3 – HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
The best of Del Toro’s mainstream films, and possibly one of the best sequels ever made. In this sequel, gone is the city backdrop, replaced with one of the most gorgeous, imaginative and enjoyable urban fantasy settings in film. Gone is Agent Miles, replaced with…nobody. We simply get more of Hellboy, Abe Sapien and Liz – the characters that we all care for. An elven prince is rebuilding a crown that will allow him to take control of the golden army, an indestructible army of clockwork warriors, so he can take revenge on the humans who have ravaged his wilderness home. It’s up to Hellboy and team to stop him, with new allies and more powerful foes. All the while, Hellboy has to face his greatest challenge yet – the prospect of being a father.
This is possibly Del Toro’s most Del Toro film. Not a single shot goes by without the director’s hand leaping off the screen. Troll town and the prison of the army are sets that make me envious of the director’s imagination. All of the creatures, from the Prince’s troll henchman, Mister Wink, to a small scene involving an Angel of Death, are among the best I have ever seen put to screen. This is some of the best imagination and world building I’ve seen since the original Star Wars trilogy. The action is top notch, the best of the directors career. The make-up, flawless. The acting, just as perfect as before, from old and new cast members too.
The best scene in the film though, doesn’t involve action. It isn’t the impressive moment against the forest spirit – with a tearful end to it. It isn’t the talk with the Angel of Death. It isn’t the slapstick of seeing a smoke-cloud voiced by Seth McFarlane smashing lockers into Hellboy’s head. No comedy moment, no horror moment. It’s a simple scene. Hellboy and Abe are feeling heartache – so they gather in the main hall, put on a love song, open a can of beer and start singing together. It’s small, but it’s the most important scene in the whole film. It’s in these scenes that we see the films full heart. It might sound sappy, but it simply makes it one of the most enjoyable blockbusters of the modern age.
2 – THE SHAPE OF WATER
Finally earning a long deserved Oscar for best director and picture, Del Toro shows us that he has not at all lost his touch. That he, in fact keeps improving. A different twist on The Creature from the Black Lagoon, and the Beauty and the Beast story. The Shape of Water follows a mute, lonely woman, living with a gay artist, who works at a government facility. Here, a creature – that looks strangely like Abe from Hellboy, with Doug Jones in the role again – has been taken captive and tortured by a cold government operative. She helps the creature escape and they bond, soon blossoming into a romance.
This is a weird film that celebrates being different. There is a great message of respecting all people, no matter the colour of their skin, their gender, sexual preference, believes and disabilities. It’s something that we have all heard to death. But it’s told differently – and if we’re being honest, with the way the world is now, we could probably do with hearing this lesson again. Most of all it’s not cynical – Del Toro isn’t ticking a box, he’s telling a very good story and being completely sincere about it. All the characters are relatable. Even the villain, played by Michael Shannon, has understandable motivations, even if we don’t agree with his actions. Sally Hawkins and Doug Jones steal the show as the leads, both wordless and completely through expression. Impressive when Jones in hidden beneath mountains of make-up. And Richard Jenkin’s – one of my favourite actors – is on top form.
It’s a film as beautiful as it is grotesque. There is the infamous fish-man sex scene, which did get overplayed by the press and was actually a very sweet moment. Then we have the violent scenes. The gore is not only intense, it feels real. A man is shot in the mouth and a finger put in through the hole – it’s horrible to watch, but perfectly offsets the whimsical romance. The worst comes from Michael Shannon’s rotting fingers, which get more fouled and festering as Shannon get’s more unhinged. Of all his films, I’m glad this one won the Oscar. Everything that is great about Del Toro is displayed perfectly in this film. All of the best, and none of the bad.