So in my never ending quest to be entertained by blockbusters (huh? ) I went to Hellboy II this weekend. The special effects: think the best parts of the star wars trilogy (no not the new ones) and fantasy films like Labrynth and Legends. Would that I could sit inside del Toros brain for just one day . . .
The plot: the idea for the plot was timeless – the greed and violence of the human race has to be checked by the ageless magic that came before it. As Prince Nuada say’s “Which genocide would you choose?” unfortunately the execution of said plot was . . . ummm . . . non-existent outside of the prince turned king, whose name is a reference to Irish celtic mythology about the clash of two kingdoms.
The acting: mostly bad, one cringe worthy and yet well executed moment involving singing. The shining exception is Luke Goss who infuses Prince Nuada with pathos and pathology beyond the caliber of his grunting titular adversary in this film. Almost all of the “monsters” in this film, with the exception of the toothfairies, are all far more sympathetic than the Hellboy team and they put in better performances as well. I actually felt much worse for the monster with the retractable hand than I did for Hellboy, and the death of one creature, the last of its kind, is one of the most painful ones in the film. These moments make us question humanity and the meaning of honor and equality. They are moments in which the film is at its best, however not moments that I think most people going to Hellboy will recognize as the true cinematic gift of the fim.
There is also far too much of Blair in her underpants; which I am sure some of you will be giddy about, I’m just noting that many times there is no excuse for it and almost always it is in scenes when she is acting like a stereotypical whining, moody, incomprehensible “woman.”
The social representations: many different minor and major female characters most incredibly interesting and as respectful as a throwaway script can be. There are, as alluded to above, some minor offenses esp with Liz. I was disappointed to see Liz’s character reduced to shrill and moody background noise. I think her powers are compelling and the fact that she has now grown into them, ie can control them, could have been a doorway to look at her growth as a powerful female superhero.
There is one differently-abled person in the film who is both scavenger (some will find that offensive) and the mastermind behind the most powerful creatures on the planet. It is a bit part drawn out by a long speech about scavaging that is punctuated by the meant-to-be jarring image of the characters body and movements. I also think there is an embedded morality lessons in how this character has “devolved” from a proud craftsman praised by the King to the ragged beggar that hinges in part on disability.
There is minor queer window dressing and one reference to interracial dating as a critique of hate. Both are done much better by shows like Farscape. But again these are side moments meant to humanize the non-stop action going on as the film unfolds and not central to the plot in anyway. (Except for the fact that Hellboy’s own status as not-human is consistently alluded to as the reason he will ultimately turn against the human race and one that Nuada tries to appeal to and then exploit to no avail.)
The most ancient race is pale, white, and platinum blonde kind of like many of the elves in Lord of the Rings . . .Do I really need to trot out the hegemonic messages involved in that one? Or perhaps point to Lucy, the oldest known remains, which were found in Africa? Didn’t think so.
Overall, I wish they had actually gone with a script and explored the plot. In del Toro’s capable hands I cannot even begin to imagine what the end result would have been, after all this is a man who made me feel pathos for a mechanized hand monster, a beanstock ancient, and yes, Prince Nuada, who was a meglomaniac on far too many levels. Watch Hellboy for the questions raised by Prince Nuada’s speeches and the magical mind of del Toro. Then go home and watch The Devil’s Backbone, The Orphanage, and Pan’s Labrynth for well-rouned entertainment. (I actually re/watched all 4 of these movies this past week and again I say, ahh to sit in del Toro’s brain for just one day . . .)