With some seven feature films under his belt, Guillermo del Toro's filmmaking resume is beginning to take shape. Whether you mostly love his films (like I do) or are kept at a distance by his strange preoccupations and sometimes sluggish storytelling, del Toro's growing body of work is among the more noteworthy achievements in contemporary studio filmmaking. Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which opened over the weekend, is his latest. It's a worthy sequel, an exceptional comic book movie, and a wonderfully strange funhouse of weird creatures and formal beauty.
Critical responses to the film have been mostly positive, but now that the critics have accepted, even embraced Guillermo del Toro, I have noticed more varied approaches to his films. Hopefully it's the beginning of a dialogue that will only become more interesting and multi-dimensional. For a lively discussion already underway about Guillermo del Toro and his work, check out the comments section Jonathan Pachecho's House review from Friday.
Below are excerpts from my review of the film, which is now up over at The House Next Door:
"While a number of critics are positioning Hellboy II: The Golden Army in relation to director Guillermo del Toro’s forthcoming venture into Middle Earth, the film sits more comfortably as a companion piece to the director’s last film, Pan’s Labyrinth. The 2006 Oscar-winner was not just formally beautiful, but resonated with deeply realized themes of spirituality and the necessity of storytelling. Structurally and aesthetically, del Toro rendered two worlds—fascist Spain and a magical fairy world—that couldn’t thrive, grow, or exist without the other. He carefully denied the viewer the pleasure of escaping into myth or narrative, while also establishing a disjointed “reality,” with persistent intrusions of the fantastic. This was precisely his purpose: to illustrate that these two worlds are mutually constitutive and inseparable from one another.
By contrast, Hellboy II more outwardly revels in its fantasy. It serves up a delicious menu of goblins, trolls, armies, and angels of death, all brought to life with unparalleled vision. But even though del Toro is steadfastly focused on populating his world (which he established in Hellboy II’s 2004 predecessor) with as many odd creatures as his mind can dream up, evident also in the film’s swirling compositions of color and movement is the same commitment to narrative that ran through Pan’s Labyrinth. You may not be overwhelmed by the thinly drawn Shakespearean character dynamics or the predictably action-heavy denouement, but this movie is about the moments in between—the simple, seamless unfolding of narrative energy."
"In Guillermo del Toro’s worldview, storytelling is not about structure, cohesion, or resolution, but about the experience of being in a world, a place, a mind, and feeling it from the inside out. It’s essentially about sensation and encountering magic in the everyday world, where such things are often thought to have no place. Del Toro believes that storytelling is worth fighting for simply because it is the defining element of humanity. We may draw distinctions between reality and fantasy, but del Toro wants to shatter that divide and revel in the pure experience and immediacy of narrative.
The elements of his narrative in Hellboy II may not be real, or even deep for that matter, but del Toro allows them to fill the screen and the imagination, reminding that the fantasy can become real as much as the real can become fantasy. They bleed into each other and inform one another."
For the full review, click here.
Whether or not you have seen the film and have thoughts on it, the career trajectory of Guillermo Del Toro, or anything else, comment away!