So the first thing that Swamp Thing wants you to know about swamps is that swamps are terrible.
Coptering into the movie on a super shitty afternoon, which communicates to me that they could only afford to rent the helicopter for one day and couldn’t wait for the rain to stop, here comes Ms. Adrienne Barbeau, all dressed up in a suit and a disdainful expression.
She’s flying in from Washington as part of a government operation that’s so secret, they won’t even tell the audience which branch they work for. There’s a scientist around here somewhere, under all the cloud cover, who insists on doing top-secret voodoo science in a rusty old whack shack out on the far edge of the forbidden zone, surrounded by two feet of water as far as the eye can see, and a lot of drippy, decaying junk that apparently we’re supposed to think of as “the environment” these days.
As far as I can tell, the scientist is supposed to stay locked up in the house all the time and recombine DNA or whatever; the one time we see him go outside for a minute, he gets screamed at for breaking protocol. So why does he need to have his lab in the middle of the least convenient location in the continental US? People say that remote work is the new normal but look what happens.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.4: Love and Death
“So what were your feelings about the film, once it was finished?” the friendly voice on the DVD asks director Wes Craven. “Did you have any, you know… expectations?”
“No,” Wes sighs. “And, you know, I didn’t work for two years after that. I felt like I’d had my chance and kind of blown it, and would probably never work again.”
Now, this is my third time approaching a movie like this, and what I’ve learned so far is that the DVD commentary helps me to define what the genre of this story is going to be. When I was talking about the making of Superman and Superman II, the story was a true crime podcast. For Swamp Thing, it’s a comedy of errors.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.3: It Wasn’t Wes’ Fault
It wasn’t supposed to be Swamp Thing, of course; Swamp Thing isn’t a “supposed to be” type character.
After Superman was a huge hit, the next superhero character to line up for a feature film was supposed to be Batman. The character had been around for almost as long as Superman, and was easily the second most popular DC character. It was Superman and Batman headlining World’s Finest Comics, and the Super Friends cartoon, plus there was that TV show that everybody liked.
Everyone in the world knew that if DC was going to make any more superhero movies, then the next character in line was Batman — except, of course, for every movie executive at every studio in Hollywood.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.2: Dark Genesis
We’re not in the North Pole, anymore. The scene has shifted from Superman’s pristine frozen hideaway in the Arctic, as we travel all the way south to the humid marshlands of Louisiana. The noonday sun hangs heavy in the cypress trees, and the air is alive with the susurration of insects, birds and reptilian mire dwellers going about their business, the sounds and smells of an endless tangled web of life, death and decay.
Slowly, from where you least expect it, a muck-encrusted mockery of a movie rises from the blog, a misshapen and misunderstood monstrosity that can only be called… Swamp Thing!
It is an ugly creature, unsteady and unkempt, but when you look into its eyes, you see the spark of intelligence and ambition buried within. It is strange, and it is alive, and it is the most important superhero movie ever made.
Continue reading Swamp Thing 3.1: The Birth of Modern Comics, But Not Yet
Okay, we’ve spent eleven weeks talking about this double-headed hydra of a sequel, and here’s the bottom line:
On its first weekend in June 1981, Superman II earned the highest opening-weekend box office in history: $14 million, which was twice the opening gross for the first movie. It actually knocked Raiders of the Lost Ark out of the #1 spot, which had launched just a week before with a relatively small opening haul of $8 million.
This state of affairs didn’t last, of course. Superman II held on to the #1 spot for three weeks, but then Raiders came back even stronger, taking #1 back and holding onto it for nine more weeks. Raiders continued to perform well all the way through March 1982, ultimately earning $212 million. The Katharine Hepburn/Henry Fonda family drama On Golden Pond came in second for the year with $119 million, and Superman II came in third, with $108 million.
Superman II‘s take was a bit below the first movie, which made $134 million in 1978/79, but it performed very well. The comparable films in its weight class didn’t do nearly as well (besides Raiders, obviously): the year’s James Bond installment For Your Eyes Only made $55 million, Greek myth fantasy adventure Clash of the Titans got $41 million, and the pulp fiction inspired Tarzan the Ape Man earned $36 million.
But as successful as the Superman movies were, they were always overshadowed by the breakout hits that were even bigger: Jaws, Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Return of the Jedi. The Superman movies could have been the iconic blockbusters of the late 70s/early 80s, if only George Lucas and Steven Spielberg had never been born.
