Hell on Earth
Despite a few shortcomings, Hellboy II is a visual smorgasbord
If nothing else, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro is one of the most interesting visual stylists working in film these days. From his clockwork vampire debut with Cronos, through his melancholy ghost story The Devil’s Backbone on up to his international-breakthrough phantasmagoria Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has established himself as a Catholic heir apparent to the darker Jim Henson ethos.
It’s when he swings by Hollywood to pick up a paycheck (for, say, Mimic or Blade II) that his vision gets a little blurry.
Returning with the second installment of the Hellboy franchise (one last stop before disappearing for the next few years in Hobbitville), at times del Toro seems as if he’s using what was left on the cutting-room floor of Pan’s Labyrinth and also succumbing to a need to exorcise visual Post-it notes from his imagination before taking on another man’s vision.
It comes as no surprise that there is a demon on the government payroll (maybe the surprise is that there’s only one), and genre stalwart Ron Perlman’s Hellboy is easily the most entertaining superhero on the Hollywood Rolodex. This time around, he’s cranky with the stirrings of wanting to come out of the PR closet while his squeeze is even crankier for some (soon to be revealed) reason. Meanwhile, C-3PO-esque sidekick Abe Sapien has fallen gills over fins for some Elven princess with a bad case of eczema and pinkeye. The bad news is that her twin brother has just whacked their father and is dead set on raising the eponymous army in some elfquest to erase the human race. Issues. Serious issues. Soon, things start blowing up real good.
Of course, the narrative piffles are set into place in order to kinda tie the big slam-bam set pieces together. For the most part it works. When things get moving here, the thinness of the narrative doesn’t seem all that troublesome. That is, until the third act, when a cinematic sugar crash sets in just before the final epic confrontation promised by the film’s title.
Maybe it was the unfortunate set piece involving a Barry Manilow earworm that crawled in and laid eggs, sapping my will to keep experiencing the magic. Or maybe it was the lack of a properly hissable villain. It’s hard to get all that worked up over a bad guy who’s just some elf that wants to put humanity in its place in order to save the planet. But if you’re one of those folks who rarely tear themselves away from the AM talk radio shows to go to the multiplex, maybe an albino Al Gore truly is the stuff of nightmares.
Ultimately, Hellboy II is still a visual smorgasbord with an engaging cast that defies most of the navel-gazing voguing that one has to endure sitting through a superhero movie. Maybe I’m just cranky ‘cause we keep losing the best horror directors to franchises involving Spandex-clad mopes and hairy-footed clods.