(In theaters, July 2008) Director Guillermo del Toro delivers so much goodness even in his weaker films that it’s tough to be overly critical. So does Hellboy 2, much like its predecessor, remains interesting even despite some seriously flawed scenes and an offbeat sense of humor that fails as often as it succeeds. Often looking like a collection of outtakes for Pan’s Labyrinth‘s fantasy sequences, this supernatural action film goes heavy on the CGI, but with strong visual design that redeems it all. Even the worst creatures are almost endearing, to say nothing of the bleached twins fighting for the right thing, but against the wrong people. The story doesn’t do much than present a clothesline on which to roll out the visuals, which wouldn’t be too bad if it wasn’t for the ham-fisted emotional beats inflicted upon the characters. Obvious soap opera moments do little to bolster the charm of this film’s variety of heroes: sequences go on for far too long with unconvincing staging (witness the Hellboy-vs-locker scene) and contrived bonding sequences. At least some aspects of the mythology don’t feel entirely re-used from other sources, which is a bit of a relief. For some reason, though, Hellboy 2 remains stuck somewhere in the “okay” category, never ascending to loftier heights. Which, come to think of it, seems to be the norm in this 2008 “summer of adequacy”.
(Second viewing, On DVD, January 2009) I’m not really surprised to find out that this film appreciates on a second viewing: Guillermo del Toro’s a canny filmmaker, and the level of detail he crams in even his lighter films is usually worth revisiting on DVD. In this case, however, there are a few more factors at play. As del Toro points out a few times in his commentary, there is a real subversive attitude at play in this film, where the antagonists have stronger morals than the heroes, and where violence usually has bittersweet (or ineffective) results. Even if you do understand this voluntary tweaking of conventions, a second look can do much to smooth out ruffled genre expectations. Otherwise, well, the usual array of del Toro supplements, from a great making-of documentary to a breathless director’s commentary (and a decent actors’ audio commentary as well.) Those who may have dismissed Hellboy 2 too quickly in theaters may be surprised at how well it holds up and improves on a second and third viewing, with some clues from the filmmakers.