Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Movie Log: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

I've been a fan of Mike Mignola's Hellboy comics for more than a decade now -- though I missed the first movie, mostly because I was avoiding comic-book movies on principle for a while -- but I knew that Hellboy 2: The Golden Army was hooey even before the opening credits started. (Exceptionally entertaining, all-out-fun hooey, yes. Hooey with inventive and imaginative creatures and real strangeness to it, true. But hooey none the less.)

There's a voiceover at the beginning, explaining some events, long millennia or eons ago, when humans and elves battled and eventually came to a truce -- after which elves would get the woods and rural lands, while humans would stay in the "cities."

Hear that? It's the sound of me, and every other viewer with the slightest historical knowledge, spitting out our 96-ounce Cokes in unison. Right now, at this very second, only barely more than half of the world's human population lives in cities. In the cod-medieval world of Hellboy II's prologue, well more than 90% of the humans would have lived on farms -- in exactly the places this "pact" supposedly ceded to the elves.

So, unfortunately, I had a bad taste of bullshit in my mouth even before Hellboy II began. Yes, the opening animation under that voiceover was lovely and evocative, and, for a summer movie's backstory, the "humans will stay in cities" idea is only mildly stupid, but, still.

Anyway, the movie goes on from there, with a hotheaded young elf-lord deciding that humans are breaking the pact by living ever more compactly and tightly in cities. (Well, that's not what he says, because the script is resolutely stupid and politically correct on that point -- he's violently annoyed about pollution and global warming and loss of biodiversity, like an unholy cross between Al Gore and Elric.) So he decides it's time to kill all the humans, and tries to find the three pieces of the control mechanism for the elfin doomsday weapon of the title.

Hellboy and his fellow members of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are called in after the first uncanny event, and a number of fight scenes ensue. They're all quite good fight scenes, obviously done practically as much as possible, since the figures have real mass and weight as they stalk around each other. There's also an excellent visit to a fairy marketplace in search of clues, with an amazing array of grotesqueries. And, in the end, Hellboy and not-Elric battle for the fate of the world, deep beneath an Irish hillside, and I'm sure you know who wins.

It saddens me to think of the Hellboy movie that Guillermo del Toro could have made if it didn't have to be a summer tentpole: he has an eye for freakish creatures (and a sympathy for them) that's a perfect match for Mignola's sensibilities. This could have been a much smarter movie, and equally stylish. I suspect that Hellboy II was "too weird" for a big swath of the summer-movie audience, but, really, it's not quite weird enough. Even the relationships among the characters have been simplified and turned into cliches -- Hellboy and Abe Sapien (the fish-guy) both get girlfriends in this version, for Christ's sake.

I hear this one was better than the first movie, so I'm not sure if I should go back or just ignore its existence entirely. Hellboy II is an entertaining dark fantasy movie, but the director of Pan's Labyrinth could have made it so much better than he did.


RobB said...

"Hellboy II is an entertaining dark fantasy movie, but the director of Pan's Labyrinth could have made it so much better than he did."

That's kind of what I thought, potential for a better movie outweighs what is actually on the screen.

Anonymous said...

The first film is better than the second. I encourage you to check it out.

Jeff P.

Paul D said...

I strongly disagree that the second is better than the first. The second movie was terrible, the first was fun.

Nick said...

I *liked* the second one, in that it had the visuals Del Toro excels at with his creatures, but overall it was much lighter and more of a cliché comic book/fantasy tale than the first one, which went a lot further in developing the characters and making you care about them and their relationship to one another. The new character played by Seth MacFarlane had some entertaining moments, but for the most part HB and his crew took a backseat in their own movie to that elf story. The first movie has a lot more character development for our heroes, and is definitely worth checking out. I was expecting a lot more from the sequel based on the original...

James said...

Have to agree with a couple of others from above. The first movie was far better than the second one, which is too bad, because I had hoped for better.

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