Hellboy II The Golden Army

    When I saw the first Hellboy movie, I became intrigued with the character and his world but it wasn’t until I saw the animated features (which are terrific if you’ve never seen them) that I started reading the comics. Hellboy is a wisecracking demon who is almost indestructible and possesses super strength. Seen it, you say. Well, you’re wrong. Mike Mignola, the creator of Hellboy is steeped in the folklore of other countries, especially any folklore that has to do with the horrific. This makes for a very dark and eccentric world. Mignola’s villains are not the high tech megalomaniacs that are usually found in comic books. These beings are ancient gods, demons and other powerful figures of the multicultural collective id. They do what they do for often inscrutable reasons, sometimes because it is their inescapable fate.
    There’s a lot of talk about fate and destiny in Hellboy, even in the movies which aren’t nearly as densely atmospheric as the comics. In almost every story one of these eldritch beings will try to tempt Hellboy into fulfilling his destiny. Hellboy, who is a demon brought into this world to destroy it, was instead raised by paranormal investigator Professor Trevor Bruttenholm and a whole troop of WWII era GI’s, has the temperament of grouchy Bugs Bunny and usually tells the Lovecraftian baddie where he can stick his destiny.
    Those moments are part of what makes Hellboy such a joy to read. It’s old world stuffiness meeting Yankee irreverence. It would be hard to find a more entertaining champion of free will than Hellboy.
    In Guillermo Del Toro’s second Hellboy movie an ancient truce between mankind and the fairy world is broken when Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) begins assembling the crown his father broke eons ago. The wearer of the crown controls a large invincible army of mechanical men. The first piece is being sold at a swanky New York auction house. The Prince attacks in a very public and deadly way which attracts the attention of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy’s outfit.
    This team, in addition to Big Red, played by Ron Perlman, is made up of Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, who also does the voice this time, taking over for David Hyde Pierce) who is an amphibious man of unknown origin, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) who can start fires spontaneously, and the new leader of the team Johan Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) who through an accident during a seance lost his body and is now made of ectoplasm contained in a suit.
    The main problem with this movie is the plot. It’s surprisingly uninspired, given the two titanic talents that cooked it up. (Del Toro and Mignola wrote the screenplay.) For one thing there isn’t nearly enough of that Yankee irreverence. Instead Hellboy comes off as childish and self absorbed. I still can’t imagine anybody but Perleman playing him, but the character isn’t nearly the joy that he was in the first movie. Liz Sherman isn’t given much to do, other than one very trite and unwelcome plot development. She only really flames out once and says the exact same thing she said in the last movie, “You should be running.” Is she going to say that every time she burns down a building? It was dramatic once, but distracting the second time. Despite falling in love, another unwelcome plot development, Abe Sapien doesn’t really show up either. And how trite is it to make the German a by the book manager? He’s more courtly in the comics and not in charge. This was an unimaginative choice by the filmmakers.
    So for the most part, I was disappointed by Hellboy II. It does have some good qualities. It’s a beautiful film, with creatures and characters that are reminiscent of Del Toro’s masterpiece Pan’s Labyrinth. The special effects are seamless. And even though wrongheaded choices were made with the characters, the performances were good.
    I’d still recommend the film, but after you get home, watch your DVD of the first film, read one of the graphic novels, or find the animated features. It is not Hellboy’s fate to be mediocre!


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July 2008
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