15 years ago, critically acclaimed director Guillermo Del Toro (or, “Guillermo of the Bull”) delved into the world of independent comic book heroes when he adapted creator Mike Mignola’s rough ‘n ready crimson skinned demonic adventurer Hellboy into a beautifully cinematic form, headed by tough guy actor Ron Pearlman in the role of his career. 4 years later, the sequel, Hellboy II: the Golden Army fell short of monetary expectations and thus damned the franchise to freeze over, despite Del Toro, Pearlman, and millions of fans’ cries for a third installment. Well, after a decade plus wait, this year saw a new Hellboy flick finally claw its way from Hollywood’s fetid womb! … as a reboot.
Is this new iteration of The Right Hand of Doom worth selling your soul for? Given that “reboot” is one of our Seven Words You Can’t Say Around the Tomb, its chances of being so are about as good as Frosty’s snowballs surviving water skiing the Lake of Fire.
If you saw the original Hellboy, you know Big Red’s origin. If not, here’s the Thrown-off-a-Cliff Notes version – in an effort to turn the tide of WW2 back to the Nazis’ side of the pendulum, Hitler (yes, that Hitler) hired Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) to summon Satan (yes, that Satan) to destroy the Allied Powers. The good guys smash the Reich riff-raff, but not in time to prevent the conjuring. Instead of Big Daddy Beelzebub though, the ritual brought the Muppet Babies fun-size version to our world. Though killing the literal hellspawn would seem like a good option, the good guys’ leading arcanist’s natural paternal urges kicked in, leading him to“adopt” the crimson skinned scamp and name him
Carl Hellboy. Raised among the supernatural and unable to live among the humans due to his demonic appearance, 70 years later he now works as a member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (Weren’t creative enough to come up with a catchier acronym than “BPRD”? It doesn’t even spell anything!) battling evil in all of its forms. Well, not so much its human forms, just its monster-faced, tentacle swinging, nether horror forms.
The form evil takes for this movie actually is very human, belonging to a centuries old mega-witch named Nimue. Not to be confused with Little Nemo or Leonard Nemoy, Nimue had her ass handed to her by King Arthur (yes, that… you get it) and Merlin (and a dude who would’ve been a gold medalist in the javelin toss) back in fifth century England and is being resurrected in the current day by her acolyte Gruagach, who looks like an ancestor to Bebop of “and Rocksteady” fame. If Hellboy and his associates Ben (a special forces guy who’s specist against monsters) and Alice (a psychic medium and master of Tilda Swinton’s “Astral Punch” attack from Doctor Strange) can’t prevent her from being restored to her full power, Nimmy will tear down the walls of our reality and bring an everlasting darkness to Earth that will see it overrun by the monsters of myth and legend and Clive Barker’s wet dreams. Seriously, she’s got some straight up “Hellraiser by way of Heironymous Bosch” shit in-store for we hairless-apes! Too bad the whole movie couldn’t have just been two hours of that…
Yes, your lying eyes aren’t lying in this instance: this movie runs 120 minutes. I know that’s become the norm for runtimes on blockbusters these days (unless your title begins with “Avengers”), but Jesus vampire hunting Christ does this movie drag! It’s not for a lack of content, because Cosby (not that Cosby) and Marshall pack a whole chocolate fountain of fudge into their flick, adapting as much of Mignola’s original material as can be with what space they were given. It feels like they were trying to plant the seeds for an entire Mignola cinematic universe. Well, they buried said seeds in plenty of fertilizer, but it smells like creative interference forcibly redirected their green thumbs straight up their Whitman Samplers.
You know what made these two hours feel like slivers of glass being slowly pushed under my fingernails? For starters, the special effects are bad. Not “digital diarrhea” bad, but far too bad for a fifty-million dollar feature. Watching Hellboy brawl with a trio of computer generated giants made me feel levels of awkwardness and disappointment not felt since I saw Bob Crane’s snuff film. Beyond needing an eye wash station on hand to prevent permanent ocular damage, the dialogue too was… not great. And as much as I love David Harbour the man, David Harbour the Hellboy is sand paper Q-Tips in my ear canals. Ron Pearlman killed it when he took on the role, but Harbour’s “frat boy going through an emo phase” version just killed my interest deader than Don Rickles’ pickle. I hope the fault doesn’t lay with him and is instead another one of those “creative interference” cases, but whoever is to blame (it could be Mignola if internet sources are to be believed), a curse of Swamp Thing ass upon them!
Despite my derogatory diatribe, Hellboy isn’t an absolute waste of time, as I’ve lost far more of my life to far worse movies. There are some moments of moderate entertainment in the script, the more “horror and gore”-centric overall bend of the flick was welcome (and a move supported by Mignola), we get a great secondary antagonista in Baba Yaga (that would’ve made for a better main baddie than the charisma vacuum that is the Blood Queen did), and there were a few scenes that could’ve been better than okay with some more time and money thrown at them. In particular, the intro (that I refuse to believe is not an homage to the wrestling match from Samson/Santo Vs. the Vampire Women), the aforementioned 3-on-1 battle royale, and the all-too-brief “London Apocalypse” contributed to saving the movie from being completely drown in codswallop.
