Fri 11 Jul 2008
It’s the Guillermo del Toro version of “48 Hrs”!
2008 GOLDEN MUG NOMINEE:
Best Art Direction (Peter Francis (Art Direction), Elli Griff & Zsuzsa Mihalek (Set Decoration))
Best Costume Design (Sammy Sheldon)
Passing up the big budget “I Am Legend“, the forgettable (at least to me since I forgot it existed) “One Missed Call” and the upcoming “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince”, director Guillermo del Toro instead decided to continue with the Hellboy franchise and now his labors have sprung fruit with “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”.
Reuniting most of the original cast (Rupert Evans who played Agent Myers in the first film had a scheduling conflict), this time around it’s up to Hellboy and the crew to save the world from the machinations of Prince Nuada and his plan to raise the legendary and indestructible Golden Army.
As a fan of the first “Hellboy” film, I was awaiting director Guillermo del Toro’s second installment with decently high expectations. It comes as no surprise that the art direction and production design take a huge amount of inspiration from “Pan’s Labyrinth”. The creatures seem lifted straight out of that world … or was it the other way around, considering del Toro’s love for this comic book property? They are highly detailed, full of texture and attitude.
The opening sequence is a masterful artistic vision of childlike imagination mixed in with fairly dark themes as the story of the Golden Army is related to an adolescent Hellboy as a bedtime story. As we meet these characters in “real life”, their look and feel is superb and gives the film a great base to build upon. (I especially liked del Toro’s version of tooth fairies … it’s a little bit more menacing than some winged girl with coins to exchange.)
All of that would have been fine – if the film didn’t have such a problem maintaining a consistent tone … or more accurately, that it didn’t waver between tones so much (though it does so consistently). The first film was primarily a fantasy-action film with a glib sensibility thanks mostly to Ron Perlman’s wonderful characterization of Hellboy. In this installment, glibness appears to be an airborne virus because it transfers from Perlman to most of the other cast as the movie progresses.
This is most evident in the new member of the team, Johann Krauss, who is sent into take charge of the hard-to-control Hellboy. Also of the non-human variety, the role required a voice actor to make the character come to life. Instead of going for the stern German archetype (initially using Thomas Kretschmann), del Toro opted instead for Seth McFarlane – whom most people know as the man behind “Family Guy”. If you’re familiar with his work, just think German Stewie and you know how the voice is going to sound.
This type of flippant attitude courses through the veins of the film and aside from a few well-choreographed fight scenes, if you’re not being assaulted with glib remarks, you’re guffawing at the overly-sentimental sub-plots. Speaking of which, if you were ranking the important plot points, it would be 1. Rise of the Golden Army and 1a. The love story between Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Hellboy. While the trailers obviously hype up the action element of the film, there is a long stretch in the middle of the film that is devoted to characters longing for a love they may never be able to have which made the film’s pace slow down enough that you start to feel the film’s two hour plus running time.
I do want to give credit to Luke Goss who plays Prince Nuada. While I was being annoyed by the tone of just about everything else in the film, Nuada is consistently regal and arrogant. The character comes off as intelligent and supremely skilled in the art of battle (a credit to Goss’ physicality). Villains are the second most important element in comic book films (a good hero is first) and when they don’t come off as believable, the entire project fails (i.e. Fantastic Four“).
Really, what it all boils down to is the type of experience you’re looking to get out of “Hellboy II”. I liked the first film and was hoping for something closer to that than del Toro’s foray into action-comedy. It’s not that I don’t appreciate the talent that went into crafting this tale, it’s that it didn’t work for me (Much like “Pan’s Labyrinth” which left me nonplussed).
The screening audience seemed to like it okay and if you’re a big del Toro fan, I think this will fall in line with your expectations. Since I can’t rate a film based on anyone else’s enjoyment than my own, I’m afraid “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” could only garner a 2 out of 5. I wasn’t impressed, or interested, in how tongue-in-cheek del Toro made the franchise in this installment and that’s a bit of a problem … though I could fully understand fanboys and the like having a different reaction. Maybe I’ll just have to hope that if a third film ever gets made, del Toro skews it tonally towards the darker side and keeps Johann Krauss back in the Fatherland.