Having enjoyed many of Mike Mignola's Hellboy stories over the years (and the first movie based on them), Hellboy II: The Golden Army looked like something I'd enjoy. This past weekend, on the day before dropping my Lanky Lad off at camp for a week, he and I checked out the movie. What did I think?
Sadly, like so many "event movies", Hellboy II was a non-stop feast of astounding visuals, but not much else.
Most of the performances seemed by-the-numbers and "phoned in", with star Ron Perlman exhibiting little of his charisma from the first movie and, frankly, seeming a bit bored under all that makeup. Selma Blair (playing Hellboy's girlfriend Liz) also seemed to be killing time...which (combined with Perlman's blase' presence) evaporated all traces of the wounded, eccentric chemistry they shared in the original.
Speaking of evaporating charisma, it looks like the decision for David Hyde Pierce to perform the voicework for the Abe Sapien character in the first Hellboy was the right one. This time around, Doug Jones (the guy in the Abe Sapien costume for both movies) also supplied the voice work, which was nowhere near as entertaining as Hyde Pierce's performance. Sure, Abe had the same quirky movements, but his voice just sounded flat and not quite right. Kind of like the character's interest-free romance with the elven princess Nuala.
Playing his 7,587th smug jerk, Jeffrey Tambor seemed as bored with his typecasting as I am. I realize the role of Tom Manning requires someone of Tambor's vast experience playing nervous, priggish bureaucrats...but really, I think the role could have used someone with a bit more engagement or spark. Which points to one of the larger problems I had with the movie: while I get all of the "average day at the nutty office" stuff they're trying to do here, it's all been done before in movies like Ghost Busters and Men In Black. So, when Tambor casually talks to Hellboy while BPRD agents struggle to strap down a squealing Lovecraftian nightmare in the background, it's no longer funny. It's just boring.
I'm of two minds on the character of Prince Nuada. One one hand, I thought he was by far the most entertaining character in the entire movie, due to both his stunning visual look and the performance of actor Luke Goss. On the other hand, I found myself feeling irritated with director Guillermo Del Toro for essentially ripping-off Michael Moorcock's legendary fantasy character Elric of Melnibone. In addition to Prince Nuada being a visual dead-ringer for the albino adventurer, Nuada's imperious demeanor, sorcerous trappings, and ruthless fighting skill more than evoked Moorcock's most famous creation. Yeah, freaky albino bad guys are nothing new in cinema...but Nuada was so close in look and style to Elric, that it went past "homage" and straight into "rip-off" territory for me. It's especially irritating considering the rest of the movie is such a faithful translation of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola's unique visual vocabulary, that you'd think there would be no need to so flagrantly "smuggle" the image of Elric into the movie. Very, very disappointing....yet at the same time, incredibly cool to see this pseudo-Elric running around on film. The phrase "so close, yet so far" comes to mind (I hope Michael Moorcock gets a taste of the film's likely profits).
Of all the irritations in the movie, I think the most persistent one was director Del Toro's obsession with intricate "mystery wrapped in an enigma" devices and machinery. When he wasn't wasting half a minute showing interlocking gears and cogs intricately whirling and spinning into place, he was wasting another half minute zoomed in on delicate interlacing metalwork magically sprouting and curving into even more intricate formations. Although I've gone on record many times saying how much I appreciate the small details in things, Del Toro takes it to an embarrassingly self-indulgent level, which effectively slams the brakes on the movie's forward momentum. Perhaps the biggest challenge facing a director of film isn't necessarily the struggle of bringing your vision into reality, but recognizing (and resisting) your own quirky fixations and obsessive preoccupations. It looks like Del Toro's still got a ways to go in that department.
After a dizzying array of interlocking puzzle boxes and "Jim Henson meets Harry Potter" creatures, Hellboy and company finally encountered the Golden Army which, like the rest of the movie, didn't live up to the hype. Pretty to look at, to be sure....but with all the detached indifference and flashy incoherence of a video game.
For so much of this "style over substance" excess, I'm afraid I can only give Hellboy II a paltry
2 out of 5 Hellboy Heads