This review has been ‘repurposed’ from my other site, theOneliner.com
Oooh, more comic book adaptations. Be still, my beating heart. Still, with Guilermo Del Toro coming off the back of an avalanche of critical acclaim for Pan’s Labyrinth, which I simply do not understand the fuss over, there was high expectations for his return to the Big Red Hellbus. The first film, a recent revisit proves, holds up reasonably well and Hellboy II improves it in practically all respects, while still lacking the chops to stand toe to toe with The Dark Knight.
This time round Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) and his merry band once again have to defend us from weird things, this time rounded up and unleashed by the very angry elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who’s upset that humanity has been running about as if they own the place in defiance of some ancient accords or somesuch nonsense. At any rate, he’s decided to unleash the invincible magic robots of the Golden Army, which scientists agree would be A Bad Thing.
We’ll skip over the details, although gratifyingly there are a fair amount of them, such as Hellboy’s relationship with Little Miss Burnsalot (Selma Blair) and Abe Sapien’s (Doug Jones) infatuation with the very angry elf prince’s sister, the not at all angry princess Nuala (Anna Walton). Like a great many films, this film does quite a lot of things very well, before hitting the exact same brick wall as umpteen others, and it’s a big computer graphic shaped wall.
Let’s be clear, it’s not the quality of the CG that’s the issue, as it’s often rather good. The problem is spectacle, and I admit it’s something of a first world problem. In a society where pretty much every single commercial break is liable to have some fantastically rendered flight of fancy that’s comparable in quality and probably, on a per-second basis, more expensive than what’s in movies, it becomes very easy to become entirely blas? about effects that would have been entirely jaw-dropping even ten years ago.
When a massive stone giant rises out of the earth, I found myself stifling a yawn. When a CG stuntman Hellboy’s tearing lumps out on golden robots, my attention wandered away so far I had to have an announcement put over the tannoy to ask it to return to the customer service desk. For the finale of a film, this is something of a problem. I think I’ve reached the stage where CG spectaculars have now entirely and completely stopped being spectacular by dint of how commonplace they’ve become, and I’m sure that general audiences less movie-obsessed than us won’t be too far behind.
Mildly frustrating, then, that Del Toro has exactly the answer already figured out. There are scenes in Hellboy II that are really rather impressive, and if there’s one commonality to them it’s that there’s no CG involved, or rather the CG that’s there is unobtrusive background enhancements rather than what we’re focussing on. They’re either moments focussing on character (anyone not amused by Hellboy and Abe’s singalong clearly has had a humour bypass operation) or old-school costume and rubber-suit design. The Troll Market set and its inhabitants are remarkable achievements and mostly because they are ‘real’, in the physical sense.
This is perhaps being rather unfair to Hellboy II. After all, it’s no worse an offender in this respect than any of the big tentpole releases this year, but that’s a justification that holds little water when the film’s exciting finale isn’t actually exciting. I should concede that if you aren’t yet sick of watching a lump of pixels batter another lump of pixels then Hellboy offers a far more interesting playground for the pixels than, ooh, say The Incredible Hulk.
Even so encumbered by my CG-hatin’, Hellboy II proves to be a mildly diverting experience and there’s more metric worth and interest to it than a good number of other films we’ve had the misfortune to witness, but I can’t bring myself to offer more than a half-hearted recommendation and a vague sense of dissatisfaction with the world.