Took in Guillermo’s sequel today. Hellboy and Hellboy 2 make a great sandwich, with Pan’s Labyrinth as the meaty filling. Del Toro is working with consistent themes and looks in his films, and he’s proving himself to be more than simply a glorified “B-movie director,” as I read yesterday in a San Francisco weekly.
Like Pan’s Labyrinth, Hellboy 2 has a lot to do with loyalty, choice, and obedience. In both films, the protagonists are severely tested, pitted against such powerful forces as families. In Pan’s, Ofelia defied her mother’s will in order to save her baby brother. More than that, she actively warred against her evil stepfather. Like Ofelia, Mercedes’ filial loyalty cost her her life. Like both Mercedes and Ofelia, Hellboy and Princess Nuala endure the moral dilemma of making choices consistent with their convictions at the cost of family or (in Hellboy’s case) species. At one point, Prince Nuada says to Hellboy, “If you cannot command, you must obey,” referring to Hellboy’s choice either to obey humans or overcome them with his own strength.
Del Toro has a wonderful nostalgia for childhood and children. Pan’s Labyrinth goes without saying. Even Hellboy had the hero behaving like a child whenever his father was near. Hellboy 2 opens with the hero as a prepubescent “boy” begging his father to read him a story before bed. Del Toro shows the story through the young demon’s eyes, and the images are decisively childlike. The young Hellboy’s demeanor is even remarkably different from the Hellboy we know. The youth is wide-eyed, curious, and has general excitement that exclusively befits children. It’s as if Del Toro is telling us that the tired groan of the adult Hellboy is due not so much to his demonic nature, but to his being an adult. Regardless of species, children have a happy innocence that they tend to lose as they grow up. It’s another example of the major theme of Hellboy: nurture over and above nature.
With a sequel, it’s often the case that the cast and crew, to say nothing of the writer(s), become lazy and their laziness shows. With Hellboy 2, the success of the original seems to have empowered the filmmakers to get creative and yet loosen up. It suffices to say that the first film did not feature Hellboy and Abe drunk singing a duet. And where Spiderman 3 failed with attempts at humor, Hellboy 2 very much succeeds, all the way to the closing still and credits.
The San Francisco weekly mentioned in the first paragraph dissed this movie on account of it being “lowbrow” and “mindless.” That is a very funny accusation, because it is so patently false. Certainly Del Toro is entertaining himself in this film as much as his viewers. However, there is plenty going on here that is very visible to the casual viewer. The film is worthy of analysis both on its own and along with the rest of Del Toro’s corpus. As a very small example of the film’s accessibility, check out the billboards in the extreme background of the evening skyline when Liz is worrying about her…situation. Without giving it away, the message on those signs reflects the spirit of what Hellboy is experiencing, what Liz is separately experiencing, and what the overall theme of the film is.