Swamp Thing 3.44: En Garde

Now, you’ll excuse me if I’ve got the scenario mixed up somehow, but I thought this fight over the formula was about who would control global food production and distribution.

“They will bow or starve,” said Caramel Kane, and there’s hardly anything left to bow to, so I’m holding out hope for a third option.

Predictably, it all ends in a mess, just a foggy, soggy sword fight in sector 3 that doesn’t really get us anywhere.

Swamp Thing’s opening move is to rush at Arcane and headbutt him in the shoulder, knocking them both over and accomplishing very little. This is a plant elemental, an avatar of the Green, who has the power to grow and regrow his body if you leave him on the windowsill. He could call upon the forces of nature, the pump and flow, the million messy miracles. We could see all the alligators and birds and pocket snakes in the swamp rise up against the monstrous intruder, and take their collective revenge.

Honestly, all they needed was Alessandro the cooper’s digger to show up at this point with an eyepatch and a flamethrower, and it could have been one of the great cinematic moments of our time.

Wes Craven can complain all he likes about the costumes and the schedule and the completion bond company throwing its weight around, but the fact is that the problem with the ending is entirely self-inflicted. All the major third-act mistakes were made at the script stage, which spends the last seventeen pages ignoring everything they’d set up in acts one and two.

This should be a grand, mythological struggle between greed and benevolence. Alec wanted to use the formula to feed starving children; Arcane wanted to use it to manipulate the supply chain. There are actual themes that you could touch on here, about Man and Nature and the limits of control. But I suppose that would get in the way of the big dumb fistfight.

So it doesn’t really matter that the costumes are ill-conceived and risible, or that it was hard to film a convincing battle sequence with rubber suit monsters in ankle-deep acidic swamp water. We shouldn’t be here at all. The whole thing could be solved by simply not doing this, and coming up with some other, more satisfying ending, preferably one that involves the lead female character doing anything other than getting stabbed.

Similarly, Swamp Thing bringing Cable back to life with the power of his magical golden touch is cheap and obvious, but again: not the actual problem.

The real problem is that Craven doesn’t know what to do with the romantic plotline. They spent most of the movie building a relationship between Cable and the monster, with occasional moments of real emotion. She knows this man, and cares about him, and might even love him, if they took a few minutes to discuss the logistics. Cable has a convincing character arc that, if managed appropriately, could have redeemed the movie.

Instead of that, Swamp Thing looks at her for a few seconds, says “It’s over,” and walks away.

This is simply baffling, for Cable and for the audience. After everything they’ve just been through, a two-word brush-off doesn’t make sense. He’s not even interested in having a conversation about it.

Now, I understand the theory here, which is that the sword fight was the exciting climax of the film, and once it’s finished, there’s a ticking clock on the public’s patience. There are two and a half minutes between the Arcane monster’s death and the beginning of the credits, and according to a particular understanding of what the movie is about, that’s two and a half minutes for the audience to get restless and start looking for their jackets.

But that only makes sense if you’re eight years old, and you think that the point of the movie is the physical fight between Swamp Thing and Arcane. The rest of us are interested in the resolution between Alec and Cable, and the way that’s handled is unsatisfying and unnecessary.

She calls after him, “Alec, let me go with you! You can start your work again!”

And he turns around, lifts up his hands, and moans, “With these?”

I’ll be your hands,” she says, and this is not about the science project. “Please?”

“You need to heal,” he tells her, like a chump. “You need to tell our story. I’ll see you soon.” None of these sentences make any sense, individually or as a collection.

He starts to walk away, but then pauses and turns back to face her, as if he’s just thought of a really good one. “Until then,” he intones, “I’ll always be with you.” Which also makes no sense.

This is a particular kind of narrative hygiene that filmmakers seem to think we expect from our comic book movies: that there needs to be some kind of stable status quo, with the superhero walking away alone, cut off from the people that they just spent 98 minutes creating emotional bonds with.

Superman II did the same thing, with Clark resetting Lois to factory settings rather than try to resolve the emotional situation that they were in. They also did it in Elektra, and The Batman, and Spider-Man: No Way Home, and probably several dozen others that we’ll come across as we continue this history. The friends and romantic partners are left behind, and the hero has to set out on his own, tragically choosing to have no choice but to leave.

