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.