familiar bonds that should tie people together.

We also see almost nothing whatsoever of the religion that is in reality all-pervasive across the rural South. And I think that’s important, especially given the presence of the Blue Devil and the clear Providential order at work in the world. Here is where we as Christians will resonate most with the film. Despite everything that has happened to the characters along the way, at no point are the moral and practical expectations on them lifted or lightened. This is as true of the villains as it is of the heroes, the difference is the ability of the heroes to respond appropriately, while the villains turn inward and attempt to rely on their own strength to change the circumstances they find themselves in.

And yes, that is vague–but I don’t want to give any spoilers. Let’s just leave this rambling review with the fact that this is an interesting series that is primarily crippled by its corporate setting, rather than anything internal to itself.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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