General Release 2008
120 minutes approx
Liz Sherman -
Abe Sapien -
Johann Krauss -
Directed by -
Guillermo Del Toro
Written by -
Guillermo Del Toro
Beneath the surface of the modern world there are things that most people would consider monstrous. These things are constantly trying to break in on the world that we know as normal. The first, and in fact only, line of defence against these things is the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence. The BPRD employs a number of individuals that many would consider monstrous in defence of what those same many would call normality.
Millennia ago, a pact was sealed between the race of men and the race of elves that ended a war of utter devastation and gave rise to the ultimate weapon of the Golden Army, automatons that cannot be destroyed. The pact saved humanity from annihilation and granted the cities to man whilst the green spaces were promised to the elves. Of course now the cities have expanded and the elves and other magical creatures are reduced to hiding out in pallid recreations of their former glories. Elf prince Nuada has allowed this to go on for too long and has returned to take power from his father, reunite the three parts of the elven crown that controls the Golden Army and restart the war with the humans, removing them completely from the Earth this time. The only beings that stand in his way are a woman with power over fire, a man-fish, a sentient swirl of ectoplasm that lives in a diving suit and a red-skinned monster destined to destroy the Earth known as Hellboy (or Red to his friends).
The original HELLBOY was a fun, if somewhat repetitive (thanks to a creature that kept respawning itself), comic book romp that mixed great visuals with rollicking action and a story with more character and heart than the other superhero adaptations coming out at the time. That was then and the sequel has come out at a time when the superhero film is almost a staple of the cinema and the story of the person inside the suit is as important as the costumed capers they get up to. Films such as BATMAN BEGINS, the SPIDER-MAN franchise, IRON MAN and now THE DARK KNIGHT have raised the bar in terms of characterisation and plot to the point where a superfreak smashing stuff up will no longer suffice.
Fortunately, HELLBOY was never simply that. The heart of the first film was the relationship between Hellboy and his growing feelings for firestarting Liz and also the father/son relationship that he built up with the man who freed him from his earth-destroying destiny. The father is gone now, apart from the plot set up opening flashback, and the romance with Liz has become bogged down in the day to to day minutiae of living with someone ('I would die for her', Hellboy complains at one point, 'but she also wants me to do the washing up'). Hellboy is still searching for his identity. He is saving the world for people who don't know he exists and that rankles him. When events conspire to bring the BRPD out of the shadows and into the glare of media attention, he can't understand why the people don't accept and love him, merely shouting affable insults ('you're ugly') at him without understanding that's how the people treat each other and a minor insult like that is a sign of acceptance. Not love, perhaps, but acceptance.
Ron Perlman is Hellboy, completely at home with all aspects of the character, completely at ease in the makeup, with the action and the comedy and game for carrying the whole thing on his very broad shoulders. The fact is that he doesn't have to this time around as the supporting cast get much more to do. Principal amongst these is Abe Sapien, the blue fish-man who is the brains of the operation and who finds himself falling under the spell of the enchanting Nuala. When these two get caught up in a duet of 'Can't Smile Without You' it's hard to imagine any other situation in which two drunks singing bad karaoke could be so funny. Selma Blair is less well-served as Liz, spending most of her time as a bit of shrew, but coming to the fore when Hellboy gets injured and she takes over and decides what has to be done and what is going to be done.
The film is also heavily influenced in its look by Guillermo Del Toro's astonishing PAN'S LABYRINTH in its look and creature design. The troll market is crammed full of wierd and wonderful designs, there is a giant forest elemental that is far more impressive in its looks than its action, the elves are otherworldly and Liz meets the Angel of Death. All of these creatures are brilliant realised, even if they are often less well-used. The Angel of Death, for example, pops up to save Hellboy's life on the understanding that he is destined to destroy the world and bring pain to everyone, most of all Liz. Fair enough, but why here and why now? It can't be just by coincidence and yet it appears to be. Lovely set up though it is for future instalments it doesn't fit the plot. In fact the whole plot seems to be a series of set pieces with fragile linking rather than a cohesive whole. When the set pieces are this good and the characters this likeable, however, that doesn't matter so much.
HELLBOY 2:THE GOLDEN ARMY improves on its predecessor in terms of its looks and the character work, but the plot is a bit weak in places and sometimes you feel like a little bit more time that was spent on crafting the film's visuals could have profitably been put into honing the script.
Even so, it's a hell of an entertaining ride.
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