“I see what you mean,” my partner for life said after sitting through a screening of Hellboy II: The Golden Army last weekend. She’s a fan of Guillermo del Toro‘s Pan’s Labyrinth, or at least had been until just then, for what usually passes as the maudit “poetry” of that weenie bit of business. Whereas I’d stubbornly insisted there was more complex emotionality in a single handprint on the aquarium glass in Hellboy number one than in all the wan aestheticizing of Pan. Ramp up the prefab sensitivity, rake in all the praise, even if the work’s patently innocuous and/or inferior. “He really loves what he’s doing, doesn’t he?”

Like a cat with a fuzzy Nerf toy and just about the same attention span. Andrew Tracy’s complained that del Toro’s Hellboy II stagings are too ham-fisted, lumbering and abrupt where they ought to be … well, I don’t know what they ought to be, aside from not existing at all, since I can’t imagine anyone bringing more keenly tuned awareness to the meticulous ins and outs of this fabricator’s art, all the precision-crafted mini motifs that, as seems to me obvious from the get-go, most contemporary pulp directors couldn’t begin to emulate, much less think of in the first place. Of course, Peter Jackson might, though with Jackson narrative’s a necessary form of discipline: there has to be a through line to bring the proliferating effects together. But Del Toro’d rather wing it: this I like, and this, and this, like one of Brian De Palma’s mad, free-associating frenzies (a la Raising Cain), only del Toro does it better, his this ‘n’ that balancing act more exactingly executed and felt. And there’s no sitting back to admire the spectacle, since already he’s pushing to the next effect, and the next one after that. (For intelligent critical back-and-forth addressing many of Tracy’s points, see Jim Emerson’s Scanners link here.)

So no, not “absolute” creativity, I can see where Tracy’s coming from—but so the hell what? Since the affection’s both palpable and generous: this guy’s really into his epiphanies, like Bach turning technical somersaults in one of his elaborate keyboard inventions. Which of course is sacrilege to suggest, since by definition Bach’s, uhh, “profound,” whereas del Toro, per Tracy fiat, is just a commercial hack. Another prime example of genre conferring status, more or less automatically, determining where we do or don’t get to stick the tendentious label aaarrrttt. Which is something Jeff Koons could tell you about too … can’t get those category boundaries muddled!

But where Tracy sees hackabout, I see, e.g., Minnelli and Miyazaki—in the elegantly confected beanstalk creature, delicate, graceful, and menacing at the same time. Or Brakhage, in the resurrected robot armies: all those compositional curlicues in elementary reds and blues. Or Joseph H. Lewis and the B studio auteurs of the 40s and 50s, termite energies burrowing into their finest—as in most demented—work. Which of course was and still remains resolutely commercial, ergo, in Tracy’s cleansing, puritanical light, “corrupt,” just another co-opting product of Hollywood Moloch, Inc.

Meanwhile our Hellboy delirium continues, its echt termite consciousness never backing off. Is it aaarrrttt or just another case of death by CGI technology? I sure can’t tell you—except we’re not getting this kind of work anywhere else. Michael Bay anyone?