Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Ending of Heckboy II


One thing I like about the movie reviews of James Berardinelli is that he digs into the craft more so than other critics and if he has major issues with a story that he can’t reveal because it would be a spoiler, he’ll give you a link to clink for more details. And such was the case for what he considered
two large problems with Heckboy II.

If you’ve seen the film, tell me what you think about his complaint:

From a plotting perspective, the film makes two large missteps during its denouement. Polished screenplays shouldn't have such readily identifiable flaws, which makes me wonder whether something important was deleted from the finished cut. Problem #1: Nuala's suicide kills Nuada. This is reasonable since the link between the two is well-established. But why wait until the end of the movie? If she's going to sacrifice herself, why not do it at a more meaningful time, like when her brother is about to kill the king? Or when he's about to take control of the Golden Army? Her ability to end his threat at any time with one well-placed knife thrust to her chest makes the entire movie seem kind of pointless. In reality, Nuada was never much of a danger. Problem #2: Liz turns the crown into slag. If she can melt the crown, why not offer this option to Nuala earlier? The elf princess could have turned over her piece to Liz, Liz could have destroyed it, and the Golden Army's threat would have been neutralized. Both of these instances represent sloppy screenwriting. It's hard to ignore such issues; they damage the integrity of the ending and that, in turn, makes the movie less special. Hellboy II is solid entertainment, but it's a shame such blemishes prevent it from achieving a higher level.

This kind of complaint reminds me of my first reaction to The Wizard of Oz. If all Dorothy had to do was click her heels to go home, why the hell didn’t the Good Witch tell her that in the first place in Munchkinland? I would’ve ripped that bitch’s wings right off!

I still remember my mother trying to explain it to me:

“That’s just the way it is.”
“Because why? It makes no sense.”
“Because otherwise we wouldn’t have a story, now would we?”

I hated that answer. And I hate that answer today. That will never be a good enough answer for any story. One must have a solid reason rooted IN THE STORY, rooted IN THE CHARACTERS.

Case in point with Heckboy II. In that moment when Nuada was making his move to kill the king, Nuala could’ve screamed “STOP!” He stops. He turns. Nuala has a knife pointed at her chest. She tells him that the moment he kills their father, the king, he will die, too. She won’t let this happen. Nuada’s intrigued. He confronts her and calls her bluff. He dares her to kill herself. She can’t do it. She drops the knife and runs away. Nuada turns back around and slays the king.

Problem solved. Nuala was capable of threatening Nuada with death, but she just couldn’t do it. Can you blame her? Suicide’s not exactly an easy decision. If we had a moment where we were made to see how difficult that choice was for her, we wouldn’t ask “why.”

Your thoughts?


Neil said...

The Princess could have simply stabbed herself in the right hand and her brother would have dropped the knife; she did not have to kill herself.

The script had a lot of sloppy points in it, but the movie was really good overall. My biggest fault was that I never really felt any tension in the movie. I never felt like any of the characters were in any danger. The scene with the baby and the giant elemental was fun and funny, but you knew that the baby was not in mortal peril at any point.

Another thing I did not understand was where were the rest of the elves? So there are only three elves left, but they rule the entire "kingdom?" There should have been a lot more fleshing out of the fallen kingdom and the duality between the fantasy and "real" worlds. Instead we catch up with the remainding few suvivors of the fantasy world, living in sewers of NYC ruling a "kingdom." Yet a few scenes later are exposed to the "Troll market" which is very much alive with it's hustle and bustle. So the majestic elves faded into the ether, but the trolls flourished?

HB2 did prove that BDT does indeed have the chops to helm "The Hobbit" movie(s). His other movies proved his talent, but HB2 proved he can whip up a relatively epic (although flawed) tale.

I am still curious as to why Del Toro did not use any of the myriad of Hellboy villains, but instead created his own world.

Unknown said...

I haven't seen Hellboy II yet but here's the answer to your Wizard question: if Glinda had given Dorothy the answer at the beginning, Dorothy would never have 1) helped the Scarecrow, the Cowardly Lion, the Tin Man or the Wizard realize their potential and 2) experienced the things that helped her appreciate what she had at home. There's no book lesson as powerful as an experiential lesson and Dorothy's Oz journey taught her many unforgetable lessons. Over the course of the journey, she grew and Glinda, being the good teacher she was, had to let her pupil taste both failure and success.

