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Saturday, July 12, 2008


As my good friend Phillip Arthur is fond of saying: WOWZERS!!!

You know, I can't wait to see what Guillermo del Toro does with the film version of The Hobbit. No doubt it's going to be a magnificent prequel to Peter Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy. But del Toro really, seriously can't get to work on Hellboy III soon enough. I've thought of that all night after seeing Hellboy II: The Golden Army: one of those very rare sequels that in many ways is better than the original.

2004's Hellboy (based on the Dark Horse comic created by Mike Mignola) was something that came in under my radar when it was first released, that I barely knew anything about... and it ended up knocking my socks off. I thought it was one of the best comic book movies ever made, and it made me something of a fan of Hellboy and his world. It was dark, funny, full of crazy occult stuff that could destroy reality as we know it, packed with strange and offbeat characters fighting evil incarnate... you know, it was kinda like my own life now that I think about it. It was also my introduction to the Lovecraftian imagination of Guillermo del Toro, which compelled me to see Pan's Labyrinth last year (one of the most haunting and beautiful movies that I've ever seen, and I really don't know if I could bear to watch it again). That Hellboy also featured Ron Perlman - one of the finest actors of our generation, and one deserving more appreciation if you ask me - certainly helped, too.

Well, del Toro has been tapped to direct The Hobbit, but first he wanted to go back to the Hellboy universe. The result is not only a worthy sequel, but an example of what is possible when a filmmaker is trusted for his vision and is rewarded with freedom and a handsome bankroll. And for what it's worth, I think that del Toro and his crew have produced one of the best movies of what has by and large been an excellent summer movie season.

Del Toro worked with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola on the story, which begins with a quick synopsis of how Hellboy came to our world in the final days of World War II. We are then treated to a scene at a military base on Christmas Eve, circa 1955. A very young Hellboy is being scolded by adoptive father Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt, reprising his role from Hellboy) for not brushing his teeth and watching Howdy Doody when he should be in bed for when Santa comes. Hellboy demands a bedtime story, and the Professor reads to him a tale of an ancient war between humans and the "mythical" creatures like the Elves. One day a Goblin offers to make an invincible mechanical army for the King of the Elves, complete with a golden crown to control 'em all. The army works too well, and the King makes peace with the Humans, has the army locked away and the crown split into three pieces and humans entrusted with one of them. Hellboy thinks it's a good story. And if that's all it was, then there's nothing to be afraid of. Except it turns out that the story is very real...

Fast-forward to more than sixty years later, and Hellboy (still considered something of a "young punk" 'cuz of his strange metabolism) is having it out with both on-again/off-again pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz and Agent Manning (again played by Selma Blair and Jeffrey Tambor, respectively). Liz can't stand how Hellboy keeps his room such a mess, and generally wants him to grow up. And Hellboy's antics in public - including letting footage of himself wind up on YouTube - are driving Manning up the walls as he tries to keep Hellboy and everything else about the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense a classified secret. Hellboy, Liz and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, who also plays two other roles in the film) are dispatched to an auction house in Manhattan: the scene of an unholy situation. During a fight with something that will probably give many viewers lots of nightmares, Hellboy's existence "accidentally" becomes revealed before live television news crews and dozens of onlookers armed with camera phones. In the wake of the publicity fiasco, the honchos in Washington send Johann Krauss: a new agent who's a stickler for protocol and boasting an attitude to match... in spite of not having a real physical body.

Okay, that's as far as I'll go so far as the plot goes. Like everything else that's good, it's best if you go in as unaware as possible.

I thought that one of the best things about Hellboy was the characters, the actors who played them and how the story served to explore and develop these people, instead of reducing them to mere plot devices to show off some pretty eye candy. Del Toro and Mignola have not only continued that successful formula with Hellboy II, they have drastically improved upon it... to the point that there are scenes in this movie that brought tears to the eyes of many that I saw it with tonight (heck, I'll admit shedding a few too during one scene). Ron Perlman brought Hellboy to life in the first installment but here he really gets his chance to shine as the deep and intense... and when needed, hilarious... actor that he is. I hope that it will be appreciated when I also say that Selma Blair's Liz is one of the better realized female characters from a comic book movie of the past several years. And after becoming such a fan of Abe Sapien in the first movie, I thought that Doug Jones's return to the role was nothing short of sheer delight! Luke Goss is terrific as the Elvish prince Nuada, and Anna Walton as his twin sister Nuala comes across as enchanting (a word that I don't use nearly enough). Jeffrey Tambor's Agent Manning was someone that I came to like quite a bit in Hellboy, and I thought that del Toro and Mignola gave him just as much a stronger role in this sequel as they did with the other characters. Also look for Roy Dotrice as the Elvish King Balor. Those of you who were fans of CBS's hour-long drama Beauty and the Beast years ago will no doubt smile at the irony, since Dotrice appeared in that show as Father alongside Perlman's Vincent.

The real breakout character of Hellboy II: The Golden Army though is Johann Krauss, voiced by Seth MacFarlane. Please, please let there be a Hellboy III just to have Krauss return again! I thought Krauss was an absolute hoot. There's one scene in particular where he dares to kick Hellboy's butt... and he does it, too! Later on in the movie Krauss hints at how he arrived at his predicament, and the sad story behind it. Hopefully we will see this explored more in a further chapter.

Effects-wise, Hellboy II looks like a movie made for two or three times its $85 million budget. The scene where Hellboy fights the Elemental alone is something that will boggle the mind when one wonders "How the heck did they do that?". Danny Elfman's music supplements the action and personal struggles of the BRPD agents admirably: I'm gonna try to find it on CD for my collection. And something that surprised me quite a lot about Hellboy II: although you would think that the events of the first film would be fairly self-contained, there is quite a lot from it that winds up coming up again in Hellboy II. I don't think you necessarily have to watch the first one in order to enjoy the sequel, but let's put it this way: Hellboy II features, in my opinion anyway, a very cool reference to the Ogdru Jahad. Not to mention what we see of Hellboy through those funky glasses...

Hellboy II: The Golden Army has healthy portions of horror, humor and inter-family hijinks. It's a visual feast for the eyes, and there is even more wholesome morality at work in this movie than an unsuspecting person might probably expect from a movie with the word "Hellboy" in its title. In short: I loved it immensely. And I would not mind at all going to see it again this summer. Heartily recommended!


qemuel said...

Fantastic review, Chris! I'm happy you enjoyed it so much, and am 100% willing to go with you and see this delightful film again!