Once I heard the concept for Hellboy II–Hellboy versus elves–I knew what was going on. Del Toro was going to make a (tonal) sequel to Pan’s Labyrinth instead of an actual one to Hellboy. As my wife said on the way home, there’s a big difference between demons and elves. It’s like del Toro’s psychic and was jockeying for his Hobbit gig before it was even announced.
It’s hard to identify the movie’s biggest problem. There’s the flushing of the original’s atmosphere for a fantasy one (it’s never scary or disturbing–Luke Goss’s villain is created from special effects, not a performance… he’s as intimidating as Bronson Pinchot on “Perfect Strangers”). Del Toro also fills the film with fight scenes in confined areas and he’s not particularly good at making the fight scene interesting. I mean, Hellboy’s never going to die, right? The one great “fight” scene is more an action sequence, with Hellboy trying to save a baby while battling a giant tree. That scene works, mostly because it’s more like the action in the first film.
As a sequel, Hellboy II compares terribly. It isn’t just the script, it’s practically everything. But the script’s lack of real development is problematic. The present action is short, probably two days, and the setup reveals the characters aren’t much different than they were in the first one (four years ago). Except del Toro has changed Jeffrey Tambor’s character completely (for the worse, he’s a babbling buffon and the idea of him holding an advanced degree is sillier than the elves), in one of the movie’s stranger moves. The other negative developments stem from del Toro’s direction… basically, he’s asking his actors to do things they cannot.
First, Doug Jones. Doug Jones cannot act. From the first moment he utters a sound, the absence of David Hyde Pierce is felt. Jones tries to mimic Pierce’s performance, but a) doesn’t sound smart and b) can’t really properly emote. Jones isn’t an actor, voice or otherwise. He’s the guy they dub over. Still, del Toro does give him some amusing scenes–most of the scenes not involving the elves are okay, even if they are just filler.
Worse is Selma Blair, though I almost think del Toro noticed how terrible she is doing a Ripley impression. She’s in it sparingly after a point and other times she’s just silent and background. Del Toro’s subplot for Blair and Ron Perlman is idiotic, mainly because it leads to him ripping off the end of Patriot Games (sort of).
John Hurt shows up for a second and he’s real good. Seth McFarlane’s a poor choice for the headless German guy, because McFarlane just does his German accent from “American Dad.” I guess it’s fine, but it’s kind of stupid. The only other actor is Anna Walton as Goss’s sister and Jones’s love interest. Her character is terribly written, but I suppose she isn’t atrocious.
Besides the last shot, Guillermo Navarro does a wonderful job shooting the film. His lighting works well with del Toro’s frequent CG composite shots (del Toro’s an amazing fan of CG composites apparently). The special effects are good and the visuals are interesting and impressive and all… even if it is dark and claustrophobic. Hard to see why the elves are so great if they live in caves all the time. Danny Elfman’s score is terrible, derivative of his Batman work–and most everything else he’s ever done.
Hellboy II kind of reminds me of Batman Returns, actually. Del Toro got free reign much like Burton did on that film (del Toro even apes some Nightmare Before Christmas here). The difference is what Burton did with his free reign and the narrative pointlessness del Toro commits with his here.
Perlman makes the whole thing passable–and del Toro still is a fine director, he’s just become an insipid storyteller.