Friday, July 11, 2008

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army"

"Pan's Labyrinth" (my favorite film of 2006) alerted the world to what many of us have known for years, which is that Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most simultaneously visionary and joyful filmmakers working today. Though he alternates between more somber, unique, personal films (such as "Pan's," "The Devil's Backbone," "Cronos") and hyperkinetic, big-budget Hollywood action fare ("Blade II," "Hellboy," "Mimic"), regardless of which he's making, it's guaranteed to be strange, wildly creative and monsters will somehow be involved. The fact that "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" even exists is proof of his determination and integrity as a filmmaker; The first "Hellboy" hardly set the box office on fire, nor did it seem to develop a cult following. Certainly, no studio had any incentive to want to make a sequel, but Del Toro felt he had more to say and do with the character. Taking advantage of his recently-earned clout from "Pan's," he got this sequel made, and as such, it's a superhero movie/creature feature with genuine feeling and emotion -- the perfect balance of his two core sensibilities.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has always been an unconventional hero in every possible sense (his catchphrase is "Oh, crap"), and here, Del Toro gets a lot of mileage out of the character's almost-pathetic need to be liked by the public, and his sincere contemplation on whether humanity really deserves to be saved. When he's not battling giant fauna monsters or little "tooth fairies" that latch onto you and eat away at your teeth, bone and flesh, he's working out serious personal issues with amphibious Abe Sabien (Doug Jones) and his fiery main squeeze Liz (Selma Blair). There's much metaphysics, introspection and contemplation going on here, but Del Toro never misses opportunities for affectionately funny character moments. Where the first film had a considerable sense of humor, this installment is practically an outright comedy, and unlikely enough, the balance between the humor and the action completely works. The best sequences combine the two elements, like the soon-to-be-infamous Troll Market scene, with a different grotesque creature seemingly lurking in nearly every part of the frame.

Like the first film, the narrative thread holding everything together is noticeably shaky. The action scenes, while uniformly spectacular, are largely standalone set-pieces and don't really unfold organically. But this criticism is merely an afterthought; while the movie's going on, you're too caught up in the dazzling imagery (such as an angel of death with a dozen eyes adorning its wings), boundless creativity, good-natured humor and troubling moral complexity. Whereas even the more-admired of recent superhero fare has been fairly glib and simplistic, this is a movie made with a geek's sensibility and the sense of wonder and enthusiasm should be infectious to all but the most slack-jawed audience members (I heard a "That shit wuz stupid" on the way out). Del Toro has staged numerous things here that I never thought I'd see in a movie (Hellboy and Abe drunkenly singing along to Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" comes to mind), and it's hard to be anything besides appreciative. What general audiences will make of it, I don't know/care, but it's the sort of tremendously entertaining, unrelentingly strange popcorn flick you could watch multiple times and still be wowed by.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so sorry to say this- but I felt like this movie was a mess. A train wreck. I agree Del Toro is a visionary guy. Pan's Labyrinth was a tragic, touching, and disturbing visual masterpiece. And while there is much visually here to faun over (such as the amazing array of gorgeous monsters)- this movie felt like it was trying its hardest to prop up a script that could barely pass the standards of a late-in-the-series Xena episode, around the time where it tried to become a comedy.

The characters were contrived and two-dimensional, the conflicts always felt staged and emotionally artificial (I am reminded specifically of the scene where Hellboy kills off that stunning plant god, only to have the crowds yell random slurs against him in the most unconvincing "angry mob attacks the misunderstood hero" scene I have ever witnessed.)

The main conflict, though, was the biggest offender. Why, when discovering that this Elf prince was physically linked with his sister, does the insanely intelligent Abe Sapien rush off to give him the final piece of the crown fearing for her life? Isn't it obvious that there is no possible way he could hurt or kill her without killing himself? It was actually that very "plot twist" that rendered this super-villain as harmless as a kitten, and it was everyone's unconvincing ignorance of such an obvious Achilles Heal that made me infuriated with its ending. From the very moment that little plot point was revealed to the audience my immediate reaction was "she will sacrifice herself to stop him". And not only did my prediction prove true, but it was done in the most insanely useless climactic scene ever. (I won't spoil it, but it is the prettiest unnecessary, useless, and ultimately boring fight I have ever seen).

All in all this movie almost felt like Del Toro spent all his time and money on gorgeous sets, concept pieces, costumes, and prosthetic so that when it came time to actually make the movie the only person they could find to write the plot and dialogue was a homeless crazy man with an elementary school education outside the Seven Eleven where he went for slurpies after he finished each costume.

5:04 PM  

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