July 17, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Funnier, looser, and more fun than the original, Hellboy is the rare box office flop which got a miraculous second chance. Writer / director / visionary / Mexican wunkerkind Guillermo Del Toro pulls out all the creative stops in a wonderful blend of Men In Black, Lord of the Rings, and X-Men. Words like "vision", "inventive", and "unique" get overused in Hollywood, but they all apply here. Every beastly character has a special Guillermo stamp to it- and exciting blend of Star Wars-style beasts with impossible fairy tale imagination. This movie has got me even more thrilled that Del Toro is directing two Hobbit movies!
The returning cast is much looser and sillier in this story- Hellboy's relationship with his girlfriend is causing them both grief; Abe Sapien is lovesick over a princess; and their boss resorts to bribery (Cuban cigars) to keep rebellious Hellboy in line. In the introductory scenes at their headquarters, the unloved boss (Jeffrey Tambor) strolls down a hallway, griping about employee morale. The tone is the same as any workplace drama, except Tambor is talking to a turquoise fish-man in leather pants, and unholy creatures squirm and roar through every doorway. The contrast is hilarious.
The plot was your basic fairy tale construction: A long exiled, but powerful and determined prince, royalty of all the beasts and creatures of earth, seeks the magical pieces of a crown which will allow him to wage war against humanity. Despite his devious and murderous nature-- and his hatred for humanity-- the prince is quite sympathetic. After all, this is a movie, like the X-Men films, where all our heroes are "freaks", separated from humanity by their uniqueness. All our protagonists have a beef with humankind, so they all can relate to the prince's anger.
Del Toro did a fine job trying to balance the pacing with the texture of the movie. My wife and I agreed that the movie was a little soggy in the middle- there's maybe a scene or two where I was getting itchy for some plot movement- but the trick is to keep the detail and texture which makes the movie interesting but also keep the pace up, especially in the last third of the movie. Unfortunately, the area which needed the briskest pace included one of our favorite sequences- Hellboy and Abe get drunk and discuss their women trouble, including an off-key singalong with Barry Manilow. I wouldn't want this scene removed, but this was the critical area where the pace should be quickening, not slackening. I should consider it a minor miracle that most movies' pacing turn out so well, when you have to judge them by a screenplay, months or years before any footage is shot.
I have never read the Hellboy comic books- hell, I didn't see the first movie all the way through until a week ago-- but part of me occasionally cringed at the marshmallowy emotions and silly slapstick which the Hellboy character endured in this movie. Is he really like that in the comics? I guess I shouldn't care if I have never read one.
I hope this movie's tight budget (reportedly $85 million) combined with good receipts, means we may see another Hellboy someday. Del Toro may be too busy making the Hobbit movies to get around to it anytime soon, so The Golden Army will have to do for awhile. (AMC Boston Common with my wife, plus les freres Pelletiers)