Sunday, December 7, 2008

In Brief: HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008)


Guillermo Del Toro's second collaboration with comic-book creator Mike Mignola is an improvement in scale and overall quality on the first Hellboy movie. As a comics reader and fan of Mignola's Hellboy comics, I resented the first efforts fumbling attempts to make its concepts more accessible to general audiences. Most of all I resented the inclusion of a typical "newbie" audience-identification character, to whom things can be explained, and who is thankfully gone from the new film. With the first film's success, Universal apparently conceded that we don't need to view Hellboy and his milieu through a "normal" person's eyes. Still, the movies aren't as hardboiled as the comics are. The title character is more a "no hugs, no learning" type in his original format and isn't nearly as angst-laden as his cinematic counterpart. But as much as I could do without romantic subplots in a Hellboy movie, I suppose they're necessary for the coveted general audience. Too literal a translation of comics source material into movies takes us into Sin City territory -- and in my opinion, that's not a good place.

The sequel strikes me as a more complete wedding of Mignola and Del Toro's styles. Apparently blessed with a bigger budget and boosted by the director's post-Pan's Labyrinth prestige, this looks like a more lavish film, but controlled by an artistic temperament. Sets and CGI are melded quite convincingly most of the time in well-conceived compositions. You know it's a Del Toro film because there are sewers. You know it's a Hellboy movie because there's a hilarious scene in which our hero is pummeled by a haunted locker, along with more dramatic encounters on a more monstrous scale. The filmmakers oversell the Hellboy-is-hated-and-feared angle, which never really comes up in the comics, but I guess that's part of imposing a character arc on him that he rarely needs in his home medium. My objections to the screenplay are aesthetic, not structural. If the film has a real fault, it may be a lack of any true sense of urgency in the menace. Faeries don't really rank with Nazis and Lovecraftian terrors in our hierarchy of nightmares, even if they're rendered as martial-arts badasses who could pass for Elric of Melnibone.


Prince Nuada wishes you ill in his capacity as villain of HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY.


The simplest test of a Hollywood genre sequel is whether you'd want to see another one. My answer this time is yes, but with Del Toro dedicated to The Hobbit for the immediate future, I wonder whether Universal would entrust the series to other hands, or whether I'd trust the series in them. On the other hand, I'd rather see Del Toro do more along the lines of Pan's Labyrinth and Devil's Backbone when he has free time, so the continuance of the Hellboy franchise under his flag would be a mixed blessing. As long as Mignola has some quality control over future productions, the series continues to hold promise. But to be true to the comics, they can't be afraid to go over old ground, as Hellboy can never fight enough Nazis. He hasn't yet had a proper fight with an ape on film, though, so there's a challenge for someone.

2 comments:

hobbyfan said...

I still don't know how Universal even got the rights to do Hellboy 2, since the first film was released by Dimension and distributed through Columbia, IIRC.

Crhymethinc said...

I've read online that del Toro's dream project is to bring Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness" to the big screen.