But that’s how the story ends, and if it feels pointless and abrupt, then all I can say is: it’s over. Well, just about.

Tomorrow:
The final reckoning
3.45: Six Million Dollars

Chapters

— Danny Horn

13 thoughts on “Swamp Thing 3.44: En Garde

    1. Exactly what I heard here too.

      I still don’t understand why Arcane is fighting with a sword. That’s not what you’d expect a gruesome pigweasel to use vs. a hideous swamp monster. It’s this weird genre collision. Was it meant to evoke the sword of Conan or the light saber of the Jedis, trying to desperately latch onto some shred of a more popular movie at the end? To distract from the costumes? To give Arcane something to stab Cable with so Swampy could then heal her?

      If the Red or the Green had been invented in the comics by this point, it could have been a great duel between them. Swampy using the power of plant life and Arcane using animal life against one another. But then Arcane tries to use Alessandro against him, but Alessandro rebels and gives Swampy an opening to finish off Arcane. Then Swamp Thing and Alessandro could have gone off together, symbolizing the unity of the swamp and all its various forms of life, pointing toward a better future for all the world.

      Liked by 3 people

  1. “Honestly, all they needed was Alessandro the cooper’s digger to show up at this point with an eyepatch and a flamethrower, and it could have been one of the great cinematic moments of our time.”

    Oh Danny, why must you torment me with a perfection that can never be?

    Anyway…good luck getting out of the swamp, Alice! I’m sure you won’t have a bit of trouble in one of the most actively hostile ecosystems on the planet–filled with poisonous and venomous things, all of whom hate all humanity, by the by; where even the water wants to dissolve your flesh. You’re wearing a deeply practical outfit for this trek, so I’m sure…

    What? Why are you ruining my perfect walk away in lonely dignity, Alice? Start over? Actually try to achieve my goal I sacrificed everything for, especially since it’s been proved that greedy and amoral bastard men will do anything to re-find and gain control of it? Don’t be ridiculous, Alice. Look at my perfectly functional hands that in no way seem much different from my previous ones except for color and…

    You’ll help me? Aw, well, that’s sweet, kitten, but you just couldn’t possibly understand the scientific depths in which we’d have to plunge–yes, I KNOW you’re a highly trained operative and scientist yourself but–yes, I KNOW you’re obligated to be debriefed about everything and this entire area’s going to be swarming with soldiers in about forty eight hours but…

    Look, kid, it’s been real but Swamp Thing’s gotta be free. I’ll always be with you in that special way where I’m never around, okay? I left you a perfectly good ghost child; he can help you shoulder Arcane’s pig weasel corpse out of here for proof, what more do you want from me?

    Liked by 6 people

    1. I would have settled for Ray Milland in a wheelchair, lobbing disgruntled frogs at Arcane.

      I guess that the audience is meant to reach the conclusion that Swamp Thing, who now exists outside the normal world, cannot love Alice as he once did. And without that, all the rest is pointless. I suppose she could slather herself in the potion, set herself on fire, and dive into the swamp to become Swampella…

      (Has the comic book universe mentioned what (if anything) Swamp Thing eats?)

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I like the theory; wonder if it means that he changes colour in autumn, drops his leaves, and sits dormant through winter?

        Like

      2. I like the theory; wonder if it means that he changes colour in autumn, drops his leaves, and sits dormant through winter?

        Only if he’s deciduous, but I don’t think swamp fauna is.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. “The friends and romantic partners are left behind, and the hero has to set out on his own, tragically choosing to have no choice but to leave.”
    Oddly, this is also what happens at the end of the recent Poldark series where Ross Poldark leaves his pregnant wife to sail off to work undercover in France. So the ending is not limited to superheroes.
    I imagine one of the most famous uses is the ending of Shane, which at least shows it can be done memorably, if you’re not planning on a sequel.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. This trope is called But Now I Must Go (or Mary Poppins Syndrome). As with any trope, it can be overused or abused. Without any context, it’s just lazy writing…

    …although in this case I could buy that they needed a final long shot in case the suit fell apart.

    Liked by 5 people

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