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Sound the alarms, a portal has opened up and all the creatures from Pan’s Labyrinth have escaped! You can find them on the set of Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
That’s the thing about Guillermo del Toro’s latest film, which he wrote and directed, it’s all way too familiar. If he wasn’t so talented at creating memorable creatures, it wouldn’t be a problem, but what was spectacular the first time starts getting stale the second or third time around. Fans of del Toro’s 2006 masterpiece, Pan’s Labyrinth, will recognize images such as the eyeball creature, the little flying nymph, the dichotomy between reality and the beauty and mystical world underground, and so on and so forth.
But it’s not just del Toro’s previous films that are echoed in Hellboy II. Other familiar scenes include Star Wars‘ bar scene filled with weird creatures, Kill Bill‘s sword fight, Men in Black‘s laboratories, Fantastic Four‘s mugging for the press, Galaxy Quest‘s rock monster, and possibly the cheesiest line in cinematic history since Andie MacDowell said to Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral, ”Is it still raining? I hadn’t noticed.” That’s quite a range of films.
To be fair, familiarity is not enough to discount Hellboy II — it has plenty of original problems that bog it down as well. Originally a comic book created by Mike Mignola, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) was the name given to a small red demon brought to this dimension by the Nazis to use as a weapon against their enemies. The U.S. government foiled their plans and the young hellion grew up to become the backbone of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, a secret government agency dealing with weird stuff. Big Red, however, wants a little public lovin’, so he’s never too concerned with keeping his identity secret.
Returning to his side are ladylove Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and colleague Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). Liz is a firecracker — literally she can self-immolate — and Abe is a water-based thingy with gills and webbed hands. Also back, as a less confident figure than before, is Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) joined by a new ectoplasm creature, Johann Strauss (voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane), who is the film’s Jar Jar Binks of annoying characters.
Whereas the original film focused on Hellboy’s struggle to self-identify as a man and not a demon, Hellboy II is about the struggle between humankind and creatures — and on which side Hellboy belongs. A long-held truce is threatened when elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss) tries to resurrect the Golden Army, a battalion of 70 by 70 soldiers (4,900 for the mathematically challenged). There is one crown that rules them all, and it’s a race between Nuada and the hell-squad to find the pieces.
Del Toro is so much better at creating the action sequences in Hellboy than he is at piecing together scenes that advance the plot. With the exception of a horribly dubbed voiceover of Hellboy as a child, the creatures he concocts are magnificent. New York takes another beating in this film, but it’s good old-fashioned car flipping, people running, heroes saving the day fun. Until people start talking again and things start to drag.
Most of the plot is paper thin, which is fortunate since the acting can’t support anything heavier. Sadly for the human roles, there’s a correlation between how much an actor’s face is hidden and the quality of his or her performance. Tambor’s performance is about as incompetent as his character is at keeping Hellboy a secret, and the only good thing about Blair is her haircut. It’s fierce. She’s not.
Perlman, who honed his ”acting through make-up” skills for the television series Beauty and the Beast, is by far the best component of the film. Perlman perfects the lighter side of Hellboy, bringing a touch of humanity to his unworldly red self.
As the movie reaches its conclusion, with plenty of opportunity for a third installment, it feels like del Toro just didn’t know when to say when. Many scenes go on a little too long — it’s like he couldn’t bear to remove anything. More film on the cutting room floor would have gone a long way to making Hellboy II a little less hellish and a little more original.