"How long are we gonna do the same thing?"

"How long are we gonna do the same thing?"

Cigar. Cuban. Now you pissed me off!” says the protagonist of Guillermo Del Toro’s latest venture Hellboy II: The Golden Army as the baddie’s sidekick Wink, yields a blow to his face, making his favorite tool fall into water. With a face that looks like a cross of a samurai and X-Men mutant beast, Hellboy (Codename Hellboy) is a character right out of the pulp magazines.  And with a name like that and a storyline that aids the use of eye-candy incredibly, the producers would always rest assured. Plus one to the count of superhero films in 2008.

So we have here this bunch of four central ultra-cool mutants – The cigar chewing, beer boozing, borderline-colonel Hellboy (Ron Perlman), the earth element, The timid and brainy Abe (Doug Jones), the  water ingredient, the intensely anxious Liz (Selma Blair), the fire girl and Johann Krauss (James Dodd) the German intellectual forming the wind element of the group bound by (the absence of) the fifth element. All hell breaks loose when the exiled Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the mythical world decides to call it quits with the truce with the humans that called for peace and aided the banishment of their indestructible “Golden Army”. The film’s best moment, perhaps, comes around this point where we see the mythical prince practicing his sword in a fairly mythical milieu and just as he finishes, a high speed train whizzes past behind him! One feels that he is in for a great time. NO.

But for this, the prince has to unite the three pieces of the all-powerful golden crown that controls the army and hence break his bonds with his family that preserves two of the pieces. Meanwhile, Hellboy and Liz are trying to reconcile with the discerning eyes of the human world and form a happy little familial world for themselves. And when their paths cross, it’s the same thing all over again. Villain hurts hero, hero gets back big time. All this happens on a high-speed, immensely attractive vehicle called Computer Graphics that seems to never tire the audience. Year after year, be what the form, this boon (?) given by science has been regularly and faithfully exploited.

It is clear that Del Toro has the uncanny ability to blend elements of the ever enchanting world beyond the natural – the mythical – with the harsh realities of the existential one. But where Pan’s Labyrinth (2006) scored was in its treatment of the two worlds. Those worlds never saw each other, those worlds were never affected the clockwork of each other, those worlds were bliss. Here, Del Toro has let one world loose into another, arguably corrupting not only the integrity of the worlds but also of the plot itself. The Golden Army hence becomes no better than a CG-driven superhero flick that succumbs to market demand.

Of course, the film has its own charming moments where you tend to forget all the stereotype moments so far. Consider the scene where Hellboy and Abe retire in the library after a hard day’s work. They listen to “Popular Love Songs”, sipping loads and loads of beer, singing along unabashedly and cruising into a hilariously contemplative mood. One does forget that these guys aren’t humans and smiles all the way. Additionally, Hellboy is amusing with all his one liners and his thinking-with-his-knuckles attitude. But that’s just about everything that you take back from the two hours of runtime. Like Iron Man (2008), The Golden Army also seems to rely too much on these things.

Clichés galore, The Golden Army seems like an exercise in typical Hollywood film craft. The cool and funny gang of superheroes, check. The megalomaniac baddie who turns out to be the boss, check. A thin thread of romance between the good side and the bad one, check. Sacrifice of a lesser but lovable character for the greater good, check. CG flood, manipulative score, tilted camera angles, check, check and check. Once can go on and on, but somebody’s got to do the job. Every year, there seem to come a few films that offer what the audience wants but are so easy to be smashed. But if not for them, we would not be appreciating better ones, would we?