Saturday, July 12, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Our favorite cigar chomping, cat loving, candy eating, wise cracking spawn from Hell is back for another round with the things that go 'bump' in the night. This time, accompanied by pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), best friend and aquatic empath Abe (Doug Jones), newcomer Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a gaseous entity and mysticism (misticisim?) expert who gets around via a containment suit (think reverse deep sea diver), and the rest of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, including Director Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), Hellboy (Ron Perlman) must face off against a wannabe leader of the Underworld bent on the destruction of the Human race. According to legend, the Humans and the inhabitants of the mythical realm had been battling each other for quite some time until an enterprising Goblin devised and constructed the Golden Army: 70 X 70 (4,900) monstrous indestructible clockwork warriors that would fight, fight and keep fighting. Upon seeing the army's wanton destruction, the King of the Elves was riddled with guilt and called for a truce between the two waring races in the hopes that each side could find respect for the other and continue to exist in their adjacent realms peacefully. The Golden Army was placed in an undisclosed location, in stasis (since they were indestructible), and the King of the Elves hoped that such a nightmare would never have to be awoken again. Unfortunately, after centuries of Human expansion, one particular Elf has had quite enough of Humans and anything remotely concerning them - his notion is to declare himself leader of the mythical realm, find the pieces of the talisman that control the Golden Army and then proceed to rid the world of the nasty Humans once and for all. Obviously, this is a job for Big Red and the rest of the misfit toys.

Excellent movie, but first, if you haven't seen the original Hellboy and even though it's not a prerequisite, I highly recommend that you do in order to get the full appreciation of the characters and the world they inhabit. The thing about Hellboy is there's no middle ground - people either really like it or the entire concept is completely lost on them. So, basically, the people who enjoyed the first film will definitely enjoy this one, and the people who didn't, probably wouldn't waste their time reading this, anyway.

The acting? What acting? Ron Perlman is Hellboy and Hellboy is Ron Perlman. I recently saw an interview where Perlman was talking about his experiences with Guillermo del Toro (writer & director) and he said that del Toro was very specific with in telling him not to act. According to del Toro, he had written Hellboy's lines with Perlman's personality in mind and was afraid that any 'acting' might ruin the character. Interestingly, when del Toro initially spoke to Mike Mignola (the creator of Hellboy and the line of comics) about filming the first movie, in an effort to save time by not hacking through a bunch of actors, del Toro suggested that on a count of 'three', they would both say the name of the actor they would most like to see as Hellboy and, at the end of the count, they simultaneously said, "Ron Perlman." Obviously, this role was made for Perlman and I'm glad to say that he tops himself in this second outing. It's also worth noting that the people who actually did act in the movie did so with the same level of quality as Perlman's non-acting. I'm a huge fan of John Hurt, and I've never seen him be anything less than top-notch, and this performance, although brief, is no exception. Selma Blair retains her believability as Liz but, because of the passage of time since the first film and her current circumstances, the character of Liz has further developed, showing more confidence and maturity in her abilities as well as being an overall stronger female, which added an unexpected dimension and beauty to the character. Doug Jones actually portrays three different characters in this movie, but the standout is of course Abe Sapien, the 'fishstick'. This time, Jones, as Abe, not only performs as the wonderfully nuanced character, but he provides the voice as well. (David Hyde Pierce had provided Abe's voice in the first film but declined billing because of the belief that Jones had truly created the character) In addition, Abe's presence in the movie is much greater than that of the previous film and his role is a much more pivotal one. Jeffery Tambor, as Manning, is a welcome return and the newest character, Johann (voiced by MacFarlane) perfectly fills the space left by a non-returning character as well as provides the perfect fulcrum for some humor, tension and opportunity for (Hellboy's) growth.

This is truly a movie that demonstrates the power of talent and imagination and I'm quite sure that it could not have been accomplished, at least to the same degree, without the guiding hand and creative force of Guillermo del Toro. Del Toro first became a blip on the radar when he directed Mimic, and even though he disowned the film because of constant clashes with Bob Weinstein, del Toro was constantly given credit for the best aspects of the movie. A couple of years later, del Toro directed Blade II, easily (in my opinion) the best of the franchise and del Toro's second film outing with Perlman. Hellboy followed soon after and then del Toro really hit it big with the Oscar nominated Pan's Labyrinth - after which, he could practically write his own ticket, but rather than jump into the Hollywood machinery, he opted to produce the excellent Spanish film The Orphanage for fellow director Juan Antonio Bayona before cranking up production on Hellboy II. Now, after creating such a rich and elaborate world for Hellboy, it's off to New Zealand, with Peter Jackson, for the next five years to create a new adventure for some old friends in the possible two film epic of The Hobbit. How cool is that?

In the world of fantasy, Hellboy II is a winner - where the ridiculous is believable, sounds can terrify and forests can walk. The cast and director join together to create a vivid and opulent world where even things most vile have an underlying, but discernible beauty - colors are vibrant, settings are elaborate and the most obvious CGI creation has measurable weight. Fantasy might not be your favorite genre but, don't be fooled, there's more going on here than is apparent and the action, comedy and singing (yes, singing) help make this movie into a multidimensional experience that really shouldn't be missed by anyone who fancies themselves remotely intelligent or in possession of anything resembling a sense of humor or, for that matter, wonder. As I walked from the theater at the end, I was as pleased with this movie as I was the original (more so, actually) and perhaps a little sad knowing that it will be five or so years until the story can finally play out.

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