I always like my super-hero/fantasy flicks to have a touch of melancholy. (Probably why I enjoy Superman Returns so much, as I’ve written about previously on this site.) One of the things I really appreciated about the Lord of the Rings movies, and the original books, was that touch of sadness in how, even in victory, magic was slowly leaving the world.
That’s a theme explored, also to great effect, in Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. The idea of a monster who hunts down and kills other monsters is a not just a great “hook” — it’s also a notion with a great deal of inherent drama and conflict for the story-teller interested in exploring that. Thankfully, director Guillermo del Toro certainly is.
Hellboy 2 tells the story of the fairy-tail Prince Nuada, furious at the way all of the magical creatures have lost their stewardship of the world to mankind, and our pollution and our strip malls and our parking lots. As in the best of adventure tails, this villain isn’t a bwa-ha-ha moustache-twirling bad-guy — he’s a compelling character with a legitimate point of view. This captures the audience’s interest in the story, and also provokes some tough “am I really on the right side?” questions for our hero Hellboy.
As in the first film, the title character is magnificently embodied by Ron Perlman. I really have never seen a comic book character so perfectly captured on the screen as Perlman’s Hellboy. His big red demon-punching, cigar-chomping, cat-loving paranormal investigator is truly a unique creation. Mike Mignola, the creator and writer-illustrator of the Hellboy comics gets a huge amount of credit for that, but it is Perlman who brings the lovable guy to big-screen life.
What else is good about the movie? The fish-man Abe Sapien gets a lot more screen-time than in the first flick, which is great. Selma Blair is terrific as the pyroteknic Liz Sherman — tough and extremely adorable. One of the mainstays of the comic who was absent from the first flick, the gaseous medium Johann Krauss, is introduced here. Of all the characters, his is the most changed from his comic-book counterpart — or, at least, the way I always pictured the character. He’s a lot more aggressive and by-the-book here (in contrast to the impulsive Hellboy). But, despite those changes, I really loved the character in the film. The “clickety-clack” constant motion of his costume (a sort of hazmat-looking containment suit for his ghostly form) really brings the character to life, as does the bizarre voice given him by Seth MacFarlane (whose vocal stylings you might recognize from almost every character on Family Guy).
And the creature effects — WOW. There are dozens upon dozens of beautiful, bizarre, wonderful fantasy creatures on display in this film, and they really bring to life the fantasy world that Hellboy inhabits. My favorite new creature is the Angel of Death that Hellboy & co. encounter towards the end of the film. It’s an incredibly creepy character, one totally unlike anything I’ve ever seen on screen before, and it’s brought to vivid life by Doug Jones (who also plays Abe Sapien). Also adding to my appreciation of the character is the way it’s featured in a pivotal scene that reminds us that Hellboy is a demon fated to bring about the destruction of the world. This time its Hellboy’s friends who are presented with the question of whose side they should be on — that is, whether they should try to save their friend, even though they know about his destiny. Remember what I wrote above about enjoying melancholy moments? Great stuff.
Is there some not-so perfect stuff to be found in the film? As in the first flick, there is. A few of the comedic scenes (such as a mid-movie drinking scene) didn’t quite land with me. And I thought that Hellboy was a bit too over-the-top self-absorbed at the start of the film (a plot device to start him bickering with Liz Sherman) — I mean, putting her toothbrush in a can of cat-food? A bit too silly.
BUT, over-all, the film is really terrific. I never expected there to be a sequel to the first film…and frankly, I never really felt that film NEEDED a sequel. But now that one has arrived, I’d love to see a third installment. Del Toro will be busy for the next five-or-so years working on the two-movie adaptation of The Hobbit with Peter Jackson…but maybe when he’s done he’ll gather the troops for a return visit to Hellboy? I certainly hope so.
Coming up next week…The Dark Knight! Can’t wait.