The movie presses hard for a sequel that I’d bet my(ke Tyson’s) soul on never happening, But, if we were just going to get the same producer interruptions and impractical effects of a turd sandwich we were served this time, it’s better for all involved (especially the audience) that this franchise go back into its stasis chamber for another ten years.
Two Nick Caves out-of-Five
A tale that the man who birthed history’s deadliest appliance in The Terminator, pluralized HR Giger’s penis demons in Aliens, turned the kid from Critters III into a human popsicle in Titanic and just gave up trying to be original when he forced The Smurfs and Dances With Wolves to breed and make Avatar (which also contaminated the global water shelf of creativity with the fucking parasite named “Unobtainium”), Alita‘s long hard road out of Development Hel is an epic story all its own. I don’t have the space to dedicate to such a story here, but I’ll say this much; it’s been on James Cameron’s (possibly erotic) otaku to-do-list since the mid-90s, but it was pushed to the back burner in favor of his other projects before he finally handed the directorial reins to Robert Rodriguez in 2016, then wasn’t released to theaters until 2019 thanks to two more years of graphical tinkering after filming had finished. Is all of that info true? Trust it as far as you can throw IMDB’s server banks.
Was it worth the 24 year wait for a big screen adaptation of a Japanese comic book that probably less than 1% of the global audience has ever heard of? Read on, my super freaks.
The time? 500 years in the future. The place? Iron City. What’s Iron City? A dystopic metropolis that exists in the literal shadow of the “floating” city of Zalem, where the wealthy and well-to-do live lives of luxury as the plebians below struggle to survive on the scraps that their social overlords throw down to them. Amid the cyberpunk squalor of IC, things basically run Wild West style, sadly minus mecha-spider Kenneth Branaugh. Though there is a constabulary, they’re little more than walking tanks that intimidate people rather than upholding any actual law. The real justice in Iron City is vigilante justice, as registered bounty hunters are responsible for keeping the peace, so long as their pockets need filling.
One of the aforementioned “scraps” tossed down from Zalem are the actual remains of a female android, discovered by mechanic-doctor Dyson Ido during a salvage run in the massive scrapyard at Iron City’s center. He takes the leftovers home, where he gives the head and torso a new body and names her “Alita” after his deceased daughter. Al awakens to almost total amnesia as to her previous life, so she doubles as our protagonista AND our avatar on this tour of a whole new world…. sans the magic carpet ride.
Alongside Alita we meet scrap dealer and inevitable love interest Hugo, whose dream is to buy his way into the good life up in Zelam. Through Hugo, we’re also introduced to Rollerball, errr, I mean “Motorball” – a hybrid sport that combines roller derby with… extremely violent cyborg mutilation… so I guess it’s not so much a hybrid sport as it is, well, just roller derby with extremely violent cyborg mutilations… Turns out that anyone who becomes the Motorball MVP for several years time earns citizenry in, you guessed it, Zelam. Given that ‘Lita’s ultimate motivation will now be joining Hugo in the journey to the city in the sky, will she become a professional ‘Baller or take the down and dirtier route and earn her way with a shiny new bounty hunting license? What’s a giant-eyed androidess modeled after a teen girl (seriously, that part never stops being creepy) to do?!
Oddly enough, Krix and I both had fun watching Alita. Though its boiled-down-to-basics “coming of age” theme is overdone and skews for a YA audience, we geezers found Rosa Salazar and her big ol’ weird-ass oculars charming as all get out. Her delivery is just the right amount of naivety for a cyber-person in her position. Waltz plays Ivo with the penchant of a pensive parent and treats the titular tin can with the love of someone who knows what it’s like to suffer serious loss. As with any Rodriguez film, part of the fun is spotting the friends he worked in cameos for, like Jeff “Planet Terror” Fahey, who plays a bounty hunter whose dogs’ iron jaw bites are worse than their barks. Odd that Danny Trejo didn’t make an appearance though. Hmmmm.
RR’s direction has spots of epic scale that work great for the subject material, but I can’t say the same for the CG work, which sure as shit would’ve benefited from some of Cameron’s Avatar buddies. If I’m being honest, the infamous uncanny valley distractions I had throughout my viewing relocated immediately from Al’s saucer eyes as soon as any instance of bots battling started up or any scene with android juggernaut Grewishka, whose weird face and entirely CG body looked like their effects could’ve used a bit more time in the figurative oven. Speaking of time, that makes for a fair segue into my dislike for the movie’s final act. Despite being unfamiliar with the illustrated adventures of Alita, I have a sneaking suspicion that the last 20 minutes or so of the movie tried to squeeze a WHOLE LOTTA adaptation into a very limited amount of time. The fluidity afforded the rest of the movie to move comfortably from scene to scene suddenly became overly lubricated as everything seemed to run in Fast Forward. I almost thought I’d sat on my BluRay controller by the time the flick had been wrapped up in its hastily thrown together package. Feels as if half a sequel was lubed up and squeezed in before the credits just so there would be a better tease to end on for a possible future installment. As Krix will tell you, rushing to the finish line just leaves your partner (or in this case, the audience) disappointed.
