There’s a sadness at the center of Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army. A sadness that lends a poignancy to the humor and action that was sorely missing in the first Hellboy film, which after being a huge fan of Del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and Blade II, I was very much looking forward to, and never really ended up liking. Hellboy II lives up to that promise.
Del Toro, like fellow comic book director Christopher Nolan, is a master of plotting and pacing. So even when Hellboy II makes some jumps in story logistics you’re carried along without feeling the bump in the road. It begins as Pan’s Labyrinth did, with a bedtime story about an evil army of Golden soldiers, so from there you know it gives itself permission to go anywhere.
Del Toro’s visuals are crisp and his color palette is glorious. The worlds he creates and places he takes us to make you feel like you’re a kid again. Again, like Pan’s Labyrinth there’s mystery and fantasy right underneath our very feet.
Ron Pearlman has perfected Hellboy’s attitude. A dark huckster; he takes little serious until something pisses him off. His big man dialogue is his way of wanting to sound like hero’s from comic books, it’s his desire to be recognized by the world. And he has a worthy, memorable opponent this time, a Prince of a lost civilization, one that seems as driven by his sadness and pride as his obliging personality to commit acts of evil onf our human race. One that realizes the attention Hellboy desires can never be found. It’s a credible dynamic that unfolds between the two. He would have been my favorite villain this year if it wasn’t for the two Batman has to face.
The rest of Hellboy’s crew is just as memorable this time. Each adding to that poignant sadness is character and performance.
Hellboy II and his friends face off with all kinds of mythical creatures out of del Toro’s famous sketch book. Thankfully del Toro isn’t stupid. He remembers how cool Star Wars was before CGI took over. His creatures invoke the old school joy of Jason and the Argaunats or Clash of the Titans. Some of them are actually kind of scary…like the Tooth Faries or the strange creature that lends a helping hand and about twelve eyeballs later in the film. They’re almost perverse in their creation but entrancing in their wicked personality. That such beatuy and horror can live in the same creature is all a part of del Toro’s creative mystique.
When our hero enters a hidden city you feel the presence of the creatures around him. Their faces have texture. He bumps into them. They physically grab him. This isn’t the CGI mush that seems to fill up no space on screen or that even Ewan Magregor has problems acting against (Jar-Jar anyone?), but a spectacle so wonderful it will hopefully slap some of the other big name directors into using the new latex technology that’s been created and can be used…and should be used
When the villainous Prince reminds us that it will be a sad day when the creatures of magic die, he very well could be referring to when other filmmaker’s become so enamored by their digital toys they forget the joy and magic all together of a real actor under a mask. I forbid and fear that coming day. Talk about an apocalypse.