Hellboy 2: Del Toro, The Monster Master

Does the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro know no bounds? His affinity for creatures and freaks of various sorts have spawned some of the more extraordinary films of the past few years. He is one of the very few directors today who realizes that the story shouldn’t be carried by special effects, the special effects should be carried by the story. Hellboy 2, easily the most imaginative superhero comic book film I’ve ever seen, has oodles of amazing creatures, epic special effects, and impeccably choreographed fight sequences, yet at the end of the day, the flawless execution of the storytelling is what makes this film rise above so many big-budget action films.

Del Toro is unafraid to show a clip from the original Frankenstein film and dare you to say that his creatures aren’t working on the same plane of complexity, tortured about their own existence, and afraid that they might be doing more bad than good. These are the themes that The Hulk should have tackled, but they were too content to trim all the fat and simply show action scene after action scene (one can imagine how angry Ed Norton will be with the Marvel editors after he sees this film). Del Toro is able to interweave the character study and the action sequences seamlessly, and on occasion, the suddenness of the shift between the two can be shocking and exciting. He’s trimmed the fat from the first film, the human agent which was clearly a suggestion of studio executives, and instead built his story entirely around Hellboy. Kudos to the studio for seeing the critical reaction to Pan’s Labyrinth and realizing this man is imaginative and talented enough that they can simply give him 85 million dollars for a creature feature and leave him alone. Every frame seems close to Del Toro’s heart– you can feel his geeky excitement with the appearance of every new character on screen.

If Pan’s Labyrinth won the Best Makeup Oscar, then hand Hellboy 2 the statue right now without thinking twice, along with at least a nomination for Best Visual Effects. The design work in this film seems so intensely personal, and there’s so much of it—there are a number of sequences in this film which rival the imagination of the Star Wars cantina or the walk through the Men In Black headquarters. Every time I watch this film on DVD, I feel I’ll be able to catch more and more. The way in which Del Toro continually raises the stakes are also impressive, especially considering the gargantuan beast that shows up near the Brooklyn Bridge about halfway through the film, a monster fight that would have been the grand finale of any other superhero film, but here, it signals that we’re only getting started.

Del Toro ups the ante from the first film in every way, from effects to fight choreography to creature design to villain (I didn’t think anyone could beat the Nazi knifemaster from the last film… then I saw Luke Goss as Prince Nuada). It’s more fun from beginning to end than most big-budget films dream of, with imagination and attitude to spare. Del Toro is setting himself up as not only the most imaginative of modern directors, but also as one of the best effects men and storytellers around as well. That’s a deadly combination which should leave his name up near the top of the list of his generation— his next film, a live-action Hobbit film, should seal the deal, and if there’s a God, it will hopefully lead to a Hellboy 3.

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~ by russellhainline on July 12, 2008.

12 Responses to “Hellboy 2: Del Toro, The Monster Master”

  1. Although I was astounded by the visuals, monsters, and action sequences, I ultimately was a bit disappointed by the story. The first “Hellboy” gave real depth to the main character: he had a big, sensitive heart and was torn and conflicted in so many ways you just had to sympathize with him. In this sequel, he’s cartoonish and lacked the same depth. Contrast that with the development of other characters: Abe, the Princess, and even the Prince (who, in the end, gets your sympathy). Granted, you can’t get much better than Hellboy’s fight with the big plant while he was holding the baby or the battle with the Golden Army (and the outstanding title sequence taking us through the grinding gears!). But, stuck amidst such wonders was, for example, the trite marital spat between Hellboy and Liz and the German Professor/”leader” who didn’t seem to have much to add to the movie at all. Anyway, for me, visually stunning, but a bit hollow and silly.

  2. Visually it was a great movie…but I agree with the above comment, the first had a better story line.

  3. I found the storyline of the first, which seemed to make Hellboy more of a supporting character, to be far weaker. The marital spats were trite but funny, and certainly far better than the weak romance plot in the first with the wooden new agent.

    I didn’t mention above the puppet prologue, which I also thought was brilliant.

  4. I agree that Hellboy seemed a bit more cartoonish in this flick. But I did like the fact that the characters were so well rounded that I even felt compassion for the villain and his demon tree. Although I have to say, I am never happy with his characterizations of female characters. The princess was less than satisfying and it seems at though Liz is constantly either depressed, complaining, or both. That said, I enjoyed the movie and loved the visuals.

  5. Interesting point on the female characters. I did feel Liz was less whiny in this film than in the first one, she had more banter this time and actually seemed to be more assertive in the relationship (and in general) rather than just sitting around wishing she wasn’t the way she was. But I hear you.

