Lookit: I understand the why so many people throw up their blinders when it comes to Hellboy and why so many more will do the same when watching Hellboy II. Guillermo del Toro throws a ton of eye candy at you, and it’s difficult to digest the true mediocrity of a film when the director keeps plinking you in the forehead with shiny pennies. But more than that, del Toro makes the shiniest pennies in Hollywood —golden pennies that reflect sunlight like a funhouse mirror in Alice’s Wonderland. When it comes to visual effects and fairy-land creatures, no one does it better than del Toro, and there is not a director past, present, or future who is more appropriate to helm the Hobbit movies. Hell, had he been given the LOTR trilogy, it actually would’ve deserved the scores of Oscars it won. Del Toro is not only a better special effects director than Peter Jackson, but more importantly, he’s a better story teller — he has a better sense of pace and an actual sense of humor, something that Peter Jackson seemed to have lost in the five-year interim between The Frighteners and The Fellowship of the Ring. Del Toro also has a keen sense of character, as well as an actual ability to self-edit, something Peter Jackson’s ego simply wouldn’t allow.
All of which makes you wonder why del Toro keeps wasting his time on a franchise so far beneath his talents. It’s not to say that Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a terrible movie, it’s just that it’s not worthy of del Toro. It’s a movie he could’ve given to a protégé, a second-unit director with a few films under his belt. Does del Toro elevate the quality of Hellboy II? Absolutely! But Robert Downey, Jr. undoubtedly made The Shaggy Dog a better movie, too, but it was still a fucking movie about a wooly mutt.
Likewise, Hellboy II is an empty spectacle — sound and fury and no goddamned soul. It’s like most British sketch comedy — you take away the accents, and you’re left with a bunch of guys in dresses running a joke into the ground. In other words: “Saturday Night Live.” Similarly, if you take the amazing special effects and the beautifully rendered creatures away from The Golden Army and you’re left with a dumb action comedy with a few sitcom elements, like gendered humor and a secret pregnancy. Indeed, aside from the visuals and the acting of Ron Perlman, there is nothing neither smart or creative in Hellboy II. Take, for instance, two guys getting drunk on canned beer and making fools of themselves by singing Barry Manilow, a scene that wouldn’t even make the outtakes on a Ashton Kutcher film, but for some reason, if the two guys are a demon with sideburns in a ridiculous muscle suit and Niles Crane with gills, we’re expected to laugh uproariously. P. Fucking. Shaw. It’s insulting, and we all know — after witnessing both Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone — that del Toro can do better; he knows how to weave a tale with equal parts enchantment, horror, and heart. Hellboy II, on the other hand, is just horror, a Saturday morning cartoon with a $70 million budget — lame action movie one-liners, two insufferably corny romantic subplots, and lines seemingly written by 12-year-olds playing war in the backyard; it’s also another in a long line of movies that believe that the words “YouTube” and “mojo” are funny, in and of themselves.
But, goddamn: It sure is pretty. The set pieces are eye-dazzling, del Toro’s obsession with clockwork and gears is sublime and so much fun to watch, and the little monsters and trolls and fawns and nightmarish details that make up del Toro’s universe are an absolute marvel to look at. Del Toro has created an undeniably remarkable, breathtakingly majestic modern art museum. Unfortunately, it’s just not a very good movie.
For those who are jumping into the second film without seeing the original, all you need to know from Hellboy is that Red is a demon from another dimension that was secretly adopted by the U.S. government in 1944 and that his fate is to one day destroy the Earth, a destiny he and his tortured soul has to fight against. The second film’s premise is laid out in a bedtime story delivered to a young Hellboy by his adoptive father (John Hurt) and told through a visually impressive puppet show, about a war between humans and elf creatures that took place back in the day. The creatures built an indestructible Golden Army of robots, which defeated the humans with such ruthlessness that the elfin creatures, suffering from guilt, were shamed into signing a pact with humanity, agreeing to put the Golden Army in storage and allow the humans to take the Earth’s surface, while the elves lived beneath it. There was one holdout, however, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), an exile who went into hiding until modern day, when he decided he wanted to merge the three pieces of the crown, reawaken the Golden Army, and destroy mankind.
In his way is Hellboy, a demon no longer secret to the public, and increasingly annoyed with the lack of appreciation humans show for him and his kind, “freaks” who work for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to save the planet from a more evil variety of freak. He is pitted in a war against his own kind, to defend a world that dislikes him. To boot, he’s also having relationship problems with his girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair), problems that basically amount to a demon’s version of being incapable of lifting the toilet seat. Unbeknownst to Red, Liz is also pregnant, and she needs some space to think. Meanwhile, Red is also dealing with a new by-the-books supervisor, a plume of smoke in a “Lost in Space” outfit voiced by Seth MacFarlane. Elsewhere, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is smitten with Princess Nuala, the elfin twin of Nuada who holds the final piece to reawakening the Army. She, too, is torn between her brother and humanity. Yet, despite a conceit that, in the end, is similar and more predictable than the shit-balls retarded twist in Hancock, I doubt many will hold it against del Toro.
Undoubtedly, Hellboy II is superior to the original — it lacks the plodding origins story of the first one, and though the narrative is no less preposterous in The Golden Army, it is at least a little more coherent and merely dips its nose into that mawkish bag of idiotic sentimentality, rather than dive bombing into it, as the original did.
Still, I don’t care what anyone says — a movie lives or dies by its storyline, and, in Hellboy II it’s severely underwhelming. Granted, for an action movie, the characters are well developed; there’s just not anything within them we can latch onto, identify with, or relate to. The creatures, like the plot itself, are all vessels for del Toro’s brilliant artistry, and in the sequel, even Ron Perlman — who owned the screen in the original — is overshadowed by del Toro’s multi-layered, dense imaginative world. There’s no denying it; del Toro has talent to burn, and enough passion to fuel all the homes in New England through a ghastly winter. It’s just too bad he’s using it as Freon to cool down the nation’s multiplexes with a story best left to amateurs.
Dustin Rowles is the publisher of Pajiba. He lives in Portland, Maine, where even the U-Haul employees are genial. Please feel free to leave a comment or send an email.All Geek, No Love
Film Reviews | July 12, 2008 | Comments ()