Why both? Well, because when you consider them as a pair, you actually want to watch the second one, as opposed to trying to get into the Hellboy world with only the first one to judge from. Originally I hadn’t intended to watch the second, having had the first leave me under-whelmed. I’m glad I gave the hornèd red guy a second chance, however, as there’s some pretty good stuff going on here. Credits and trailers for both films follow the babbling.
What the first film suffers from in my mind is the same thing any film adaptation of a TV or Comic Book series suffers from: initial introduction of the characters and rules of their world massive information download. Given the complexity of any Fantasy /Horror /SF /Alternate Reality landscape, if you are approaching the making of the film – or book, or whatever – as it being the first of several, the result is that at least the first third of your initial movie – or volume, or whatever – is going to be akin to reading out a set of rules and regulations at the start of the school year. Remember that bit in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life at the start of the classroom lecture which involved a long list of instructions about things to do if you were getting your haircut, but your older brother’s clothes were already on a lower peg and he wasn’t… Oh never mind, here it is, and watch it until just past the minute mark for what I’m talking about.
Right, got that? That’s my point, you see. Welcoming people into the world of Hellboy or Batman or The X-Men or The Lord of the Rings or whatever, is – if you’re not careful – just like that. Sadly, it’s also entirely necessary. While not every rule about the world is required straight off, you do need to know, for instance, that Harry Potter has been orphaned and left at the door of someone’s home, and that he’s not entirely a normal boy. That way, when you learn he’s a wizard, then the world of wizardry can be introduced to you the reader of the book or the viewer of the film along with our little lightning-bolt bearing laddie. This is also the advantage when adapting something in which the ‘rules of the world’ are actually being introduced to someone in the story, along with the readers or watchers.
The world of Hellboy, however, almost entirely exists before you get there, were it not for the ‘new guy’, John Meyers (played by baby-faced cuteness Rupert Evans), who is a recent graduate of FBI training supposedly reporting for his first assignment, which is at some place he’s never heard of and neither has the rest of the World (which is how the US Government wants it, thank you very much). Thus, in a sense, he becomes our way into this bizarre land of huge red men who use belt sanders to control the length of their horns the way normal people clip their finger nails.
The problem is that we’re introduced to so damned much here that the actual “doing of stuff” is so limited in opportunity that you really don’t have much foreplay before penetrating the actual adventure story itself. Not only do we first have to understand the initial discovery of Hellboy by the Nazis, we also have to meet his new protector and adoptive father Professor Broom, and the US Army Unit he’s with; plus Rasputin and Ilsa, who have opened-up a portal to another dimension and awakened forces known as “The Seven Gods of Chaos” on a tiny island off the coast of Scotland (you know, the way the Nazis were always doing); then have some time pass and we meet a much older Professor Broom (John Hurt); plus The Man Now in Charge, Tom Manning; plus a fish-like guy named Abe Sapien, who is a sort of empath; and then we meet the titular character. But a crisis occurs and we go and save the city. Meanwhile we get Hellboy’s flame Liz Sherman introduced as well, who has her own oddities, and that’s when the story really starts.
So… confused yet?
Honestly, it’s a damned heavy bit of lifting getting into the mythos of this world, especially given 99% of the people we meet in the opening sequence are seemingly erroneous once we’re past the titles, barring their responsibility for Helboy’s existence, and even the one who we do follow suddenly gets 60 years older. Coupled with the fact the opening’s visuals are so explosive and exciting – for most films this would qualify as SFX worthy only for a climax – it’s damned tough to have anything follow it at all. The only way to have gotten around that false climax would have been to get our boy to the secret base right at the start, then meet Professor Broom, chat for a few minutes, and then have Meyers get a briefing told in flash-back, so that we can have him reacting to the whole thing as we also do. I’m not sure there’s much to be gained through that, although it might seem far to superior to those who prefer things that way. Neither is actually better, it’s simply a matter of preference.
Anyway, Hellboy goes off with Fish-Guy and the ancient, underground city is ultimately saved after Hellboy gives in to Rasputin demand that Hellboy use his “Right Hand of Doom” to finally free the Seven Gods of Chaos. In other words, it doesn’t get any easier, no. Still, there’s some good action, you get a fair bit of character detail, and the visuals are fantastic.
The second film is far less work, mostly because you’re already up-to-speed with who the red guy is, plus his friends and co-workers. The story in the second film is far easier to follow as a result as well. Being in a far less time-spanning narrative makes this far more self-contained. However, the size of the saga is still substantial, involving an albino man (Luke Goss) who turns out to be Elfin Prince Nuada, who wants to get a missing bit of the crown his father King Balor broke apart, plus another bit that his sister, Princess Nuala, has in her possession. He must be stopped from doing this. There’s also a new character brought in: the bossy-pants Johann Krauss, who is incredibly intelligent and – sadly – he knows it and ensures that everyone else is aware of it as well. The whole pathos /humour balance is wonderfully accomplished, and kudos to writers Mignolo and del Toro for achieving the perfect mix.
The one sad thing is that we don’t have FBI-guy John Meyers, which is too bad as he’s the only normal human left in this world, it seems. Apparently actor Rupert Evans was already booked for a run of Kiss of the Spider Woman during the filming period and couldn’t make the shoot in Budapest, London, and County Antrim.
In both films, it’s the visuals that make the stories work. Director Guillermo del Toro has an incredible gift when making fairy tales come to life, and seemingly takes the attitude that ‘less’ isn’t ‘more’, less is less; so let’s have more! The frame is rammed-full of textures and details for no reason other than “because he can”, and they all work perfectly. Something that often gets short shrift, when a folk tale or super-hero story gets a film made of it, is that these things aren’t supposed to be peopled with pretty things, but lumpy and ugly stuff! When a set of rocks suddenly leap up and reveal themselves as a gigantic creature, there are oddly-shaped ovoids that don’t perfectly come together! This is far more disturbing, as the sense of it seeming to be designed by humanity, or controlled by some sort of rational aesthetic, might cause it to seem more ‘normal’. Randomness and anarchy are always disturbing. S. del Toro embraces that, thank goodness; especially when dealing with the world of Nature.
So… oodles of work here for the casual viewer, yes. If you found the first one a bit too impenetrable, it’s understandable, but see the second one and I can guarantee you a better time and a far more entertaining one as well.
Revolution Studios presents
Lawrence Gordon Productions
in association with Dark Horse Entertainment
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
Guillermo del Toro (screen story) and Peter Briggs (screen story)
Mike Mignola (comic books)
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Universal Pictures presents
in association with Dark Horse Entertainment,
Internationale Filmproduktion Eagle,
Lawrence Gordon Productions, and
in association with Relativity Media
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
Guillermo del Toro (story) & Mike Mignola (story)
Mike Mignola (comic book)
This year, I’ve been watching DVDs from the library for a number of reasons, mostly to do with a combination of “filling in the gaps in my ‘pop culture’ knowledge”, as well as a concerted effort to better understand story editing by both watching a film and then re-watching listening to people who have studied that particular movie for years in order to better appreciate the themes, plot construction, symbolism, and so on.
The process would be nothing without the secondary audio tracks. Sometimes it’s like having actually been through the film-making process with the people involved.