Tuesday, August 26, 2008

To Hell And Back

After finding The Dark Knight far less enjoyable than expected, I had higher hopes for Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Because seeing Christopher Nolan’s Batman sequel in the West End had played a factor it making it a thoroughly draining experience, I opted for a cinema much closer to home, hoping that the locale would be an improvement.

Back in 2004 I was invited to a screening of Hellboy at the Moving Picture Company in Wardour Street. It was one of the hottest days of the summer and typically nobody had turned the air conditioning on so that the simple act of holding a chilled beer from the bar immediately warmed the drink to room temperature.

Maybe one of the distributor’s drones had thought it was an appropriate wheeze to make the environment as hot as hell, but even in the uncomfortable surroundings it didn’t manage to distract from what was a remarkably faithful, and certainly enjoyable, film.

The first movie might have been a little rough around the edges but that was part of its charm, staying true to Mike Mignola’s wonderful comic book series with its red and black colour palette. While the film versions of Spiderman and X-Men didn’t really find their feet until the sequel, director Guillermo del Toro pretty much nailed it from the get-go.

Now, four year on, comes the sequel based on the tales of myth and folklore Mignola started to explore rather than simply stick with battles against Nazis and the occult. While the first movie dealt with Hellboy discovering what it takes to become a man, the sequel sees him finding his way in the world that doesn’t accept him in the way he expected.

Made by Universal, rather than Sony, with a larger budget because in the meantime del Toro has obviously become the “visionary director of Pan’s Labyrinth”, Hellboy II is lighter in both look and tone. At one point the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence takes on a more comedic Men in Black vibe when a trio of wigged-out creatures need restraining, the last of which appears to be a small, green Jedi Knight hurriedly carried away.

Though there was nothing bad about it film, it got me wondering at what point does spectacle slip uncomfortably into indulgence. Of course more money always means bigger and better, whether it’s required or not. At times Hellboy II seemed to be only about his love of monsters at the expense of the narrative drive.

With the Nazi Kroenen and the resurrected Sammael in the service of Grigori Rasputin, along with occasional glimpses of the Ogdru Jahad in their crystal prisons and the pissed-off corpse dug up to help the BPRD find Rasputin’s mausoleum, Hellboy had all the creatures the story required. For long stretches The Golden Army seemed to exist simply to sate del Toro’s love of monsters.

Having Agent Myers in exile allows for the introduction of the gaseous Johann Krauss, played sometimes for laughs, which foolishly relegates Jeffrey Tambor’s head of the BPRD. Still, who needs his welcome belligerence to Hellboy’s childish antics when there is the faceless Angel of Death to linger over.

While not exactly enamoured by The Fifth Element, Luc Besson’s regurgitation of the worst of Metal Hurlant, I managed to stick with it until Chris Tucker turned up to do his turn and the story stopped in its tracks and pretty much died on its arse. Hellboy II came so close to reaching that point once it arrived at The Troll Market.

Certain creatures like the last Elemental and the Golden Army of the title really were spectacular and necessary ingredients, having more weight to them that the fey Prince Nuada who never quite appeared to be the formidable villain the story required. At del Toro’s version of Diagon Alley, the narrative slowed to a crawl as the camera positively drooled over an abundance of creatures that didn’t actually need to be there.

Seven weeks after its US release, Hellboy II has only managed to pull in $75 million on an estimated $85 million budget. While it’s not a stinking dud like Meet Dave or The Love Guru, it’s obviously not one of this summer’s outright hits either. After an opening weekend of just over $35.5 million, takings plummeted by almost 71% by its second weekend. Obviously the arrival of The Dark Knight has to factor into the equation, but it also gives the impression that fans flocked to see Hellboy II when it opened and didn’t bother to go back for repeat viewings.

There’s still the money to come in from other territories and further monies from DVD sales, but I’m not sure I’m that desperate to see it again. The thing is, if there had been a light on in the auditorium I would have been quite happy to take out The Times and complete the daily Su Duko. Instead I had to finish them off on the train home and, quite honestly, enjoyed that more.


At 5:37 am, Blogger qrter said...

I saw it about a week ago. My brother (who liked the first one as much as I did - which is a lot!) asked me whether I liked it. I said it was a lot less charming than the first film and I said it should've been called "Jim Henson's Hellboy" - nothing against Henson, he was incredible, as were his films, but his sensibilities shouldn't really fit in with the Hellboy-world introduced in the first film.

It's also a film about which I really wonder what the extended/director's cut will be like on DVD - it felt like a lot of stuff was missing. The film really needed more of someone like John Hurt as professor Broom, the film seemed kind of empty without him.

Although I thought the one Goss brother did a pretty good job as the baddie, it paled when compared to Rasputin, Ilsa Haupstein and ofcourse Kroenen.

From what I've read one of the cut scenes (as in: cut, not even filmed) was a scene at the end of the second film, showing the resurrection of Kroenen by the hand of a ghostly Rasputin.

To get into specifics for a moment: I was really unimpressed by all the business with the Angel of Death. Where did that come from, how did we get here - what!? And who didn't see the ending involving the death of the baddie coming from a mile away (involving a certain sibling and their bond, I mean)?

I see your point about self-indulgence, the film is teetering on the edge. It's always a bad sign when the CGI in the background is more interesting than the actual scene.

At 3:30 pm, Blogger Good Dog said...

You’re absolutely right there. It certainly did seem more like Jim Henson’s Hellboy. That’s a really great way of describing it. And you’re right about John Hurt being sorely missed. I had a big grin on my face when he appeared in the opening flashback, although the geek inside me was also waiting for a pancakes reference, but it made the rest of the film feel bereft by his absence.

I was less than impressed with the Angel of Death. Obviously it was there to remind everyone that HB was destined to ultimately bring about the destruction of the world, but all the eyes on the wings... so what. Shouldn’t it have been darker and creepier? For me, the scene in the first movie where once the attendant checks on Liz Sherman sleeping in her hospital room and closes the door, Rasputin immediately steps out of the blackness, was far more inventive.

And what happened to the little quiet moments? Again in the first one, after HB drops the giant cog on Kroenen, Manning casually throws the tiny cogs in afterward and then there’s the whole bit about lighting a cigar with a match to preserve the flavour as a way of reconciliation between the two. Things like that were just beautiful.

An early draft of the script did come my way a while back. That had a post-credit sequence set at a Nazi lab Antarctica, with Kroenen’s head in a glass jar filled with green liquid being attached to a mechanical colossus. I actually sat through the credits waiting to see what would come up. Instead the curtains closed, which was a shame.

Once again it proves that smaller budgets lead to more invention. When there’s money to splurge on CGI and the like it fills up the screen but takes away from the story.


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