Monday, July 21, 2008
Hellboy is easily the best superhero to be created since the golden and silver ages of comic books. His adventures since the early 90s make up some of my favorite reads and Mike Mignola's spin-off BPRD stories are still the one's I most look forward to reading every month. Hellboy's world is at once beautifully original and comfortingly familiar. That Mignola borrows characters and stories from the actual myths and legends that exist in the lands Hellboy visits (having the scorned Baba Yaga of Russian folklore as a major character or dropping Hellboy in the center of an Irish folktale called "Teig O'Kane and the Corpse") is endlessly fascinating and kind of reassuring in a way.
Now when anything I like gets adapted into a movie, I'm well aware things are going to change. Anyone who huffs and puffs about some beloved B-character from a novel getting dropped or two characters getting merged into one needs to clear their head and wake up to reality. I sat through the first Lord of the Rings movie with this guy and all he could do afterward was complain about "Arwen played a much smaller role and they completely skipped over this crucial part..." and all I could think was Jesus Christ, the thing is already four fucking hours long and has 50 different trolls and hobbits I'm supposed to wrap my head around and your looking for more? So I can get over the fact that Guillermo Del Torro wants to play around with the mythology of these characters to spice them up a bit for film such as him wanting to continue to expand upon a love story for Hellboy and Liz Sherman (fellow agent at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) that was never really there in the books. That's fine, and I can happily go along with the idea Mignola has -- that each one of these mediums: the books, Del Torro's movies and the animated movies are each a seperate universe onto themselves. It's a frequent tool in the comic book world.
I'm going to get to my one (or two) complaint about Hellboy II: The Golden Army eventually, bear with me. I first want to say that the movie is a lot of fun. The talent Guillermo Del Torro has for bringing these kinds of worlds to life should not be taken lightly. His skills are downright transcendent. I can firmly say that there isn't another filmmaker out there right now that could bring to life Johann Krauss as effectively as Del Torro does. This is a character that has no face, just some vapors trapped in a glass dome on top of basically an old-fashioned scuba outfit, and yet only moments after he is introduced you're mesmerized and smitten by this bizarre fellow. There's a prolonged sequence and a Hellboy throwdown that takes place in the Troll Market, a sort of bustling town square marketplace where dozens of original creatures and monsters (all played by real live humans, mind you) shuffle around from stand to stand looking for some bargains. Other world-weavers like Lucas or even Peter Jackson can't touch the seamless, enveloping originality Del Torro has going on. It is the stuff of genius.
So what's my beef? Well, what I said above, about my reasons for so fondly treasuring the Hellboy books on my shelf, some of those are missing from this movie. The foe in this film is an underworld prince who wants to reclaim the human world for their own -- "You will remember why you were once afraid of the dark," he seethes before dispatching an audience bidding at an auction off his people's artifacts. To accomplish his goal he will collect the items needed to unlock the Golden Army, machines lying dormant, waiting to spring to life wreak havoc. It's a good enough story, one with many interesting details and when those machines start coming to life they're pretty wicked. But the old world, Lovecraftian vibe is missing. To me, this is the essence of Hellboy -- a character who's world is based on tentacles and evil, conquering worms, grungy witches, backwoods demons and Nazi apes living in dilapidated castles. There ins't any of that old folktale sprung to life feeling that gets me giddy. It gets at some of this towards the end when they travel to Ireland, and it touches on Hellboy's duality which is missing from the most part in this installment. But in the end, the story feels, well, kind of like some sort of movie.