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The Films Of Guillermo del Toro: From Worst To Best

The Playlist By The Playlist Staff | The Playlist July 9, 2013 at 1:30PM

There are few cinematic fantasists as fascinating or beloved as Guillermo del Toro. This is a man whose unparalleled imagination could probably power whole city blocks, someone who dreams not in colors or smells but in entire universes and species. And in the handful of features he's directed, he's let us into these new worlds, which are almost always darkly macabre and tinged, either subtly or explicitly with elements of the supernatural.
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Hellboy

"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 2 Snipes Del Toro

"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 2

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

"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+]  

This article is related to: Features, Guillermo del Toro, Pacific Rim, Hellboy, Mimic, Devil's Backbone, Feature


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