Before I take my flight on the razor steel wings of my own Battle Angel, I’ve got one more little gripe to ripen: changing the title from “Battle Angel Alita” to Alita: Battle Angel makes my brain itch. Supposedly it’s something to do with Cameron’s greatest successes coming from movies titled with ‘T’ or ‘A’ (make your own “tits and ass” jokes among yourselves) so the name swap may be contributed to some personal superstition. If anything, the “Battle Angel” moniker should’ve been cropped and saved for a sequel since its basis in the movie proper comes off as sloppily inserted (giggity) just so the audience can have their “They said the name of the movie!” spot. It’s all starting to feel like a conspiracy to annoy me personally. Or maybe that’s just the schizophrenia whispering in my ear again. No, damn it! I told you, I’m not going to burn down any (more) Hardeeseseses!
Four Brains in Jars out-of-Five
Back in June, I was so excited for the impending release of this movie that I declared the entire month to be a celebration of giant monster movies we knew and loved, along with ones very few knew and likely very few cared about, let alone “loved”. In the words of Socrates though, “shit happens” and DaikaiJune was not one such proverbial bowel movement. Instead, my personal hype boner for the event was salt petered into the center of the (hollow) Earth when news of Godzilla: King of the Monsters‘ opening weekend intake was more red than green. Red enough that its sour box office performance convinced Legendary to rethink the 2020 release of their much anticipated Godzilla Vs. King Kong, opting to push back to a later date in the hopes that the fallout from GKotM‘s atomic bombing won’t contaminate its own ticket sales.
[X-Men cartoon voice over] Previously, on Godzilla…[/XMcvo] we met the newest American iteration of the great skyscraper destroyer. The “thicc daddy” of kaiju, Dad Bod Godzilla defeated a pair of giant insectoids called M.U.T.O., leveling half of Las Vegas and San Francisco in the process. Despite leaving two major American metropoli uninhabitable from heavy nuclear radiation, Big G was generally hailed as a hero by humanity. “Generally”, because plenty of people who lost loved ones in the colossal conflicts chose to hold grudges against these “Titans” (as they came to be known) and want nothing more than their total elimination.
Dr. Ishiro Serizawa, member of the mysterious monster studying organization Monarch, is back to fight for kaiju rights, working to convince the US government big wigs that Godzilla is a protector of mankind, not a threat. Here’s to hoping he’s right, since the story’s antagonistic militant group of bio-terrorists are plotting to release the Titans on mankind in a global extinction event! Nothing short of an Infinity Gauntlet is going to sweep these gigantic Jehovah’s Witnesses from our collective front door either, so go go Godzilla!
5 years ago, the biggest complaint I heard about Godzilla was director Gareth Edward’s focus on human drama at the expense of mammoth monster smackdown action. When King of the Monsters stomped onto screens, its detractors denounced writer-director Michael Dougherty’s emphasis on too much monster mashing in lieu of compelling human characters. The lesson? You can please most of the critics some of the time and some of the critics most of the time, but there’s no such thing as a universally loved Godzilla flick.
As for me? I liked it. Equally as much as I liked the previous one, in fact. 2014 was a great “less is more” human-level tale, KotM is a great “more is more” blast in the face from a popcorn shotgun of epic monster brawling with a respectable roster of world ravagers that makes me wish it could be a weekly wrestling show! The beasties each have their own moments of personality, especially Ghidorah, whose trio of craniums are frequently snapping at each other like siblings doing that obnoxious “I’m not touching you” torment. Mucho fun.
As for the supposed malnourishment of quality drama? I was happy with the human cast. Sure, some of their characterization wasn’t the best (again, it’s a Godzilla movie, what the fuck do you expect?) and Bradley Whitford’s role was borderline cheese grater-ing my brain stem half of the time, but Kyle Chandler (whom my Evil Dead Bride refers to only as “Friday Night Lights dad”) was a pleasant surprise, while Vera Farmiga, Millie Bobby Brown and Ken Watanabe brought their respective acting chops to the table as always, not skimping on the applesauce.
The inevitable throw down between Goji and Kong can’t get here soon enough for my tastes, nor the teased other sequel that baits us after KotM‘s end credits. Mayhaps the Pacific Rim crossover that a sadly diminutive percentage of the populace has prayed for since Legendary acquired the Big G license? Given that the Hollywood machine runs on the fuel of dead presidents, it’s gonna take a LOT of media sales, physical AND digital, to get us up that mountain. As such, get out there and rent it, buy it, download it, and then do all three all over again with someone else’s credit card! Do your part! Make it happen! Godzilla or Die!
Four Godzookies out-of-Five