Wednesday, September 10, 2008


If you give the Iguana a visit every now and again, you’ll most likely know that I love me my Guillermo del Toro.
The initial blush of curiosity with which I greeted his odd little vampire tale Cronos, has over the years blossomed into a reverent admiration for his exquisitely-told tales of dark, macabre fantasy.
The thing of it is, though, the original Hellboy holds the dubious distinction of being the film I least like in del Toro’s oeuvre. The clunky, ill-paced script and the disappointing, anti-climactic wrap-up, left me with a cinematic experience that suffered terribly when put up against his other popcorn effort, Blade II. (Even del Toro’s first Hollywood foray, Mimic, compromised as it was, was still a lot more fun than Hellboy turned out to be.)
Thus, coming into Hellboy II: The Golden Army, all I really hoped for was that it would at least be better than the original.
Thankfully, it is.
On the downside though, it displays some of the same problems Hellboy had.

Unlike the original (which was adapted from the Hellboy comic, Seed of Destruction), The Golden Army springs from a script penned by del Toro, centering on the Elven Prince Nuada (Blade II’s Luke Goss), who seeks to wage war on humanity by loosing the titular, purportedly indestructible, army upon the world.
The problem with del Toro’s script isn’t its premise though (which is serviceable enough), but rather the manner in which its myriad parts—most of which work rather well, I should note—interact with each other.

The action set pieces—particularly those which feature the bada$$ Nuada—are certainly better than those in the original.
The character bits are—again, as with the original—the best sections of the entire film.
Even the climax, which turns on a decidedly emotional pivot, works far more effectively than Hellboy’s.
But as much as most of the individual narrative pieces do their work, del Toro never quite finds the right rhythm to make the whole a smooth, flowing ride. Comedic bits—a few, sadly strained—blunder into character moments, which then bump up against explosions and fisticuffs.
The erratic pacing of the whole then results in a two-hour running time that ultimately seems longer.

Script problems aside though, The Golden Army is still a worthwhile cinematic experience, and there’s a number of folk that need to be commended for that.
First, the familiar del Toro stalwart, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (who shot the original Hellboy, as well as Cronos, El espinazo del diablo, and El laberinto del fauno, for which he took home an Oscar, as well as a whole bunch of other honours), who captures all the wonder evident in the costumes of Sammy Sheldon (who also worked on Stardust, V For Vendetta, and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), and the production design of Stephen Scott (also on the credit roll of Hellboy).

Secondly, there’s the supremely kick-a$$ fight sequences, courtesy of Jackie Chan cohort, Bradley James Allan, who also choreographed The Chronicles of Riddick.
Here, Allan’s work manages to give Blade II’s fight sequences a decent run, while avoiding any overt CGI flourishes (which slightly mar some moments in Blade II).
And hey, Allan also did stunt double duty on the Chan-produced Dak ging san yan lui (Gen-X Cops), so that’s a doubleplusgood in my books.

Thirdly, there’s the amazing creature work by Mike Elizalde’s Spectral Motion, who likewise did time on the original Hellboy (and whose work can also be seen in Monkeybone, Altered, and Lady in the Water, as well as the upcoming Seventh Moon and the live-action Blood: The Last Vampire adaptation).
Realizing in practical terms creature designs which originated from del Toro’s sketchbook, Elizalde supplies 15 creatures for The Golden Army (as compared to the mere 5 for Hellboy), including the incredible Angel of Death.
With the astounding work done here Elizalde proves that genuine characters may be found in the midst of latex and animatronics, and with the effects legend Stan Winston recently departed, it’s comforting to know there are others who can fill the void of his passing.

Giving invaluable assistance in the discovery and realization of those characters, we should also note the contributions of Doug Jones, whose physical performances do much to inform the costumes he wears with a vital and potent substance, and Family Guy/American Dad creator Seth MacFarlane, for bringing bags of amusing levity as the voice of by-the-books BPRD operative, Johann Krauss.
Sadly though, while Goss once again brings a palpable level of pathos to his character, as he did in Blade II, Anna Walton, who plays Nuada’s twin, Nuala, isn’t given much to do beyond looking suitably princess-like. Worse, the script stymies her character on occasion just to get to the next action set piece, or to move the narrative along. If she’d only immediately said, “You should really stop that jumping bean from reaching water,” or “Oh, by the way, since Nuada’s my twin, he can find me wherever I am,” then the film’s characters would have been spared boatloads of grief…

Ultimately, what The Golden Army seems to prove is, if del Toro must do a popcorn movie, then he really should be kept away from the script, or at the very least, have a co-writer by his side (Blade II was written by David Goyer, and Mimic was co-written with Matthew Robbins, who also penned Dragonslayer and *batteries not included).
It seems as if del Toro’s storytelling is better suited to films like El espinazo del diablo or El laberinto del fauno, where action set pieces aren’t required to punctuate the narrative, and the only real fuel that’s needed is his rich and seemingly boundless taste for the fantastic.

Parting shot: Reviews of del Toro’s Blade II and El laberinto del fauno can be found in the Archive, alongside reviews of Mutant Chronicles and The Last Winter (which star Hellboy himself, Ron Perlman).

(Hellboy II: The Golden Army OS [design by BLT & Associates] and Angel of Death character OS courtesy of; images courtesy of [Guillermo del Toro and Mike Elizalde, photos by Egon Endrenyi];;; and

Thanx to Rej and MeAnn of New Worlds, for the cool headgear, the reading material, and of course, the tickets to the Troll Market, and to Jeb, for coming along for the ride…

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