Hellboy II continues where the first film leaves off, with Red and his crew dealing once more not only with the threat of impending destruction of the human race but also the everyday complexities of relationships as well as the struggle to find their places in the world. The film definitely has the feel of an in-between film (apparently there’s a Hellboy III in the works) but that worked for me; I like having the time to explore common comic-book hero dilemmas—like how to deal with ungratefulness and even hostility from those you try to save—without having it tied up neatly in two hours. Without giving away too many spoilers, it will be interesting to see how Red and his crew deal with the consequences of their choices during and at the end of this film in the next one.
But I think what I liked most about the film was the “mix of myth with modern” (as my husband put it). Director and mastermind Guillermo del Toro does this well; sitting in that theater, it wasn’t hard for me to believe that Hellboy and Abe and Liz exist, that Troll Alley really does reside under the Brooklyn Bridge and that tooth faeries are fierce little creatures I wouldn’t want anywhere near my children (or their teeth). No doubt, this is because Del Toro’s creatures (like those in Pan’s Labyrinth) are fleshy and earthy rather than ethereal, as if these would indeed be the creatures I could run across in the woods behind my house or under a bridge instead of those we fancy in pages of childfriendly fairy tales or chereb embossed greeting cards. In many ways, Del Toro’s work puts good feet on the Tolkien and Lewis idea of myth, that God expresses himself through the images and worlds he finds in the minds of storytellers and poets—in this case, the rich and full and dangerous and magnificent layers of the world around us. Del Toro is such a storyteller, I think; he’s so good at it that I found myself resonating with the Prince when he reviles humans for having “forgotten the gods” and destroyed the earth in their greed and insatiable desires. Indeed, we have forgotten the dimensions and beings that exist in the rich layers of our world just out of sight—and too many of us have chosen to forget the Creator and Sustainer of our rich world. And we are poorer for it. Del Toro’s storytelling and world remind me of that.
I also appreciated the moments in the film touching on human nature, being described as having “holes in their hearts” which we try to fill with an insatiable greed but never get enough. These are good images of the bent aspect of our nature towards selfishness. And it’s somewhat reminiscent of Pascal’s “infinite abyss”:
What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there once was in man a true happiness of which now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, seeking from things absent the help he does not obtain in things present. But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.Indeed, there are good images and references to this truth—and its consequences—in del Toro’s characters and world.
Also, I couldn’t help but think of Steven D. Greydanus’ insightful and interesting article at Christianity Today, which notes and explores the tendency of filmmakers and authors to focus more on the powers of hell than the angelic ones (hat tip to C-Orthodoxy). But after seeing this film, I'm not so sure I agree completely when it comes to Hellboy and del Toro’s world. Unlike films like Constantine or Ghost Rider (two other films used as examples by Greydanus), Del Toro doesn’t take us to heaven or hell but keeps us in this one. And most of his characters aren’t so much angelic or demonic (or purely good or evil) but more like us, conflicted, with our choices determining who we are more than where or who we come from.
And the choices made in this film are worth contemplating. Two of the heroes actually make (in my humble opinion) some questionable and short-sighted (but understandable) choices in the name of love, while another makes a sacrifice in spite of it (or, perhaps, for a greater, more selfless love). If Del Toro’s true to his word, the third film will explore the consequences of these choices—and I, for one, am curious to see how those play out.
Really, this is probably one of the best comic book films I’ve seen in quite some time. I actually liked it better than this year’s Iron Man—and I liked that one a lot. It’s not perfect, but it is very good.
I just wish I could get Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You out of my head. I caught myself humming the dang thing again this morning. Ack.