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The Films Of Guillermo del Toro: From Worst To Best

Features
by The Playlist Staff
July 9, 2013 1:30 PM
27 Comments
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"Hellboy" (2004)
So just a couple of years after del Toro had been entrusted with a sequel in “Blade II” (rather underrated at the time, by critics if not by filmgoers: the film had the best box office of the trilogy), he was given the keys to his very own franchise. And if his career had been a little bit “one for them and one for me” to this point, perhaps “Hellboy” is the first real evidence that del Toro was going to be able to synthesize both impulses and, when the material allowed him, to deliver straight-up entertainment and decent action, spiced up and colored in with his eye for the loopy and the off-kilter. And that’s exactly what “Hellboy” is, in addition to providing a shamefully enjoyable and long-overdue leading role for Ron Perlman (seriously, there simply has never existed an actor better suited to this role, and there never will). In fact, Perlman’s cigar-chomping, world-weary benign demon is really the perfect fit for del Toro too, the ultimate sympathetic monster with a mile-wide romantic streak and a snarky sense of humor to boot. Which is not to say “Hellboy” is flawless by any means. Outside of Perlman, some of the performances are shaky (earlier on in his career, del Toro’s sympathy for his various devils comes at the expense of the characterization of the humans), and too often it feels like ever-bigger-and-more-versions of the same grey slithery, tentacled CGI critters are used where real stakes ought to be. Still the Boys Own-style fun, right down to the ludicrous Rasputin/Nazi axis of villainy, and the surprisingly touching emotional core, which details the tentatve romance between Hellboy and fellow freak Liz (a superbly cast Selma Blair), lifts “Hellboy” well clear of a lot of its more anonymous comic-book movie competition and still remains a benchmark in what can be achieved when a director really genuinely feels for the source material, as opposed to just playing lip service to it to get the gig. [B]

"Blade II" (2002)
Seen by many as del Toro's "test movie" before he could get the greenlight to finally make his passion project— an adaptation of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" comic book series— "Blade II" is one of the filmmaker's more underrated accomplishments, a violent, stylish, vampire romp in which virtually every character is an unapologetically fiendish blood-sucker, something that makes the movie all the cooler. Del Toro said that he wanted the sequel to Stephen Norrington's sleeper hit "Blade," to be scarier, and he set about accomplishing that by introducing characters that are even more vile than the half-vampire/half-human Blade (Wesley Snipes) and the various vampiric baddies introduced the first time around. Enter: The Reapers. Led by Luke Goss (who del Toro would utilize again for "Hellboy II: The Golden Army"), the Reapers were an amalgam of del Toro fetishes: they have a mouth that opens in a provocatively sexual manner that also gives way to an insect-like maw (both specialities of the director). And "Blade II" is just a blast, bolstered by strong design work (some by Mignola himself— his storyboards are framable), energetically staged action sequences (although sometimes del Toro falters on the hand-to-hand combat stuff) and a greater emphasis on the mythology of the vampire world. Del Toro is responsible for a number of fine, gore-soaked flourishes— the way the vampires turn to dust like the remains of a flicked cigarette, the Dracula-worthy lining of Blade's black leather duster, and, most notably the creation of The Blood Pack, a "Dirty Dozen"-style band of vampires who were trained to kill Blade but are now forced to work with him to find the Reapers. Led by Ron Perlman, as the vaguely Nazi-ish Reinhardt, the additional characters create a nice level of friction and even allow for— gasp!— humor in a Blade movie. Wesley Snipes even smiles a couple of times. Maybe that's del Toro's most miraculous achievement. "Blade II" doesn't try to replicate the feeling of the first one, instead giving into its own bizarre mood and worldview. [B]

Hellboy II: The Golden Army” (2008)