  6. Just saw the movie tonight, and I gotta say that I was pretty disappointed. I love Del Toro’s work–the Devil’s Backbone and Cronos especially–but I think he really missed the mark here. Visually it’s very appealing and, like you said, Del Toro clearly has a wild imagination that’s easy to get lost in, but the pacing seemed really rushed to me and the movie overall had a really frantic vibe that made it hard to enjoy. The ‘romance’ between the princess and Abe was really unnecessary and seemed both forced and rushed, and extremely safe, even as it leads to its fatal (and very predictable) end. I loved the tension Del Toro was able to evoke in Pan’s Labyrinth … the implied sexual predation of the fawn really strikes a cord and turns what would otherwise be a fairly simplistic fairy-tale into a really complex narrative. This type of depth was lacking in both romantic subplots, and I think the film was worse for it. He should have either spent more time on them and really fleshed them out (and given them more believable dialogue) or left it out entirely, as it is it seems like he’s sort of half-heartedly appeasing the date crowd, leaving the rest of us in the lurch.

  7. I don’t think he’s half-heartedly appeasing the date crowd… I doubt a director would’ve included monsters singing Barry Manilow unless he really wanted it to be there, lol. And while the fate of the princess is predictable (I was actually surprised that idea wasn’t explored earlier in the film), I wouldn’t say the romance is unnecessary, as it adds a lot to a character that in the last film had little to do other than talk smart and eat rotten eggs. It also helped us see the bond in Hellboy and Abe past the simple “we’re both creatures” bond.

    Sure, it’s not as complex as Pan’s Labyrinth, as this is an entirely different animal. Del Toro knows this is a superhero movie, it’s a summer action movie, and he revels in that. He just executes this genre spot-on, and the fact that he can color outside the lines with his imagination just adds to the wow factor that one should get from a good blockbuster action flick.

  8. Yer crazy. I saw it today. Yes, it was fun. No, the storytelling was not executed flawlessly. We didn’t need to see TWO BPRD guys get ate up in the beginning, and furthermore, I didn’t really care about them in the first place.

    The fight vs. the tree shoulda been shorter, since, let’s be honest, the length was just an excuse for Hellboy to say “You woke up the baby.”

    And I’ll take Bats and Dawes over Hellboy and Liz any day. Know why? It’s, literally, unbelievable. They’re having a kid, but we never even see them kiss. Wtf? Thanks for making us feel that emotion, Del Toro.

    It was cool, but not great.

  9. The tree fight and the BPRD guys getting eaten aren’t really knocks against the storytelling, are they? I mean, I thought the length was because he was up against a Titan and didn’t know how to kill it, and the cops getting eaten, well, cops get eaten in these kind of flicks. I don’t need to see most of the extras who get killed in action flicks die, but they do die to establish the threat level of the adversary.

    The kissing point is very interesting. For some reason, I’ve just never doubted their relationship. We could get the emotion from her side a bit stronger, but since the first flick I’ve totally believed Perlman’s affections. I think Del Toro’s got such a good ear for humorous couple banter (it borders on sitcommy, but it didn’t bother me) that I’ve never doubted their relationship was based in some mutual understanding. But the kissing thing… that’s a good point.

  10. As far as the tree goes, the solution to killing it was to shoot it in the head. Not exactly rocket science. It’s like the fourth Harry Potter movie where all the other contestants in the Tri-Wizard tournament are supposed to be these awesome opponents, but we never really feel like Harry could lose because we never see the other kids get down.

    The tree just kinda flailed at Hellboy so that we got to see Hellboy jumping around all cool and scamper up a building to have his convo with the prince. Convo with Prince = dope. Five minute running from tree, have time to get a big ass gun, then run from tree some more, then HOLY CRAP, YOU’RE RIGHT KRAUSS! I’LL SHOOT IT IN THE HEAD!

    Boooooooo. I mean, those of us that have played ANY video games would automatically shoot for the big glowing part, and those that of that haven’t would still go for the head. The tree was badass, and it deserved a better fight.

  11. Well, what was he gonna do, punch the tree? Everything he was doing wasn’t really stopping it, and he didn’t really get a good angle on that spot on his head until he was up high. I mean, the only real opening on dude’s head was on top, and the guy was stories tall.

    Would I have liked to see more fight? Sure. But I was satisfied with what I was given, and I was happy that it wasn’t the showstopping fight of the film, that we still got even more badass fighting after that.

  12. “Shoot it in ze ‘ead!”

    “Yeah, thanks, motherfucker. Got any more good advice? Perhaps when we get in a bar fight you can tell me to punch someone in the face. Or just in case I forget to drink ze beer, you can help me out on that one. Fuck you, you living fart.”

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