Didn't you ever ask your mother a question only to have her say "look it up"? Seeing the word antidisestablishmentarianism on the page of the dictionary burns it into your memory much more clearly than having mom tell you how it's spelled.

Mystery Man said...

Purple - Great comment about the princess stabbing her hand. That would've worked. I certainly agree with you about the lack of tension. Personally, my biggest problem had to do with this relationship conflict between Red and Liz. I just wasn't feeling it. I struggled to grasp for a while what the issue truly was. It just felt forced and contrived to me. They could've come up with something more substantive and engaging. Great comments about the elves, too.

Pat - Hehehe... I liked your answer better than my mother's but I still don't understand why SHE had to go on that journey. Was it ever established that she DIDN'T appreciate what she had at home? Was the experience of helping the lion in Oz teach her an important lesson back home so that she could help her uncle (or whomever was the lion in her dream)? I must admit, too, that "growth" is kind of bothersome to me as well, because it's such an easy excuse for amateurish writing. It always comes back to the same question of setup and payoff for me: "Was it ever established that his character was lacking in that area where he/she experienced growth?"


Matt said...

It sure was established - there's a general sense of discontentment from Dorothy, which is visualized in the sepia-tone look and verbalized in the form of 'Over the Rainbow' - combined with Ms. Gulch's impending execution of Toto, which Em and Henry were not going to stop. She was running away right before the Tornado struck - the Tornado was the only thing that brought her home.

And I'm with Pat on the Glinda issue... if Glinda tells Dorothy she can get home any time she wants, she would've stayed in Oz forever. It's only when she realizes what she had that she learns how to get back to it.

Christian H. said...

I think things like that are caused by "set-piece screenwriting." When we are trying too hard to make the story fit the purpose, we will lose tension.

That example is like a revealed "deus ex machina," something you NEVER want.

I've neither seen the movie nor read the script but I can imagine basically all the beats.

I knew it wouldn't go beyond $50M simply because fantasy is hard to make mainstream, especially with the juxtaposition between Red and "the fish guy."

And, hey making an "inter-species" relationship fly...

The guy has a big gun and super strength, that would make for a helluva mainstream concept without the need for underground cities of "freaks."

The key to successful superhero team movies is having their powers used together to defeat a villain.

It would be a letdown to see a peripheral character "make the kill."

Nick said...

I had a number of issues with Hellboy 2, both the relationship and the overall lack of tension are great calls, but overall the story just felt really sloppy.

The first thing I said after the movie was "why didnt the sister just stab herself fifty minutes earlier and save us all a head ache?"

Hellboy reveals himself to the public and they go from loving to hating him in a matter of a couple of days? At least that's what it seemed like. Also the reveal never even played into the story that much. I kept expecting the public to play a bigger role one way or the other.

Overall, I just got the feeling that while Del Toro has some really incredible ability as a director, he just isn't cut out to be a writer. I hope someone else writes the hobbit and leaves Del Toro to imagine the world and set pieces involved.

Also, young Hellboy freaked me out. Voice dubbing much?

Tim Christian said...

A few more problems with the script, IMHO...

Why didn't the prince grab his sister when she was right in front of him, instead of unleashing the tree monster? At that point he's established that he can zip around without being stopped and she's right there.

In the tree monster scene, why does the prince speechify to HB about choosing between him and the humans? The prince wants HB dead (he wouldn't have unleashed leafy otherwise) and he assumes he'll soon be the head of an invincible army, so he doesn't need HB.

All I can say is, thank goodness he's not writing the Hobbit script. He's our new George Lucas.

Rob:-] said...

I've been itching to get this off my chest and this seems like an audience that can understand.

At the end of "Lord of the Rings: Return of the King", the eagles rescue Frodo and Sam from the lava. If the eagles can carry a Hobbit and are friends of Gandalf, why didn't they just fly Frodo and the ring to Mt. Doom in the first movie?

That really baked my noodle, to coin a phrase.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rob, Peter Jackson actually addressed that point in his LOTR - Return of the King commentary (Special Edition). He claims that the eagles were their own race, mostly doing their own thing and wouldn't participate in being the 'taxis of middle-earth'. (Similarly, if you look at the novels, Tom Bombadil isn't even AFFECTED by the ring's power and he's some sort of super / age old being himself, so he's more powerful than anyone else on Middle-Earth...!) It does seem a little bit flimsy logic, but then again, if the eagles really did fly into Mordor with the ring, Sauron would have had his eye on it immediately - considering he basically had 'air superiority' with 9 Nazgul... Then again - how many eagles are there, actually? I've resigned to stop debating myself on that one, haha.