The stakes were high with "Hellboy II: The Golden Army." Not only was it the highly anticipated sequel to an original that had garnered a strong cult following and respectable box office, but it was also del Toro's follow-up to the universally beloved "Pan's Labyrinth," a movie that Stephen King called "the greatest fantasy film since 'Wizard of Oz.'" As such, "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is a mixture of the sensibilities of both the original "Hellboy" and "Pan's Labyrinth," with our beloved, lobster-red paranormal researcher Hellboy (Perlman, again covered in pounds of cutting-edge make-up wizardry) back in business, and this time facing down a number of fairy tale creatures who are threatening to overtake the human world. Del Toro directs like he'll never get another chance at the character (or maybe directing in general), throwing virtually everything into this overheated, hugely enjoyable souffle. Not only does he fashion a dense mythology wholly separate from the comic book the films are based, with an unheard of number of fantastical monsters and beings, exemplified by a prologue visualized as an elaborate puppet show, but he has thrown in a number of fascinating thematic and mythological wrinkles that, should a third film never materialize, will go damningly unfinished. But "Hellboy II" is, first and foremost, a visual feast— a richly imagined, painstakingly world that imagines not only what would happen if the fairy tale world actually existed, but was pushed to the margins of society (so that an elfin king resides underneath Manhattan, his throne a tangle of ancient magic and industrial piping). Del Toro’s imagination (and the goofy gonzo Hellboy universe) reaches its crescendo during the Troll Market sequence, which is like del Toro’s version of the Mos Eisley Cantina setpiece from “Star Wars”— a scene so full of magical, mythical monsters that it almost pops at the seams and one that’s even more arresting for its reliance on practical monsters instead of CGI concoctions. It should also be noted that “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” was the first time that robots and monsters would battle, long before “Pacific Rim,” in the movie’s climax, when the titular army of glitzy wind-up automatons does battle with Hellboy. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” always runs the risk of being too overstuffed for its own good, like binging on a buffet of your favorite candy bar, but it is a surprisingly deep experience and one that gets better with each subsequent viewing, with its humor, warmth, and peculiarity becoming even more of an asset as we drown in a sea of blandly generic superhero tales. [B+]  

"Pacific Rim" (2013)

Del Toro's latest dazzler is, in sheer scope and scale, unlike anything he's ever done before. After leaving "The Hobbit" prequel films and getting shut down on "At the Mountains of Madness," an ambitious Lovecraft adaptation for Universal, del Toro was able to, fairly quickly, fashion something that feels, at times, deeply nostalgic and yet totally new. And since it's filled with huge fucking monsters, it also resonates deeply as a Guillermo del Toro film. Eschewing many of the traditions of this type of summertime blockbuster movie— it's not an origin film, the action sequences are not shot in sunny vistas, and the cast is outrageously multi-ethnic— del Toro has made a hands-in-the-air epic, one whose breathless fun doesn't let up until the moment the credits roll (and there's even a little nugget in there, so stick around for that). In the not-too-distant future, kaiju, giant, monstrous beasts, have escaped from a dimensional rift and promptly set about attacking major cities around the world. In response, humanity has constructed the jaegers, equally giant, monstrous robots who are piloted by teams of two, who are linked, via neural connection, with each pilot serving to operate half the robot. As the main narrative thrust for "Pacific Rim" begins, the program is being dismantled; the monsters are getting too big and scary and killing too many pilots. The movie documents the last stand of the humans, who have gone from being a fighting force to a ragtag resistance, with only a handful of jaegers at their disposal (with cool names like Gipsy Danger and Crimson Typhoon) and little hope of holding off the apocalypse. But, of course, a plucky hotshot (Charlie Hunnam) and a young pilot with revenge on her mind (Rinko Kikuchi) team up to turn the tide. "Pacific Rim" is more thrilling than most blockbusters, with a level of invention and a lightness of touch that are all too often missing from these kind of hulking enterprises. The director even manages to squeeze in a sizable supporting role for constant collaborator Ron Perlman, this time playing Hannibal Chau, an underground dealer of kaiju organs, who teams up with Charlie Day's twitchy scientist, to uncover the monsters' secret. Anime, old "Godzilla" movies, and Japanese manga all seem to be clear influences (the design work here is nothing short of staggering), but "Pacific Rim" still feels fresh and new. It's the work of an imaginative master, having the time of his life. [B+]  

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27 Comments

  • Thislalife | July 14, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Pans is great but is a pretty serious rip off of The Spirit of The Beehive, which is incredible. I agree the Del Toro cult is strange, his movies are not THAT good. Cuaron is more interesting I think. I should say Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece.

    Also I've found the bulk of the Del Toro worshippers have only seen Pans and point to that, as its been said, its great but just full of creature design n heavy emotions. It's like the trippy foreign film for the masses. Art! Spain! Monsters! Why couldn't the The Shins have been on the soundtrack?????

