Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Written by Guillermo Del Toro
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones

Four years after the original, Hellboy is back, and although there wasn’t a lot of demand for a sequel, it proves to be a welcome addition to the list of summer 2008 blockbusters. This time around, “Red” has to stop an ancient mythical prince from summoning The Golden Army, an indestructible force of 70 times 70 mechanical warriors to take back the world that was once his. Whatever, the plot isn’t really important. It just works as a vessel for visionary director Guillermo Del Toro to work his remarkable imagination. And he does.

The first Hellboy seemed impressive in 2004, but it pales in comparison to The Golden Army. From start to finish there are dozens of breathtaking creatures that raise the bar of fantasy. The sequel is a lot more rooted in fantasy/fairy tale territory than typical superhero stuff. Which is a good thing because Del Toro knows a few things about fantasy and fairy tales, he directed the masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. For example, in a brilliant early scene, Hellboy and his team encounter hundreds of little “tooth fairies”, vicious little killers who have habit of stealing their victim’s teeth. Or when the team infiltrate the “Troll Market”, a place for the things that go bump in the night to shop, which may actually top the Tatooine bar scene in the first Star Wars film. A couple delightful surprises wait there, and I wont spoil them. Or when the prince throws a harmless looking green jumping bean at Hellboy, that once it finds water, becomes something rather spectacular, maybe even beautiful. Like Pan’s Labyrinth, the film has a way of balancing makeup/costume effects with CGI. The result is authentic looking creatures that completely engross you into the movie’s reality. Why other directors don’t instate such style is quite the mystery to me.

The characters are all back, aside from Myers, which admittedly disappointed me…Until the Seth McFarlane (Family Guy) voiced Johan Krauss was introduced. A brilliant addition to the team, he seems to be a gas-like entity contained in some strange suit. His ability? He can possess inanimate objects, a power that will ultimately be underused because it’s way too useful. Hellboy is up to his old smoking cigars/petting kittens/pissing off authority antics, as well as some new ones as well (a duet of Barry Manilow between Red and Abe Sapien may occur). Ron Perlman enthusiastically continues his great performance with just the right mix of brawn and sensitivity, making Hellboy very endearing. Del Toro regular Doug Jones (played multiple creature parts in Pan’s Labyrinth) does triple duty as the more interesting this time around Abe Sapien as well as the film’s two best creatures, The Chamberlain and The Angel of Death. Selma Blair again fails to impress as Liz, but the writing for her character isn’t necessarily very strong. Jeffrey Tambor of Arrested Development gets more screen time but not more to do. He’s still grouchy and only there for minor conflict and a couple weak laughs.

The characters are fun, and certainly are a big part of the experience, but it’s the visuals that make this really worth seeing. Del Toro goes no holds-barred this time around, ad it’s sure to get any Lord of the Rings geek excited for his upcoming adaptation of The Hobbit. The plot is a bit trivial and the storytelling isn’t up to the par of Del Toro’s work. The Hellboy films feel more like a mix of Pan’s Labyrinth and Men In Black than a typical superhero movies. I wouldn’t rank them amongst Iron Man, the Spiderman films (well, maybe #3) or the new Batman movies but it really isn’t cut from the same cloth anyhow. So, striking visually, a bit weak story-wise, but a fun summer movie I highly recommend.

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