Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Movie Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Let me start with the disclaimer that I am a huge Hellboy fan. I loved the first movie despite very mixed reviews, and own all of the graphic novels. The Hellboy universe essentially melds my favorite genres: horror and fantasy. From the Lovecraft and mythology inspired stories, to the giant monster fights, Hellboy is just a lot of fun. While you may think this gives me an unfair bias towards the cinematic incarnation of the character, it also brings a level of high expectation. I want to see this property treated right. So now that that's said, on with the review.

The Gist
First of all, I don't think any other director could have as faithfully brought Hellboy to the screen as Guillermo del Toro. If you've followed any of his film diaries or interviews, you'd know that he is probably one of the biggest Hellboy fans out there. Working closely with Mike Mignola (the creator) he has painstakingly brought the Hellboy universe to motion as well as added his own personal touches here and there. If you've seen his previous film, "Pan's Labyrinth," Hellboy 2 will seem familiar to you, from the set design to the elaborate creatures.

The film starts off not much longer after the first film ended. Agent Meyers is now out of the picture and Hellboy and Liz are living together at the B.P.R.D. headquarters trying to make their relationship work. Tired of just being a faceless savior to the human race, Hellboy has purposely been allowing himself to be photographed on his most recent assignments, giving him the recognition he believes he deserves.

Amidst all the turmoil of the B.P.R.D., as you'd expect, something else is brewing. A renegade prince of the Fae, named Nuada is attempting to collect three parts of a crown to awaken the Golden Army--an indestructible legion of goblin-engineered mechanical soldiers. As told in the prologue's creatively executed marriounette style, thousands of years ago, man and fae created a pact to share the earth. The men would stay in the cities and the forests and wilderness would belong to the fae. And of course, if you look around, you know that humans didn't really stick to their word. So once again Hellboy gets mixed up in the business of saving the world.

The Good
As you'd come to expect from a del Toro movie, this film looks great. From the troll market's vast array of characters, to the color palette which is heavily influenced by the comic, to the giant set pieces, this film truly makes you feel like you're stepping foot into another world. Ron Perlman brings back his signature Hellboy interpretation, but this time Doug Jones gets to voice Abe Sapien, rather than David Hyde Pierce, and does an amazing job, I don't know why they didn't use him the first time around. Probably the most unexpected performance is Family Guy's Seth MacFarlane who voices the ectoplasmic addition to the B.P.R.D., Johann Krauss.

Hellboy 2 is MUCH bigger than the first Hellboy which is probably due to the $30 million increase in budget and the freedom for del Toro to put his own vision into the property now that the typical origin story has been covered. Del Toro also relies heavily on animatronic effects rather than the typical CGI--which is very much overused in film today--and it shows. The fight between Wink and Hellboy just couldn't have been done convincingly with CGI and as del Toro has stated many times, you lose a certain level of intamacy when dealing with a fully CGI character. You'll see that the stunts overall have been improved; no more obvious wire work and much better choreography. The most amazing creation of the film is probably the Troll Market, which many have called the modern day Cantina Scene. I won't go too much into this because it's really something you need to see for yourself; the sheer amount of detail and artistry is something you rarely see in hollywood today.

The Not So Good
As I stated earlier, del Toro puts a lot of himself into this film rather than trying to stay close to the feel of the comic book. I'm not talking about visually however, this he handles brilliantly. What I am referring to is the character dynamics and dialog. Del Toro refers to Hellboy many times in interviews as "working class guy." He gets up in the morning and fights monsters. He's not the most intelligent guy--demon--out there, but he gets the job done in his own way. I just felt that this was taken to the exteme a little. Where Mignola writes Hellboy saying "aw, crap" a few times, del Toro will have him saying it over and over again. He kind of multiplies what Mignola intended Hellboy to be to an annoying degree. The scene where he and Abe are drunk due to their women problems to lines like "Lucy I'm home" are a little cringeinducing. It feels like del Toro is putting jokes in there that are out of character and probably only funny to him.

Another thing that bothers me is the romanctic connection between Hellboy and Liz. It was never in the comic and I hated it in the first one. And to make matters worse....


...he gets her pregnant, with twins no less. If del Toro would have just kept them romantically involved I probably could have grown to live with it, but now he's got her pregnant. So Hellboy 3 is going to feature him as a family man? I don't see how that could be remotely interesting. For me Hellboy has always been about a duo--Liz isn't around very much in the comics--Abe and Hellboy. Now he's going to have little demon babies following him around like Scrappy-Doos? I fucking hope not.
The Verdict
So how does this compare to the first one? It's better and it is worse. It's better because there's more monsters, a more epic story, and you get to see much more of Abe as well as the edition of Johann Krauss. Luke Goss' Nuada is also a performance that I think is worth mentioning. It's worse because the way del Toro has taken the comedic aspect of Hellboy and of course, him shooting Liz up with his demon wad. Overall, I do recommend this film even if you haven't seen the first one. This one seems quite a bit more accessible to general audiences. If you have seen the first one and enjoyed it and aren't bothered by the romantic dynamic of Hellboy and Liz, you'll just find more to love.

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