hellboy 2: the golden army

Eh.

You want to hear more? Okay.

Well, like the first film, we have a perfectly cast Ron Perlman, we have a reasonably charming Doug Jones, and an irritating Selma Blair who suffers from the same problem Leo DiCaprio has, which is that funny generimerican accent that leaves me unable to forget for one second that she’s just an actor reciting a script. We have Guillermo del Toro directing and scripting, which means that all of the visuals are almost unbearably rich and beautiful, and almost all of the dialogue is directed with a tin ear. And we have the tired “we’re heroes, but we look like freaks, so people are scared and ungrateful” trope that has been trod into the dirt by countless superhero stories and movies in the past 50 years or so.

Unlike the first film, we have an almost insultingly stale plot about an elf prince who needs to recover three pieces of a magic crown that will let him control a robot army to destroy the human world. There’s no telling why he’s waited at least 100 years or so to do this, or why his father thinks his obsessively martial son will take no for an answer. (Or why his twin sister, who apparently shares every injury with him, doesn’t try to keep her brother from getting so many fights, considering he could easily get her killed.) Unlike the first film, the attempts at humor and character development are almost insultingly weak.

I probably would have liked both films a lot better if I hadn’t read creator Mike Mignola’s comics. The comics aren’t literary masterpieces, but they are artistic ones: sumptuous black backgrounds from which phantasmagoria loom, punctuated by hilariously incongruous tough-guy talk from Hellboy. The moods and creatures are Lovecraftian, Gothic, or older still, folk tales from earliest Europe.

I don’t ask that the movies faithfully reproduce this mood; I get that it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. The first film came pretty close, though, and when I saw the del Toro Creature Studio vibe in the trailer I knew this one would be ranging farther afield. To this film’s credit, it doesn’t spend much more time than necessary on the dull plot, but replacing this with Hellboy’s romantic and professional drama isn’t much of an improvement.

At least there are a few nice touches. Johann Krauss is a great addition to the team, basically an ectoplasmic ghost in a suit whose inconsistent character is balanced by some great lines and equally great voice work by Seth McFarlane. That thing you’ve seen in the trailer, with no eyes on its crested head but dozens of them on its wings, is also terrific, though maybe I just like it whenever someone calls Hellboy “Anung un Rama.” And there’s a scene about halfway through where a city street is covered in moss and falling flowers that’s intensely beautiful, articulating the movie’s ostensible theme much better than any of the dialogue. If only it had all been that sublime.

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