Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Anna Walton, Luke Gross
Director: Guillermo Del Toro
Runtime: 120 min.
Genre: Action, Fantasy
I have a problem of simple logic here that drove me crazy during the X-Men films too. You see, Wolverine is the hero and all, but I mean he really doesn’t add up to a whole lot more than pure beastly power and metal fingers. The other character, the one who can control the weather and summon thunderstorms at will, Cyclops was it, she could cause a lot more damage. Yet she is always on the sidelines, and she never seems to put her huge source of potential energy to any effect. Now I know, Hellboy, he is plenty more powerful and resourceful than Wolverine, but when it comes to a horde of millions and millions of little creatures that feed on calcium and which reduce the human body to zilch within seconds, it makes for better practical application of fighting prowess if Liz just used her firepower straightaway. But no, they don’t, and a good part of time is spent where they just shoot valuable rounds at these creatures as two of the agents BPRD (Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense) are consumed totally, bones included. That is wrong, and borders on downright cruelty because this is a film suitable for kids and people are killed for no reason other than for the director to indulge in a vanity showcase of his imaginations. That makes me realize all the heart and compassion for all the creatures of the world in the film is shallow in nature. I mean, the forest king’s death is sad, but what of the giant monster that Hellboy lets die.
Guillermo Del Toro might be a man the limits of whose imagination might not know finite boundaries, but I’m not sure he’s capable enough of channeling them in a manner so as to have his world engulf us, and more importantly impress upon us. I’m not sure he really bothers about economy to his style, nor does he exhibit any method to them, and as a result Hellboy II feels like a visual orgy, a vomit of creatures that have sprung uncontrollably out of his mind and have been hurled upon us. It is a different matter altogether that the troll market he has designed feels straight out of any Star Wars movie with strangeness being the order of the day, and there’s a whimper of an action sequence where a giant forest king attacks Manhattan and when destroyed dissolves into greenery all around reminding us of that Miyazaki masterpiece Princess Mononoke. It seems Del Toro, throughout the film, doesn’t really know how to thread these imaginations into proper and involving action sequences, and everyone of them start abruptly and end abruptly with little or no cohesiveness to them. They’re merely gigantic, and not necessarily entertaining or satisfying. There is a left a resident feeling that there could have been something more done.
Now, such problems arise because of a weak script and Hellboy II has a terrible one. It is clunky, and it has little or no structure. The developments are either clumsy or downright obligatory. And there’re loopholes so huge and so deep they could have been filled with the Golden Army ten times over. Not that I necessarily mind that, because Hellboy II is a cheerfully stupid film, and admittedly so. But when Liz burns an artifact in the dying minutes of the film, it questions the very existence of the whole film, and such flaws leave a bitter taste in the mouth. I’m ever ready to submit myself to the magic of a film and ready to overlook minor flaws so that I could stay in the spell. But Hellboy II had flaws that bludgeoned this spell, howsoever willing I was to look away from them. Flaws of such nature make you question yourself if the film deserved your investment in it at any level except for the escapist sort, because in its turn it has just cheated us by being careless and shallow.
As I say in such cases, I say again, with a shrug, never mind. This isn’t a bad film, but it isn’t too good either. This is stupid, fantastic, rip roaring, spectacular and an altogether enjoyable ride, and it is a film you wouldn’t bother to remember once you’ve reached your house. It feels better than its predecessor because it feels considerably more fun. It is an exercise in self-delight, and I like it all the more for there’s a joke or a witty one-liner around the corner. Not that all of them stick tight anywhere near the high part of the humor index, but they’ve been written well enough and delivered effectively enough to at least put a smile on your face. Of course, I maintain, humor in films as these is nothing but an armor, a garb behind which films cloak their inherent weaknesses. It is a growing trend of late, I guess, where films acquire a tongue-in-cheek tone just because they couldn’t possibly play it straight and let audiences ridicule them. Films use tones from specific genres – comedy, horror – because these are considerably easy to hide behind. And that doesn’t stop me from enjoying this film, although I wouldn’t invest myself in them. And now that I have analyzed a film that doesn’t deserve it and cannot stand it, I’ll do it no more and leave it halfway. Like not dwelling upon the Prince Nuada character is a googly, whose motivations and principles do not exactly cut a picture of consistency. As I say, never mind.
Hellboy II doesn’t necessarily depend upon its predecessor for its existence, and if you haven’t seen it, you could easily walk in here and not fear about being bothered or confused. Ages and ages ago, when all the creatures lived in mutual harmony, greed consumed us humans and we were involved in a great war with elves on the other side. There was created an industible…er…indestructible and relentless army of machines called the Golden Army controlled only by the person who wears a crown. The Elvish king sees the carnage his golden army reins upon the humans and is taken by great grief, and thus there’s a truce where humans get the cities and elves the forests. The king’s son Prince Nuada hates the human race and vows to return back to wrest the lands from us, because we humans are selfish and we build parking lots and shopping malls and we don’t respect our nature. I know, it is a stupid line of thought, but then do not let it bother you. Nuada returns and Hellboy is on our side, and so are Liz and Abe Sapien, and so is a new and a rather curious entrant to the series, whom I’ll leave you to discover.
The plotline and how it develops is entirely predictable, and what you would enjoy is not the what but the how. Everything runs at a decent pace, and the film even has time on hand to celebrate the romantic subplots when two characters exercise their vocal chords. Speaking of which, there’re quite a few running jokes between Liz and Hellboy and it is their chemistry that provides great heart to the film. When actors enjoy themselves, it does rub onto us, and Perlman and Blair are obviously enjoying themselves. They’re goofy, and we love them. It is with these established characters that Del Toro feels comfortable with.
Let me describe the action sequences, which is one obvious area where Hellboy II improves upon its predecessor. First, there’re lots of them. Second, none of them exactly delivers a knock out punch. Yeah, they do punch and kick each other and they do fly all over the place, but I didn’t necessarily feel the rush. A fight in the troll market between Hellboy and a monster doesn’t exactly realize its full potential. I know, a fight is a fight, but someone got to admit here that a fight’s got to be more than just punches, kicks, swears, witty one-liners and flying at random. No one has cared to design the fights in a way so as to be memorable, and here they’re just serviceable. Supposed to be big, but all of them end with a whimper. Yes there’re eye-popping moments like the climax where Hellboy and his comrades battle the Golden Army for a few minutes, but they’re merely moments. George Lucas was a master of creating and designing fighting sequences, and realizing them to their fullest extent too. He knew that pitting them against each other is just half the trick; the true test is how to end it. Del Toro doesn’t know that one bit. Never mind. Hellboy II is an efficient film, and taking a cue from Honda CD 100’s slogan I would only offer you one piece of advice – watch it, enjoy it, forget it.