There’s more than just Universal Pictures that unite Wanted and Hellboy II: The Golden Army. And, I guess, that’s why I feel like including Wanted in my thoughts on the latter. Both films come from foreign-born auteurs who owe a great debt to American comic books and action films. Both films are themselves based on graphic novel properties, and exhibit appropriately dazzling visual prowess. And, sadly, neither film is able to fully capitalize on its potential.
If one succeeds more than the other, it’s Hellboy II. Guillermo del Toro gets his hands on more money and more freedom, following his monster hit Pan’s Labyrinth. And, he doesn’t waste an ounce of budget or creative freedom. You can see his enthusiasm in every scene. However, the film doesn’t quite live up to Terminator 2 expectations, as a fellow sequel where the filmmaker was able to turn the volume up. It’s as if there are too many ideas in Hellboy II, almost too much mythology to connect. Meanwhile, Wanted is a visual effects feast, with very few ideas. Hellboy II gives audiences a lot of characters and worlds to chew on. It just lacks some consistency.
Ron Perlman, the man of 100 faces, slides comfortably into his lead role as Hellboy. The rest of the cast (Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Selma Blair, Seth MacFarlane) is also quite pleasant and entertaining. It just feels as though they’re less substantive pieces of the production, and merely chess pieces for del Toro’s elaborate game plan. As for the cast of Wanted, forget about it. James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie are talented and pretty to gaze upon, but their performances are hardly the main event. That would be director Timur Bekmambetov’s no-holds barred visual approach, a sort of Woo-meets-Wachowski parade of bullets, stunts, and slo-mo. Plus, the mythology in Wanted is an empty barrel, a hodgepodge of cinematic cliches that may feel confident in graphic-novel form but come across as lazy in today’s film landscape.
Mythology and universe is where Hellboy II has Wanted beat. Maybe he crafted a clever audition for his next directing gig (adapting Tolkien’s The Hobbit), but del Toro’s imagination cannot be contained. In Pan’s Labyrinth, and even earlier films like Cronos or The Devil’s Backbone, this was executed better. What those films injected, however, was a parallel story about society and history. In other words, monsters and humans were often hard to distinguish. The most human moment in Hellboy II (when our hero and his friend get drunk on Tecate and sing along to Barry Manilow) is too rare and too brief. All of this said, I would happily recommend Hellboy II to any fan of inventive fantasy or comic book cinema. It might even stick with you, after you leave the theater. You just may not find yourself storming back for a second round.