  • Og | July 14, 2013 8:55 PM

    C'mon! Erice and Del Toro are both great but pretty different filmmakers. There are some similar plot points (fantastic worlds dreamed by little girls living in the Spain post Civil War) but the intentions and styles are from different worlds. Pans is no a rip off of Beehive! And there's nothing wrong with being "for the masses" (one of the BIG difference with the cryptic Beehive, by the way)!
    I agree that Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece maybe even better than Pans.

  • Thislalife | July 14, 2013 12:43 PMReply

    Pans is great but is a pretty serious rip off of The Spirit of The Beehive, which is incredible. I agree the Del Toro cult is strange, his movies are not THAT good. Cuaron is more interesting I think. I should say Devil's Backbone is a masterpiece.

    Also I've found the bulk of the Del Toro worshippers have only seen Pans and point to that, as its been said, its great but just full of creature design n heavy emotions. It's like the trippy foreign film for the masses. Art! Spain! Monsters! Why couldn't the The Shins have been on the soundtrack?????

  • Dan | July 10, 2013 12:29 PMReply

    I'm surprised you'd put Hellboy II above Hellboy. I felt that Hellboy II built up to a rather anti-climactic and unsatisfying ending.

  • Piotr | July 9, 2013 11:37 PMReply

    I am convinced the fan love for this guy is entirely manufactured. What has he *really* done? Hellboy wasn't even that good. Name one scene from a Hellboy movie. You can't, can you? Because they're not that good at all. They're unmemorable. I'll admit I want to go see Pacific Rim, but only because I like Godzilla, and more than anything I'm curious. But back to my point - Del Toro is manufactured. There are very few "fanboys" in the world who love this guy as much as is being sold. Most everybody I talk to says they're "meh" to "whatever" on the guy. Yet the media will have us believe that he is the ultimate geek master God. I realize I sound like an insane person when I refer to "the media," like they all get together at brunch and decide what they're going to write about, but there is a certain "if all your friends jumped off a bridge..." quality to what gets reported. People associated "geek" with "del Toro," and "monster" with "del Toro," and "fanboy" with "del Toro," so that's what we hear about so often. I think, in reality, this guy is really a non-entity. My un-love for Matthew Vaughn is well documented (what does that mean? well documented where?), and I'd rank del Toro in the same camp. He's a... nothing. He directs movies. That's about it. Is he good? Is he bad? He's nothing. He's just... nothing. The end.

  • Piotr | July 13, 2013 12:44 AM

    Wow. Ok.

    @WALLARDG. Your response is amazing. And three times, to really drive it home? This comment is not sarcasm. I thoroughly enjoyed your comment. It was vivid.

    @MARK. Ten active better directors? Paul Thomas Anderson (yeah but the master was slow). Ang Lee. David Fincher. The Coen Brothers. Michael Mann. Quentin Tarantino. David Lynch (I guess sorta not active anymore, it's been a while). Alfonso Quaron. Matt Reeves. Brad Bird. That should give you some idea of where I stand. Sorry we don't agree. Maybe we just have different tastes? That can happen between people, I've heard.

    @MARIO. The Devil's Backbone is probably my favourite del Toro movie. It is moody and has atmosphere. Was unmemorable for me beyond scary little dark-haired children. Not trying to dump on it, it was good (as I said), but was a non-entity on my brain map. Since then there has been nothing that's wowed me, all I'm saying.

    @SLICE. I seen 'em all. Pan's was whimsical like a Tim Burton movie with a message as thick as a Christmas ham at the end. Simple messaging is better like Avatar I get it, but come on. Great creatures and storybook scenarios though. The guy should paint comics.

    @RYAN. Sorry you think I'm a troll. It's my opinion, I try not to filter. The Internet is full of people who don't agree with you. The Hellboy movies were non-entities for me. One of them had something to do with a golden cog, right? It must not be my personal taste.

  • Ryan | July 12, 2013 12:48 PM

    "Name one scene from a Hellboy movie. "

    The troll market. I didn't even have to think about that.

  • slice | July 12, 2013 1:17 AM

    Okay, we get it---you hate Del Toro, but I'm telling you, PAN'S LABYRINTH is his master piece,straight-up, and if you ever drop the hate long enough, that the one Del Toro film you and anybody else HAVE to see---it's that damn good. If that dosen't convince you he's not manufactured, nothing will. The man has earned his accolades becauae he'a a genuine talent who lives what he's doing and it shines through in the work I've seen by him, and I' not even a major fan of his or anything. As far as I'm concerned, BLADE II was the best of the Blade movies,bar none. Also, I suggest you actually see his movies before you start talking more junk . And yes, he earned the hell out of the "geek" title. Thank you.