Continue reading Superman II 2.55: One Hundred and Eight Million Dollars
With Lex Luthor and the three Kryptonian villains either imprisoned, abandoned or vaporized, and Lois Lane memory-wiped by an oscular neuralyzer, there’s only one problem left to resolve in the final scenes of Superman II, which is the punishment due to Rocky, a Canadian truck driver who’s mildly insulting when he orders a second plate of food at his favorite diner.
“Hey, Ron?” he grouches, midway through a mouthful. “Gimme another plate of this garbage.”
“Garbage?” retorts the crabby waitress. “That’s my number-one special, Rocky!”
“All right!” he groans, abandoning the argument. “Get me some more coffee too, will ya?” He doesn’t even say “please”. Clearly this man is a major threat to world security who needs to be mercilessly crushed before he strikes again.
Continue reading Superman II 2.54: The Scene of the Crime
So now I’ve got a new hobby/mission in life, which is to get really drunk and trash-talk all the terrible non-MCU Marvel movies on the film podcast The Signal Watch. In the latest episode, host Ryan Steans and I venture into the spooky haunted hospital of The New Mutants, the 2020 X-Men movie that you keep wondering if you should get around to watching at some point.
This is the story of five X-Teens trapped in a sinister prison orphanage mental hospital, unable to escape despite the fact that they are magnificent supermutants who could easily use their powers to wreck the place and run away. It’s the film that dares to tell the truth about how many bears there are inside you, and gives you step-by-step instructions on how to not do whatever the hell the spooky doctor who runs the institution is trying to achieve.
This movie has everything, including scolding therapy, hand puppets, lesbian romance, tambourines, a breathtakingly gorgeous naked dude, solitary confinement that looks exactly like their regular confinement, an inefficient email system, a guy who won’t shut up about working in the mines with his dad, and a cast of six annoying characters who fail at literally everything that they try to do.
Please come and join us on this adventure, because seriously we don’t want to be left alone with this movie.
Continue reading The New Mutants 86.1: Control Control Control Control Control and Control
After several harrowing showdowns with the forces of evil, Superman has liberated the Earth, returning all government, military and law enforcement power to the same people who had it before, which is obviously the right thing to do, and not something that anyone will regret later on.
Of course, there are some unfortunate aftereffects. There’s all the wear and tear on Mount Rushmore, for one thing, and a bunch of repair work that needs to be done around the Daily Planet building in Metropolis. Besides that, the world is going to have to figure out how to develop a new approach to global politics and international security, so that three mean people can’t take over the entire planet by blowing up a couple of monuments.
Most significantly, Lois Lane has sustained significant character growth, which will force her to make some difficult choices. She’s been following a dream that can’t come true, and understanding that truth, while painful, will ultimately help her to break out of an unproductive pattern and find a new path forward in life. So obviously we’re going to need to put a stop to that.
Continue reading Superman II 1.98: Here We Go Again
Yeah, it’s heartwarming when you cast an unknown and he breaks big, but the sudden transition from unknown to really quite exceptionally known can be jarring for a young star on the rise. Sure, Christopher Reeve had been in some plays nobody saw and spent a couple years on a soap opera that nobody liked, but as far as the world was concerned, he sprang into being fully-formed, as the ideal embodiment of a pop culture icon.
As we saw in yesterday’s post about the reviews, literally everyone who ever saw Superman thought that Christopher Reeve was utterly convincing, and perfect for the part. Even the critics who didn’t like the films had to admit that they fell under the spell of Reeve’s charm; if there were problems with the movies, then those problems were happening on the outskirts of the Reeve-controlled territory.
But the problem with being perfect at something is that you might not be perfect at anything else, which leads to disappointment once the thing that you’re perfect at is over. And that is the story of Christopher Reeve, starting from the release of Superman II. For the rest of his career, he’ll be chasing the dizzying high of “You’ve got me? Who’s got you?”, which will overshadow everything that he does, very much including the other two Superman movies.
So it’s right here, just before Superman II is finished and the rest of his life begins, that Christopher Reeve gets his next big break: being a guest star on The Muppet Show.
Continue reading Superman II 2.52: Light the Lights
“The original Superman,” said mean ol’ David Denby in New York magazine, “was one of the most disjointed, stylistically mixed-up movies ever made. The mystico-sublime rubbed elbows with low farce and pop irony, and everything gave way to disaster-movie squareness in the end. But now all is well.” Phew, that was a close one.
Continue reading Superman II 2.51: Hated the First, Loved the Second