Monday, March 1, 2010

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Recently, I finished gushing over District 9 [2009]. The film moved me in ways difficult to articulate into words. I could hardly collect my thoughts for a cohesive entry it was so overwhelming in its affect on me. Last night, The Boy Wonder took in Director Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II: the Golden Army [2008] with me. It was a nice time for us to have a laugh and it was very spontaneous. He happened to come along after some computer gaming and I happened to be popping it into the Blu-Ray player.n He stuck around for it. The visuals for the film can certainly capture the attention of any child. But, District 9 is in another stratosphere.

What can I say about Hellboy II: The Golden Army? Hmm, more on that in a moment. Director Guillermo del Toro is an extremely talented fellow. He's a visionary. His films are certainly fantastical and have a distinct look all their own. Pan's Labyrinth [2006] was certainly an immense artistic achievement for him. It's his best to date in that capacity and perhaps his pinnacle so far. Blade II [2002], which he directed, was easily the best film in the Blade trilogy. It's the only film of the three I own and it's a credit to del Toro who knows how to make an action film with real make-up and real creature effects. He never relies solely on CGI and is generally more than willing to expend funds on the creature effects department. Thank you. The aforementioned Blade features his go-to-guy Ron Perlman. The gross out creepfest that was Mimic [1997] saw del Toro breakthrough. Mimic is a terrific little scare film and worth a look. I've yet to see the Devil's Backbone [2001] or Cronos [1994], the latter including del Toro mainstay Ron Perlman. If they are worthy viewing from his cannon of films please let me know.

Who knew Ron Perlman would someday be del Toro's Hellboy. I certainly can't picture a better casting choice in the role. He is the perfect Hellboy. I'm a huge fan of Perlman's work too. He's made some tremendous appearances in other films including Director Jean-Jacques Annauds' Enemy At The Gates [2001], Director Jean-Pierre Jeunet's Alien Resurrection [1997] [one of the best things about this Alien film and the last decent one of the franchise thanks to the visual flair of Jeunet's effort] and the recent TV series Sons Of Anarchy. Perlman likes the Jean [hyphen] directors. He's an undeniable presence on the screen beyond his imposing physical characteristics, though they certainly help. So with these two amazing talents, director and actor, how could it go wrong? Right?

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a visual parade. It is a beautiful picture to see the many creations of del Toro come to life. It's a bit like a stroll through the cantina on Tattoine. But underneath the spectacle is the substance or lack thereof as it were. I was quite optimistic, but the middling reviews for the film definitely rang true for me as well. After seeing the first film, Hellboy, in which I left the theatre kind of ho-hum on the matter. The sequel left me with much the same feeling. It certainly isn't as dark or weighty as Pan's Labyrinth, but all of del Toro's unique characters were very much on display as they were in his aforementioned heavily-nominated film. There's a fanciful appeal about Hellboy and humor is sprinkled in at the right intervals. Still, I believe it wasn't quite funny enough. The dialogue on the whole is a little flat. It's hard for me to put my finger on it, but I think the clip offers a good example of the material.

I'm certainly not a Hellboy fanatic. I don't know the least little bit about Mike Mignola's creation other than I like his artwork. I don't have the slightest idea whether the motion pictures stay true to the comic or not, but as movies go Hellboy continues to be either mildly disappointing or mildly satisfying in result depending on whether you're a glass half-empty or glass half-full type. Given all of the wondrous work and effort going into these films you somehow expect a bit more. I may be wowed by the visuals but I'm just never entirely captivated or invested in the way District 9 grabbed me by the head, heart and throat. My brain needs more.

Perhaps the greatest point of interest in Hellboy's struggle is with humanity. While he is its greatest savior from all things supernatural he is not beloved by the folk and he is constantly at odds with them. Hellboy also presents parental void issues since his father passed away and he was the one man that embraced him and taught him everything he knows. This is never fully explored. The love story aspect for partner Abe and Hellboy, with their respective counterparts, is mildly intriguing, but underwhelming. It is the struggle between acceptance and exile by humans that is the biggest point of interest in Hellboy, but this concept is never firmly scripted or delivered in either film. It's subtle most of the time, but when this theme is pointed out it feels overly contrived or by design. There is also the concept of human progress and our impact globally on the environment. This too is essentially the reason for the film, the backdrop, for the ensuing war that would climax in the battle against the Golden Army. It's definitely breezed over in comic book style, which I suppose makes sense. The world of Hellboy just never gains enough traction for me to take it seriously. I'm probably missing the point to some extent, but I'm definitely missing something.

