Saturday, July 19, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008, Guillermo Del Toro)

One of the reason so many self-professed "geeks" feel a degree of affection toward Guillermo Del Toro is because he's always been something of a geek's geek, in that his work is clearly fueled by fanboy favorites like fantasy fiction, comic books, and classic fantasy movies. As much as anything by Peter Jackson or the genre films of Sam Raimi, Del Toro's films appropriate the highlights of his pop-culture-steeped youth (a touch of George Lucas here, a pinch of Ray Harryhausen there) while doing so in a way that makes the work feel inimitably his, rather than simply the sum total of his influences. Hellboy II is in keeping with this tradition, and while the film is a big-budget summer blockbuster, Del Toro hasn't had his creativity hemmed in, but rather has used his greater resources to create as many magnificent beasties and visual splendor as any film he's made to date. Some critics have complained that Del Toro's primary talent lies in creature design, but with so much creative richness on display it seems churlish to complain. Yet these detractors aren't exactly wrong either. While Hellboy II is awash in visual splendor, the human elements of the movie aren't up to that standard. Many of the more potentially dramatic elements in the narrative- the rivalry between Red and Agent Manning, the romantic subplot involving Abe and Princess Nuala, Red's conflicted relationship with the human race- are ignored for large chunks of time rather than exploited as they might have been by a more assured storyteller. The biggest casualty is the love story between Red and Liz, which should have been poignant but just kind of lays there for a while when Liz takes some time away and Red promptly gets drunk and sings Barry Manilow songs with Abe. It doesn't help matters that Selma Blair is too blank-faced and stilted to make the character work, and when Liz is supposed to be upset she mostly just comes off as a pouty high schooler, whether she's on fire or not. I was also disappointed by the new character of Dr. Johan Krauss, who is an intriguing idea (a sentient, super-intelligent gas being) but doesn't really work onscreen, partly due to the Sig Rumann-esque vocal stylings of Seth MacFarlane, creator of the godawful animated sitcom Family Guy. For his part, Ron Perlman is as perfect for the title role as ever, although it takes a while for Del Toro to really give him much to do here. Still, I enjoyed Hellboy II as a whole, and frankly I loved it in parts, especially when Del Toro really allows the audience to drink in the inventive visuals (the puppet-based prologue, the aftermath of the fight with the Elemental, the Star Wars cantina-inspired Troll Market). I anticipate the possibility of Hellboy III with a certain amount of pleasure, although if it does happen, I hope Del Toro has the good sense to find another co-writer to really keep the screenplay focused. Rating: 6 out of 10.


Jason_alley2 said...

Glad you dug it - I really enjoyed it. Probably my favorite big-budget movie of the summer so far (haven't seen "The Dark Knight" or "WALL*E" yet though).

The Troll Market scene actually reminded me more of "Nightbreed" than "Star Wars". I guess that's because even though "Nightbreed" isn't all that great a movie, I'm a much bigger fan of Clive Barker than I am George Lucas or "Star Wars".

Scott W. Black said...

Doubt there will be a "Hellboy III," what with del Toro now focusing on "The Hobbit" movies, which will probably take 5-6 years of his life. By the time they're done, Perlman will be in his early 60s and del Toro will have bigger fish to fry.