When people talk of sequels that are better than — or at least as good as — the original movie, a few familiar titles spring to mind: The Godfather Part II, Aliens, Spider-Man 2, Star Trek II, Evil Dead II etc. I'd like to add The Return Of Swamp Thing to that list.
Okay, let's be honest. The reason The Return Of Swamp Thing doesn't turn up on anyone's list of superior sequels is because, outside of the comics he comes from, no-one really gives a shit about poor old Swampy. Maybe he's just too different. He's not your average cape wearing superhero; he has his roots planted firmly (no pun intended) in the horror genre, and given his monstrous form, could easily pass for a supervillain in any other comic.
Like most comic characters, he's passed through the hands of various writers, so there are a couple of spins on his origin story. The original version had the scientist, Alec Holland, transformed into Swamp Thing when his laboratory was attacked and he ended up in the swamp, on fire, and mixed in with the plant life and the bio-restorative formula he'd invented. Whereas a later version by Alan Moore changed it to the plant life of the swamp trying to duplicate Alec Holland, with the physical Holland being dead, and only his memories remaining. The version we get here is the first one that Wes Craven used in the original movie. Less interesting perhaps, but what the hell, it's a movie about a giant plant.
Lower budget? It's hard to tell
Despite being shot on a reportedly lower budget than Swamp Thing, the FX look universally better than the Wes Craven film. In particular, the costume for Swamp Thing himself is much improved over the rather cheap looking rubber effort of the first movie. He looks gnarlier with lots of leaves, vines and other stuff growing from his body. The good costume design extends to the other monsters as well. Lower budget? If so, it's hard to tell.
As for the story, it's not much different from the first film. Heather Locklear, representing the best that eighties babedom has to offer (with Monique Gabrielle giving her a run for her money), spends a lot of the time being kidnapped and then rescued by Swamp Thing, as did Adrienne Barbeau before her. Like Barbeau's character, she's not a complete damsel in distress, unafraid to knee a guy in the ball sack should the situation demand it.
However, The Return Of Swamp Thing has an altogether lighter tone than Swamp Thing. Our swampy hero speaks a lot more, and more eloquently than the bad guys. Dick Durock who played him the first time round, appears to be having a lot more fun. In the sequel, he's less of a monster. Heather Locklear points this out in the film's human on plant love scene, when she says, "When I look at you, you know what I see? I see the soul of a beautiful human being." She delivers the cheesy line with just the right balance of pathos and humour (don't worry, having sex with Swamp Thing is okay, as she confirms that she's "a vegetarian").
Overall, the film is wittier, has better action, better special FX, and a faster pace that never falters. It deserves its place in the list of movie sequels that surpass the original.