Swamp Thing Review: A Slowed-Down Mystery With Horror Trappings

After action-packed premieres for both Titans and Doom Patrol, Swamp Thing slows things down — way down — and introduces its title hero in the third act, spending its hour-long pilot establishing supporting characters and the world of Marais, Louisiana. ComicBook.com has screened the first two episodes of the new series, which debuts next week on DC Universe, and so far, it is a bit slow, with some dull and obvious choices made by the filmmakers.

The actors all provide likable performances, even if they play to type so much that you can close your eyes and imagine Steven Weber in the role of Alec Holland. Crystal Reed is charming as Abby Arcane, the series’ true lead, and completely believable as a small-town girl who becomes an elite doctor, with a competent but folksy bedside manner and a genuine compassion for the people in her care. Her father, Swamp Thing arch-nemesis Anton Arcane, is teased but not seen in the pilot, setting up a likely big reveal later on.

In addition to Andy Bean channeling Steven Weber, Swamp Thing gives some Warner Bros. Television veterans familiar work: RJ Cyler, who played a teenage computer whiz in the second season of Black Lightning, comes to Marais to play, if not a computer whiz, at least the only one with a functional understanding of computers in his first scene. Henderson Wade, the handsome and mysterious sheriff from Riverdale’s second season, enters the series as Matt Cable, Marais’ handsome and mysterious sheriff. Maybe it’s coincidence, or maybe director Len Wiseman was being rushed through the pilot. Either way, it seems like they made some pretty on-the-nose casting choices.

The horror elements of the series take center stage — not really a surprise in a pilot from the director of Underworld and the producer of Saw and The Conjuring. Introduced with no explanation, those elements offer a tantalizing look ahead at Swamp Thing’s aesthetic — an important choice given the paucity of actual Swamp Thing in the Swamp Thing pilot. That said, the horror elements don’t play like The Conjuring or Saw; they feel more like a mystery with horror trappings, and that might make some fans feel like the episode plays even slower than it really does. It’s a deliberate choice, though: Alec Holland asks Abby Arcane during their first real conversation, “Do you like mysteries?”

Considering that Len Wiseman and James Wan both come from a background of feature films with cool visuals and interesting approaches, the safe, boring choices made in the Swamp Thing pilot are a bit of a letdown. Everything from shot choices to music cues feel very by-the-numbers. With a muted color palette and a low-fi look to most of the series, there is very little in Swamp Thing that could not have been part of the original TV series, which ran from 1990 through 1993. Combined with the casting choices noted above, the whole affair has a somewhat generic feel.

By the second episode, the pace starts to pick up somewhat and the series starts to come into its own, but after two hours in the swamp, it has not yet shaken that feeling that everything here is something you've seen before: Wynonna Earp by way of Constantine with an Outbreak twist.

It isn’t that Swamp Thing is bad, but Swamp Thing is certainly nowhere near as ambitious as Titans or Doom Patrol. Is it unfair to judge it that way? It’s difficult to say, but it’s much safer to say that the audience will be doing the same.

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Rating: 3 out of 5

Swamp Thing is set to release May 31st on DC Universe. This review is based on screeners for the first two episodes.

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