Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
July 2008

The bigger, the better

Del Toro's second 'Hellboy' outing proves even better than the first

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Universal Pictures
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro, based on the comic book series created by Mike Mignola
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anne Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, Seth MacFarlane and Brian Steele
Rated PG-13 / 1 hour, 50 minutes
Opened July 11, 2008
(out of four)

It seems Guillermo del Toro was only scratching the surface the first time he brought Hellboy to the screen. The original Hellboy was a perfect introduction to its title character and an excellent entry into the comic-book genre - a kind that set itself apart from the Marvel and DC heroes with its cheesy wit and penchant for the bizarre.

The first film, a modest hit released four years ago, had del Toro's distinct sensibilities, visual and otherwise, but played it pretty straight in the simplicity of its narrative. Nothing was wrong with that, except clearly del Toro was setting the stage for something bigger.

Hellboy II is that something. It's not just that it's bigger, it's that it's . . . more. That's for certain. It's an action-adventure, it's fantasy, it's horror, it's slapstick and, yes, a romantic comedy as well. The way all these elements somehow make sense in the same film speaks directly to del Toro's ability to create a reality that is all his own. Whatever the typical rules of etiquette for superhero fare are, del Toro's perfectly content to disregard them.

There are so many sets and creatures and setpieces that astound with their creativity and originality that at times it threatens to overwhelm the story. It never does but, really, you wouldn't even need to complain if it did. Consider a sequence in which Hellboy and his cohorts from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense track down a clandestine "troll market" hidden underground. Nevermind how we get there - that scene is delightfully macabre enough as it is - but what opens up for us is unlike anything I have ever seen.

The troll market, full of fantastically realized creatures (most of which were actually built, rather than computer-generated), is enough to make the cantina from Star Wars look spare and blasé by comparison.

Trolls, elves, monsters, beasts - each one with a completely unique look, and more of them than you could spot with just one viewing of the film. What is this scene's function in the plot? Well, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Co. are going undercover (after all, this is one of the few places on Earth where they'll actually fit in) to try to gather information relating to Prince Nuada's (Luke Goss) to attempt to command a "golden army" that will destroy humankind.

Now, we'll take those plot details as granted. All that is easy enough to figure out. But del Toro is first and foremost a visual and atmospheric director, and it is in certain key sequences that you see the work of a great artist. Consider the plant monster scene - and what its aftermath means to Hellboy and any other mythical creature living in hiding - or any scene from the third act, which takes the BPRD team to Northern Island.

It seems we're constantly on the move during Hellboy II; del Toro introduces us to a new fantastical landscape every few minutes, it seems - each one looking drastically different than the last one. And yet throughout all that, the story moves along smoothly: Hellboy and Liz (Selma Blair) are having relationship issues; Hellboy is having his typical fun with his demanding, neurotic boss, Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), as well as a new power struggle with the BPRD's new golden child, Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane); Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) has even become smitten, and it's starting to affect his work; and, most poignantly, there's Hellboy's desire to expose himself to the world, only to be rebuked and cast off as a "freak," despite his unending efforts to help others.

The best films - even the ones most squarely rooted in reality - throw us into a world of their own making. On those merits, Hellboy II more than qualifies. Del Toro brought us a fantastic introduction to this world four years ago, but this time, he has outdone himself. And he doesn't seem to be done with this franchise, either. As he laid the groundwork for this film in the original, in The Golden Army he throws in some interesting clues as to the future of these characters. Whether or not the iron will still be hot enough once he's finished with his two-part The Hobbit project, time will tell.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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