Wednesday, July 09, 2008


Here's a riddle...

If you put 150-200 sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and/or comic book nerds in a room at one time, how long will it take before one of the nerds brings up Bruce Campbell? 16 minutes.

I was lucky enough to get into an advanced screening of Hellboy II : The Golden Army tonight and, after the Q & A began, that was the amount of time that expired before a guy stood up and asked Guillermo Del Toro if Campbell would be playing Lobster Johnson (??) in Hellboy III. [NOTE: BTW, I love nerds. I use the term in an affectionate way. I consider myself one, just of a different type.]

I appreciated the question, because it was at that moment that I realized why I've never liked a Guillermo Del Toro film. His intentions are those of a populist, but his films always bear the mark of exclusivity. Where Del Toro's cup runneth over in terms of imagination, design, and concept, his is a quarter full when it comes to understanding the foibles, sensitivities, and motives of humanity. (This could explain the awkward, muddied, and somewhat pessimistic ending of Hellboy II.)

It's a shame, because Hellboy II has elements of what is sorely missing within the limp comic book movie franchises of today (save The Incredible Hulk, perhaps...). Namely, it's fun. There's also puppetry; creatures you can reach out and touch. If anything, Hellboy II feels fresh because it lives. In fact, there is a sequence in a "troll market" that feels almost revelatory in its special effects realism. I suspect this film is exactly what Star Wars fans were craving from Lucas with his prequel trilogy.

I haven't seen the original Hellboy, but according to Del Toro, it doesn't matter... Hellboy II exists on its own. The setting is modern times, but centuries ago humans and mutants signed a truce after wars of high casualties. Centuries later, humans are wrecking the Earth and the mutants have been marginalized. A rogue mutant goes revolutionary and intends to unleash the now dormant golden army on humanity to take the world back. That's it. The rest is Del Toro unleashed: a fun boy in a toy shop with a big budget to play with. If that's your thing then you're probably in for a treat.

Personally, and for all of his personable jolliness, I sense a bitterness in Del Toro. In this way, he is not unlike Hellboy himself. In the film's first sequence we see a wide-eyed 7-year old Hellboy watching TV, brushing his teeth, and grinning at a bedtime story at the knee of father figure John Hurt. Flash forward to Hellboy as adult and we see a cynical cigar chomper, a short-fused thug, a creature who feels unappreciated for his work. In comparison, Del Toro's films feel like that of a jaded man child. Each time innocence peers out its head, a whack-a-mallet beats it back.

This was true of Pan's Labyrinth. For all its wonder, it left me with a feeling of contempt. For all the praise of it being a fairy tail for adults, it was ultimately a rejection of escapism through imagination. I don't doubt that Guillermo Del Toro has a big heart, I just wish he would open it up.


debbie said...

I disagree with your comment on Pan's Labyrinth. I think it's a perceptive take on how a child might cope with trauma and abuse in her life. It wasn't rejection. While the ending was tragic, the last scene showed the girl, surrounded by her loved ones - her dream fulfilled. I think it was left open for interpretation. I don't think they were rejecting escapism, rather they were rejecting the circumstances of hate and war-which leads to death of innocence. Not a "happy" ending, but a realistic one, none the less. There was a moral to the story.

Perhaps it's all a matter of perception.

Fox said...

Well said.

My feeling was that even in her fantasies, the little girl was terrorized. In and out of imagination it was a punishing experience for her. Even in her mind she stuggled to find relief.

elgringo said...

I agree with Debbie and Fox about Pan's Labyrinth. But, as this post was about Hellboy II, I'll write about that.

I have no interest to see this movie. The cast/characters/storyline/source material all do nothing for me. That being said, your review made me question my early judgments. Also, that picture with Del Toro and that troll is pretty captivating. Maybe I'll have to catch it after all.