July 14, 2008

Movie Review: Hellboy II - The Golden Army

Way back in the early to mid-1990s I went through a big time comic book phase. Sometimes I wish I was still in that phase, but I get by. Comic books and their heroes will always hold a special place in my heart. Why do I mention this? Well, whenever a comic book movie is made it is time to imagine the world of possibilities. There are so many characters and so many stories and so many different ways to interpret a character. Now Hellboy is a character that i never read much about, despite liking the strange, angular style of creator Mike Mignola. So, back in 2004, when Hellboy came out, I anxiously went in and was rewarded with a fun movie that introduced me to the world of Hellboy, Abe Sapien, and Liz Sherman. Now, four years later, the original creative team behind that modest box office hit are back with a sequel that is retains the sarcastic wit, big action, and character while expanding the universe with an obviously higher budgeted film.

As Hellboy II: The Golden Army opens, we get a quick reintroduction to where Hellboy came from, as well as a bedtime story about an ancient battle that led to the creation of The Golden Army. Is it a bedtime story, or something more? Of course it is something more! Generally this type of exposition is clunky and detracts from the film, meaning we are told information that would be better told more organically through narrative. That isn't the case here. I found this tale to be quiote ingenious in its presentation; you really need to see it. We see a young Hellboy enjoying some Howdy Doody, insisting the wooden puppet is real, and the puppet imagery carries through to the telling of the bedtime tale. The classy reintroduction of the character that gets us off on the right foot heading into the larger story.

We jump to the present where we learn just how real the story was. You see, the tale told of a truce that came about after the creation of the indestructible Golden Army, but, as is always the case, there was someone who did not believe the truce should have been made. That person is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who returns with the intentions of reigniting war with humanity, employing the Golden Army in the process. Believe me, Nuada will not let anyone, and I mean anyone, stand in his way.

On the other side of the coin, back at the ranch, we have the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, home to our heroic trio of Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Abe (Doug Jones, who also provides Abe's voice, taking over from David Hyde Pierce), and Liz (Selma Blair). All three of these characters get good screen time and are allowed to develop over the course of the action. We are also introduced to a new team member, Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane). It sounds like there are a lot of characters to get to, but they all have time and they all play an important part.

Of course our primary concern is going to be Hellboy, himself. The character heads in some interesting directions this time out. We still have his love for pancakes and cats, but we also get into his inability to carry on a relationship (carrying over from the first film), and his desire to operate out in the open, rather than in secrecy. This desire leads to a revelation that the big guy had not considered before. The exploration of Hellboy adds considerable depth to the visually oriented action film, which helps it become something more than just another action film.

The performances are all quite strong. Ron Perlman seems to have been born to play Hellboy, he brings a marvelous sarcastic delivery to the snarky lines while also displaying surprising emotional depth. Helping him along is the sullen work of Selma Blair, who has her own troubles dealing with who she is and with the relationship. Then there is Doug Jones who is a fantastic physical actor with great control over his body. Frankly, I am not sure I even know what he looks like, as he generally is covered in his roles (see Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer and Pan's Labyrinth). Then there are the deeper supporting roles like the one played by Jeffrey Tambor as the government’s liaison.

The film was written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro (from a story co-written with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola), and is an original story, not adapted from any pre-existing Hellboy comics. Del Toro has crafted a story that for all of the fantastical elements still feels grounded in reality. Combine that with his great eye for the visual aspects that Del Toro possesses and you can see just how this was not going to be anything but a good film. Following his critical success with Pan's Labyrinth, it seems that Hollywood is finally recognizing his talent, and this film looks like a near perfect blending of his arthouse and mainstream sensibilities.

The scope of The Golden Army is much bigger and more epic in tone than the first film, and while that initial film was quite necessary in introducing our heroes, The Golden Army outdoes that movie every way. The story is simultaneously bigger and more personal, and combines a strong narrative that is more than just dealing with the primary antagonist with a fantastic set of visuals.

Bottomline. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not a perfect movie, but it is enormously entertaining and a big step up from an already entertaining original movie. The problem is that there are no egregious problems and anything I come up with would most likely fall under the banner of nitpicking. So, rather than pick at it, I would rather just marvel at Guillermo Del Toro's seemingly endless imagination and enthusiasm for anything he is involved in.

Highly Recommended.


Anonymous said...

Hellboy is dependably fun; for sure that director has an amazing imagination, reminds me of his work in Pan's Labyrinth

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