(2008) dir. Guillermo del Toro
viewed: 07/25/08 at AMC Loews Metreon 16 with IMAX, SF, CA
Back in 2004, I ventured to the theater to see the “original” Hellboy, which was also directed by Guillermo del Toro, a director who has moved out of the moderate obscurity into the relative mainstream with the success of his last film, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), which gave him his alternate art house cred to match his action film cred. Del Toro’s career can be seen as two pronged, even though those prongs share similarities and aesthetic characteristics. His first side is his oldest side, in a sense, starting with his 1993 film Cronos, an odd vampire film from Mexico, with objects of blood extraction embodied in mechanical insects. Again in this vein, he made the very fine, The Devil’s Backbone (2001), which in many ways reflects his later work in Pan’s Labyrinth.
But del Toro also has his films that “pay the bills”. These are the action films, horror films, genre crap that in other hands is easily forgettable dreck. But for del Toro, being somewhat of an auteur, his films from both the “highbrow” and the “lowbrow” seem to fit reasonably well together, and they share his keen design aesthetic, not just as a filmmaker but as an art designer. His first of these was 1997’s Mimic, a sci-fi film with Mira Sorvino and giant cockroaches in the NY subway system. He later made Blade II (2002), a sequel to another genre action film and then the moderate failure of Hellboy, which was pretty lame (I saw it in the brief period that I was not updating this thing).
I’d heard that Hellboy II: The Golden Army was an improvement on the first, which was fine but forgettable. I’d even heard decent buzz about it.
But you know, it’s not really a whole lot better.
At its best, Hellboy II features a calvalcade of designs of del Toro’s monster notebook, which is actually really kind of neat. Lots of interestingly designed monsters and landscapes, which are pretty fun. And I like Ron Perlman as Hellboy. The design of the character is both cartoony and plastic, yet visually appealing. And his oddball cast of characters, creatures and weirdities. I’ve never read the comic from which it was adapted so I can’t comment back on that. But it’s fine.
But the movie was only decent at best, which are its action pieces and broader comedy.
When it strives toward emotion, the sentiment of romance, soppy friendship, love, significance…well it’s even crappier than the Barry Manilow song that it utilizes ironically in one of its more comic sequences. Even though the film makes fun of itself and its characters in points, there are other points of genuine attempts at true heartstring-plucking. And there, it’s just downright embarrassing. It makes you feel foolish for sitting there.
In the end, it was not that good of a movie. It’s entertaining enough, but it makes you wonder how deep is the depth of the stronger work of Guillermo del Toro. If he is truly an auteur, not just a stylist, then there should be more to mine and fewer grimaces to bear.