Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Retro Review: Hellboy II - The Golden Army

 (editor's note: After last week's Retro Review for The Dark Knight Rises, the Cap'n realized there was a series of Blogorium posts from 2008 that never made the transition from our old stomping grounds to the new one. As a result, it seemed like a good idea to share some other reviews that had been otherwise "lost" over the past four years).

I wish I knew what to tell you guys about Hellboy II: The Golden Army. I really do. But I don't even know how I feel about it right now, so it's hard to start hyping it up or tearing it down. That's the problem, really: it's not really bad or really good. It just is, and I'm not sure that's what I or any of you were looking for.

Hellboy II is a labor of love for Guillermo Del Toro, and believe me, it shows in every frame. There's some amazing creature work in this film, and not just during the Troll Market. Johann Krauss is, despite the lack of discernable face, body, and the voice of Seth McFarlane, a wonderfully realized addition to the cast. Everything you like about the first movie is totally intact and probably even better, but I feel like there's something missing.

For one thing, I never bought Hellboy's moral dilemma about whether he defended the right side. It's true that the movie plays grey with the "humans vs fantasy creatures" storyline, but not really as far as our main characters are concerned. The "hard" decisions they have to make don't really have any impact during this film whatsoever, so the gravity of their choices (particularly Liz's) don't register unless there's another Hellboy film in the future.

On the other hand, it is really silly, which is a good thing. When I say silly, I mean Mignola silly, in the same way that conversation Hellboy has with the kid in the first movie has a goofy tone. There's a scene with a drunken Hellboy and Abe that has no right to be as amusing as it is, because in any other film you'd be groaning instead of chuckling.

The action is similarly well staged, especially the fight at the end with The Golden Army, and I particularly enjoyed the way Krauss gets involved. The Troll Market is a veritable visual feast of things to look at, and many people will be pausing their Blu-Ray's of Hellboy II just to dissect this scene. The Elemental sequence, for as short as it actually is, is something to behold, and as close as the movie gets to where I think Del Toro was trying to go thematically.

I can't imagine telling anyone who enjoyed Hellboy to avoid this movie: there's simply to much to see and to savor in this film, and I haven't even talked at length about Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, or Doug Jones (who gets to be the body and voice of Abe Sapien this time). I didn't mention the "tooth fairy" sequence that takes the "Ants" sequence in Indiana Jones and turns it up to 11, but some surprises should be left to discover.

What I wonder about Hellboy II is that if I wasn't too overwhelmed by the myriad distractions visually, because the story didn't make much of an impression to me. There's an Edward Scissorhands tone throughout the film, and a sense of melancholy, but it just doesn't register where it needs to with Hellboy, Liz, and Abe. Something happens to Abe over the course of the movie that never gets a proper addressing at the end, partially because Del Toro opts to go for an upbeat, albeit bizarre coda.

So yeah. I don't know how I feel about the movie. It seemed like the people I saw it with didn't like it, which also doesn't help in sussing out the movie. Judging by the not-so-large audience for an opening night, the dreaded "box office numbers" may bury this film before its time, or worse still, it could damn the film with faint praise, as I feel I am.


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