Hellboy: The Golden Army is a nice diversion with interesting ideas, concepts and designs. I love the whole superhero team motif of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense [BPRD], but as cool as this cast of fascinating characters is they never entirely win me over. They didn't do it in the first film and they didn't do it here. I don't know if it's the material on the scripted page or not, but there's never been substantive development of the characters. One thing is certain, I am more inclined to love science fiction and maybe even more forgiving for it when it falters or struggles. While those elements are in play here it is tainted heavily by the fantastical and I'm never thoroughly absorbed by it. I enjoyed the Lord Of The Rings too, but I'm not a lover of fantasy otherwise this might be Musings of a Fantasy Fanatic. Hmm, sounds good. Someone should get started. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a massive attraction that lures you in, but once those fingers hit the bottom of the popcorn bucket or lick the fingers of the cotton candy the carnival is over and I'm ready to move on.

I still think Guillermo del Toro is an auteur in his field and will continue to look for whatever comes next from the man. If Hellboy is revisited I think the story and writing will need to be more compelling, because the style and visual formula is perfect as is. A mild recommendation especially for the spectacle and a look at Hellboy's gun, the Big Baby. That gun is just sick! Well, that, and the incredible cool of his Right Hand Of Doom.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army: B

Guest appearance: Roy Dotrice [1923-present]. The actor is a small player in the science fiction universe, but given his appearances in both Babylon 5, The Fall Of Night [1995] and Space:1999, Breakaway and Earthbound [1975] I thought he deserved mentioning. He plays Elf King Balor, father of Prince Nuada, opposite Luke Goss as Nuada. Who knew former boy band singer in British outfit Bros would be a reliable character actor. He also appeared in del Toro's Blade II. Anyway, Dotrice has certainly come a long way since Space:1999. You can click here for his appearance in Babylon 5, The Fall Of Night, or here and here for his two appearances in Space:1999, Breakway and Earthbound respectively. Here he is in heavy make-up in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.


Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I'm glad you admitted later in your review of Hellboy II: The Golden Army that "I am more inclined to love science fiction and maybe even more forgiving for it when it falters or struggles", because it tells me that you arrive at fantasy films with a built-in bias. We all have biases, but most people aren't honest enough to admit them -- especially in reviews. My bias: I am a huge Hellboy fan and have been reading the Mongola comics (Hellboy, B.P.R.D., and all the other spin-off mini-series) since day one. Early in your review of HB2 you admitted that "I don't know the least little bit about Mike Mignola's creation other than I like his artwork. I don't have the slightest idea whether the motion pictures stay true to the comic or not". Guillermo del Toro is a fan of the comics, but he has taken many liberties (with Mike Mongola's permission) with the Hellboy universe. Most of his changes in the first movie I understood. I liked Hellboy a lot! HB2 diverges even further from Hellboy mythology and I had a harder time accepting that. Still, taken on its own Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a fun fantasy film, with some great fight scenes, unique characters and stupendous visuals. I'm going to post my old fanzine newsletter review of it on my blog soon, so if you want to read my full rant on it you can check it our there: I have seen all of del Toro's films and highly recommend Cronos (to Perlman and genre fans) and The Devil's Backbone (to foreign film, art film and ghost film fans). I'm a big Lord of the Rings (film) fan too and am psyched to see del Toro's The Hobbit!

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Points well taken Doc. Even classifying it as science fiction is only partially correct.

I felt it was only fair to differentiate my love for fantasy versus science fiction. Still, I never feel as though I go in biased, but my affection is probably stronger for the sci-fi otherwise Fantasy might have made it into the title of my blog. : )

You clearly have a command for the genre and Mike Mignola. I am definitely intrigued by his work as well as Del Tororo's. I'm a huge fan of Blade II.

I'm happy to hear you recommend the films I have not looked at. I'm always open to foreign films and films with subtitles. No problem for me. I'm definitely interested and given your reference to the genre I will go in with lower expectations, but I will check them out [someday].

TKU for all of the Hellboy input and I'm definitely keeping an eye on your site. Lord Of The Rings is a winner, but I can definitely see where fans of the genre or of Hellboy would enjoy these works even more than my casual self.

But again thanks and I'm glad you took my thoughts with the honesty for which they were delivered.

Fritz "Doc" Freakenstein said...

I read reviews of films (and everything else) not to echo my opinion of the work in question, but to get a different perspective on it. My theory is that non-Hellboy-comics fans would like the films more than Hellboy-comics fans would. I check up on fan reviews of the HB films for this reason. I'm still not sure my theory is accurate. BTW: I'm an admitted huge Hellboy fan, but I managed to misspell its creator's name (twice) in my posted comment! Mike Mignola! Mike Mignola! Mike Mignola! Mike Mignola! Mike Mignola! There. Now maybe I'll get it right.

The Sci-Fi Fanatic said...

Ha. Don't you hate when that happens? I agree. Perspectives offer new shades on subjects you love. I'm with you. It's always interesting when you run across someone who looks at something a little differently.