The paganistic milieu of Hellboy II: the Golden Army, with its faux Lord of the Rings beginning elements, is, like most paganistic milieus, self-limited, muddled, and ultimately boring.
One couldn't care less about the forest god that wreaks havoc on the city and before which Hellboy must pause in a sudden crisis of identity, debating whether to kill the giant asparagus or not. Then, when he does kill the monster, which was ruining things in a king-kong-like fury and seeking to kill Hellboy in spite of the fact that Hellboy has a baby in his arms he's trying to protect, it turns into a growing carpet of green moss-like stuff, growing over cars and buildings and sprouting all kinds of flowers, and the monster's head, which was blown apart by Hellboy's gun, opens in a huge magnificent magnolia-like flower. Abe Sapien, Hellboy's chum (sidekick?) walks into the petal-falling scene of nature that has suddenly happened, and exclaims, "It's beautiful".
It's like this over and over again in this movie. Like the delirium of some frail old lady on opium who cannot make distinctions between anything. That's not a good thing in case you're thinking that the analogy means the film must be "imaginative". If "imaginative" means tiresome, like the above-mentioned old lady, then sure, the movie is "imaginative".
I get queasy when an old parental figure in a movie pulls out a book and starts reading it to the child, and lo, it turns out the story that he or she is reading is actually real! And the movie has at one point some troll-like figure who takes the characters into an inexplicable underground world, totally unknown to the outside world? Golly. Imaginative.
Do I say the movie has a paganistic milieu merely because it has monsters and trolls and underground worlds? Hardly. I love monsters and the like in movies, and, more besides, such things are Christian. But it's stupid and lumbering and silly when the monsters or trolls or witches or witch-like angel figures or keepers to gateways or holders of the life-saving means of some dying character, are so ambiguous, in the sense of their personal character, like say, whether they are good or bad or mean well or mean evil or where they come from, so that all of it merely becomes the most mechanical analogous world of utilitarian means by which one is to survive or get what they are seeking.
Everything becomes a formula. And so much for being imaginative. All symbols, crosses included, become merely a cycle of talismans and charms. It's completely the contradiction of what fantasy is supposed to do, which is, simplistically put, to reimburse our world with the awe-inspiring depth of infinity. Yes, fantasy becomes analogous to our world by "diverging" from it, but not by diverging from its moral order.
Oh yes, the childish attempt to give characters, monsters included, more "depth" by psychologizing them and mistaking the mere subtracting of distinctness for the adding of depth. Such attempts ironically turn out to be the shallowest black and white reduction of the life of the work of art into a mechanical reproduction of one's own ghettoized sentiments. Not to mention the sentiments of the environmental movement and/or any zeitgeist "causes" or "movements" that fantasy is supposed to nobly escape from in the first place.
Fantasy is supposed to have not just clear-cut things, but extraordinarily clear-cut things. Hellboy II has all the clear-cut distinctions of a ball of snakes. And this, in spite of the fact that it has parallel worlds going on in it.
Guillermo del Toro has indeed a certain talent going for him. For instance, I do like how he ploughs headlong into his unabashed fantasy elements, such that, that very headlong plowing forward is what, to a large degree, carries the film. The successive feel of his worlds, which he gets across in a manner that is not enslaved to plot, but which exists on the "plane surface" of the film, and is the film. But of course, still telling a story.
But like Peter Jackson, he's flawed and marred by the shallow excesses of his "imagination", compounded (same as with Jackson) with a curious absence that I can only describe as not feeling objectively grounded. Jackson had The Lord of the Rings which saved him from this. But it shows up in King Kong. The Coen brothers have the same thing as well. It is a kind of adroit ability that is absent of gravitas; absent of having a connection with the continuity of reality as it stands. In short, the matrix of their worlds feels too much as though they exist in, and of, thin air. Yet paradoxically, they carry this cross-wired solemnity about them that is simply inartistic, lumbering, garish, heavy-handed, dead, muddled, threadbare, or all those things together.
Alas, in this movie you can almost hear Guillermo del Toro practicing his batting swings for The Hobbit. As with the honing of the imagination of Peter Jackson on encountering the world of Tolkien in The Lord of the Rings, certainly the same will happen with del Toro on encountering The Hobbit.
Of note: There is a scene in Hellboy II where Hellboy is trying to get some answers from a troll in the unknown troll market under the Brooklyn bridge. He's striking the troll again and again trying to get an answer, and from this troll's midsection there is a baby attached, in the manner of a Siamese twin, as though growing from the troll's body. The little baby provides a cute commentary as the withdrawing of information is going on. When the troll finally gives the answer to Hellboy, the baby says cutely, "chicken". After he gets his answer, Hellboy apologizes to the kid for the ruckus he caused his parent. The kid answers nicely that it's no problem. Then Abe pats the kid on the head and says, "That's a good baby". Then the kid answers back, in the same unshaken nice child-tone, "I'm not a baby. I'm a tumor."
I found this moment stunning actually. As far as I can tell, that little moment in the film is an unabashed, mocking, O Connoresque slap in the face of pro-choicers, or at least a grotesque mocking of their extremely blind subjective rationalizations.