  • Mario | July 11, 2013 1:59 PM

    What has he really done? Just go watch "The devil's backbone"

  • Mark | July 10, 2013 8:16 PM

    When you rip Del Toro (who I'm not a huge fan of) and Vaughn (who I am), you should give your list of 10 active better directors.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the left and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the left and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Wallardg | July 10, 2013 6:55 PM

    So you talk to the led and right hands and think that's all the opinions that matter in the world?

    Your narcissism is entertaining. No one is documenting you or your existence. You feel your own empy nothingness and wish it had meaning, any meaning. The only thing you can do is call other people nothing as you hide behind your computer. Pathetic coward.

  • Gregg Calumet | July 9, 2013 10:17 PMReply

    I would argue that "Blade 2" deserves to be higher. It is not only the BEST out of the "Blade" trilogy but works not only as a vampire film, but an action film and minimal tragedy.

  • SAD, REALLY | July 9, 2013 8:51 PMReply

    Del Toro seems like a really interesting filmmaker, but he just hasn't made any really good movies

  • nightgoat72 | July 9, 2013 3:46 PMReply

    I tend to be in the opposite camp of most Del Toro fans. I definitely think Blade II and Hellboy II are his best work. Never cared much for The Devil's Backbone or Pan's Labyrinth.

  • cirkusfolk | July 9, 2013 3:17 PMReply

    I'll defend this list and these grades. Hellboy 2 and Blade 2 are his best English language movies, I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet, chock full of great action set pieces. I'm sure Pacific Rim won't disappoint.

  • James | July 9, 2013 2:03 PMReply

    Pan's Labyrinth is amazing and Devil's Backbone is pretty good, but the rest is mostly garbage IMO. Blade 2 a B grade? Hellboy 2 a B+?

    whatever.

  • loudrockmusic | July 9, 2013 3:03 PM

    Snobs.

  • CB | July 9, 2013 2:32 PM

    Totally agreed, you read my mind. Pan's Labyrinth is a masterpiece, but I don't really care for the rest of his films.

  • ernesto | July 9, 2013 2:26 PM

    Couldn't agree more. The infatuation from critics and geek nation alike with anything Del Toro has always puzzled me.

  • MoB | July 9, 2013 2:02 PMReply

    All those fingers in pies and producer creds and you left off the best, El Orfanato(orphanage).

  • Evan | July 9, 2013 3:36 PM

    I agree. I loved that movie.

  • owdl114 | July 9, 2013 1:55 PMReply

    I'm surprised you rate Cronos so lowly in his oeuvre. I think it's a much better film than you seem to give it credit for. Federico Luppi is outstanding for instance.

  • cineman | July 9, 2013 1:44 PMReply

    Blade 2 and Hellboy 2 easily rank as his worst movies for me (tacky over-CGI'd tripe that felt and smelt stale at the time). Kind of astounded you rate them as high as you do.

  • Uh... | July 12, 2013 1:56 AM

    Hellboy 2 is easily among his best work, but I can certainly agree with you on Blade 2 since it felt like just as much of a "studio movie" as Mimic. Heck, even Mimic still seems slightly more up GdT's alley.

    Pan's Labyrinth at the number one spot is justly deserved. I know The Devil's Backbone is Guillermo's personal favorite, but I've always felt that Cronos was the superior film. Plus I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet so I can't judge on that one, but I really wish it was At the Mountains of Madness or Hellboy 3 opening this week instead.

  • Uh... | July 12, 2013 1:56 AM

    Hellboy 2 is easily among his best work, but I can certainly agree with you on Blade 2 since it felt like just as much of a "studio movie" as Mimic. Heck, even Mimic still seems slightly more up GdT's alley.

    Pan's Labyrinth at the number one spot is justly deserved. I know The Devil's Backbone is Guillermo's personal favorite, but I've always felt that Cronos was the superior film. Plus I haven't seen Pacific Rim yet so I can't judge on that one, but I really wish it was At the Mountains of Madness or Hellboy 3 opening this week instead.

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