a seemingly random journey through cinema's heart of darkness. so to speak.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Hellboy (2004, Guillermo del Toro)

The Theory of Awesomeness™ was not invented by me, but it is in need of advertising. As though it needed one, its explanation goes like this: a movie needn't be perfect, as perfection can often be a mite boring and/or limiting. However, if a movie boasts enough awesome* moments, its flaws can be rendered, at least to an extent, irrelevant.

This clearly applies to Hellboy, which features no one's idea of a strong narrative but which, during its oddly breezy 132 minutes, boasts no shortage of mind-bogglingly awesome moments. Not the least of these would be the villainous henchman, who is frankly what Darth Maul should've been and who also one-ups Boba Fett -- he's mysteriously taciturn and astonishingly interesting. Suffering from a psychological malady dubbed by big-haired professor John Hurt as "surgical addiction," the man -- working alongside the ridiculously ominous triumverate of the Nazis, Rasputin and Satan -- has long ceased to be a typical man, having long ago a) removed his eyelids, b) sawed off his lips, and c) discovered a workable way to replace blood with sand. If this weren't enough to render him totally goddam awesome, then he also dresses in black, wears a mask (at one point wearing a helmet as well -- wonderful de-helmetting moment), is a dead-on sharpshooter, can do fancy dance-moves while slicing people with the two blades that pop out from his forearms, and, when found with nothing to do, likes to relax while listening to German pop music from the '40s.

For this bit, and far more, Hellboy makes up for its occasional narrative incoherence -- hell, it may even work because of them. Audience-identification figure and all, it feels like we're being thrown into a world, not simply a storyline -- in fact, it's less a comic-book action movie than a character study, albeit one where the characters do little else but fight and brandish guns packed with over-sized bullets. Guillermo del Toro, who helped out on the script, rarely bothers with introductions or longwinded explanations, as we'd never get anywhere were it to explain everything to us. (Truly one of the reasons why X-Men never took off.) Instead, it gives us just enough information to get us by, then hurls us right into the fray -- a technique that works since del Toro is no more technician but a craftsman: he makes everything flow together. Bonus points for making aforementioned audience-identification figure a pretty damn good shot and rather violent and professional, even with that haircut. Still more bonus points for suggesting that Hellboy is so confident, maybe even arrogant, that he never worries about taking on the ultimate in the form of evil -- all he wants is the girl (who receives one of the most bone-chilling flashbacks in movie history). If Blade II -- the franchise into which del Toro blissfully pumped color and humor -- suggested something stronger from him around the corner, then this is it. I'm thinking this one suggests more from him, too. Good job, bud.

*That is not referring to the correct use of the word "awesome," which of course means immense, but rather the vernacularian one that could applied to, say, the quality of a hot dog. Thanks for the explanation, Mr. Izzard.


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