Rob:-] said...

Well, the comentary is great (I think Peter set a new standard for bonus features on the LOR triligy) but I don't think it would have been impossible to work that info into the story so I wouldn't have to wonder about it.

Anyway, good discussion thread. For me the story has to hold together in every point or it takes me out of the experience.

Thanks for commenting.

Mystery Man said...

Matt - See? This is why I love my screenwriting community. They explain things to me! Thanks, man. I guess I should watch it again. I've avoided it for years for this reason. A rethink's in order.

Christain - deus ex machina - yup, exactly.

Nick - Great comments. I agree with every point. The thing is, Heckboy CAN be great.

Bark - Yes! That moment in which we had some speechifying to HB seemed, to me, to be a weak attempt at creating an inner conflict in HB that never really existed and we never believed he would seriously consider.

Rob - That made me laugh. I don't know. I drank a lot of alcohol while watching those movies. (I go to a theater that serves beer and wine.)

Michael - Exactly. I was going to make that same point. Hehehe...


Art Picked Me said...

In my opinion, Hellboy II didn't really have villains. In fact it didn't really have much of a plot either, yet the first film pulled that off very well. I think that's the greatest disappointment that the second film brought. The original Hellboy had Sammael that the protags treated as run of the mill even though the 'end of days' lurked with every passing scene. Rasputin and Kroenen brought more flavor as each was a well thought out threat to Hellboy personally.

I think the differences came from the history of the villians. In the first movie they were strong and ingrown into the birth of Hellboy. In this movie, the villain's history was a jokey setup and a fairy tale. For a movie that struggled to realize and deconstruct fairy tales like the tooth fairy, they never gave the Elven war a chance, or the main character for that matter.

GDT felt like he was never ready to have a real war happen, and neither could he afford one. It looked like he just wanted to shoot Baraka and used Hellboy as a centerpiece. That's at least my explanation for why he ignored the worst performance I've seen from Selma Blair (a little too busy keeping his puppets on cue). That's another really strong aspect of the first that's nearly completely gone from this movie. We have caricatures instead of people. The protag who brought us into the world of Hellboy gets one-lined out of the movie, Jeffrey Tambor gets caged, Selma...oh selma, hell even the agents get less respect in this movie. The crowds are treated like a pack of stage extras like they are, but shouldn't seem so much so. Even that baby might as well have been a pillowcase.

There first film was big on potential and often short on realization. It brought you a team that was already fractured, a hero that was already conflicted and a rookie who barely knew how to dodge traffic. The second squeezed my heart into a clay shavings, because it didn't bring what it promised: everyone on the A game, finding out something more about themselves and taking down a truly personal enemy in grander battlegrounds than the subway.

This film felt anti-sequel. The script screamed progression, but the direction ran the other way, but at least it looked nice. We can hope the writers and actors on the Hobbit will work doubletime, cuz all GDT feels like makin is a nice lookin art piece.

Anonymous said...

Some of you are being a bit too harsh.

"Not cut out to be a writer."

"The next George Lucas." :Gasp:

This is the same man who wrote, directed, and produced Pan's Labyrinth. It's a masterpiece. He also co-wrote, directed, and produced The Devil's Backbone -- another great film. His talents are not in doubt.

I haven't seen Hellboy 2, so I can't comment on it. There may be misfires, and the criticisms could be valid, but keep in mind that this film has no aim other than to be pure, off the wall fun, which is not easy in an age of cynicism.

Did you watch this movie to enjoy it, or analyze it?

Predicted response: Both.

We in the Western world (I'm assuming here) have an overwhelming need for logic in our stories. That's a cultural issue, and an inhibitor to the craft. We see people do entirely irrational things in our daily lives. Why can't a character in a film?

(long time reader first time poster)

Art Picked Me said...

To kyle, I personally only went to Hellboy to enjoy it, not to analyze it, because I loved the first film, and not for many rational analytic reasons. Just because the characters grabbed me and a good number of scenes stay with you for little more reason than Hellboy nudging a box kittens of Jeff Tambor throwing some sprockets. I understood most of the things that were wrong with that film, but didn't really care. The 2nd made me care, because they tried to make too many half-assed jokes work. Because bad acting was never a part of the deal. Because the movie was half-way through and I realized it stands a chance of never being on par with the first 20 minutes. A dirty shame.

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