by David Cornelius
I’m struggling to remember the plot of “Hellboy.” I’ve seen the darn thing a couple times, I own the DVD, I enjoy the hell out of the darn thing, yet every time I try to piece together the actual core story later, things get all fuzzy, memories of big fantasy-action set pieces and clever Ron Perlman wisecracks blurring together to form swirls of glorious imaginative weirdness, which, come to think of it, is probably how I experience the movie while actually watching it, too.There’s little improvement in the bigger, badder sequel “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” which presents another ridiculously wafer-thin storyline, yet somehow manages to hang spectacular scene after spectacular scene off it without it snapping. I suppose we do not come to “Hellboy” movies for the narrative, but for the characters, and the wit, and the design.
Oh, the design. Such wonders could only be delivered by Guillermo del Toro, who helmed the first film, went off to earn vast praise for his “Pan’s Labyrinth,” then came back to revisit his favorite comic book hero, hoping to up the ante before shuffling off to make “The Hobbit.” It’s impossible not to flat-out adore del Toro; in addition to being a self-professed movie nerd with a genuine passion for fantasy, horror, and all those other geeky corners of cinema, he’s a brilliant filmmaker who lets his enthusiasm shine through in every project. Like a young Spielberg before him, del Toro gives off this “I get to make movies for a living, isn’t that awesome?!” vibe that’s too often missing on the screen.
For “The Golden Army,” del Toro co-wrote a screenplay with Mike Mignola, who created the Hellboy character in 1993. Mignola’s name in the credits does more than appease nervous fanboys worried about a studio messing with an established franchise; it suggests, perhaps, that this sequel won’t just be some rehash of stories already told. With audiences clamoring to see the familiar - Make the “Hulk” more like the TV show! Make the Joker storyline follow our favorite comic plots! Tell us the stories we’ve already heard, but make ’em shinier! - it’s thrilling to see “The Golden Army” try something new, and Mignola makes the most out of exploring new corners of his old world.
To a point, that is. The mythology presented in the screenplay has a wonderful fairy tale lyricism, but the actual point-by-point plot of this sequel is just as flimsy as that of the first movie. This one gives us more big set pieces and weird, wonderful creatures while rambling about aimlessly. Here’s the plot: the Elf Prince (Luke Goss) defies a longstanding peace between the hidden fantasy world and our reality, but first he must collect three pieces of a magical crown that, when connected, will grant him power over the invincible Golden Army. Hellboy (Perlman), the demon with the giant fist and the kind heart sworn to defend humanity, has to stop him.
The script takes this idea and wanders off in all directions, allowing itself to get sidetracked by such sights as the Troll Market (hidden under the Brooklyn Bridge, natch) and the incorporeal German whose ectoplasm fills a steampunk-inspired robotic suit (long story, but the concept is sheer genius) and the giant Angel of Death, whose eyes are on her wings, looking like something from the “Pan’s Labyrinth” leftover bin. That these are wonderful enough sidetracks to make us not care one bit that the story’s so lean. Leave the plot hole discussion for later, right now I want to watch Hellboy be a smartass and shoot a demon with that big-ass gun of his.
Just as del Toro’s having fun behind the camera, the cast is visibly giddy in front of it. “The Golden Army” works best when dipping into comedy, with Perlman, Doug Jones (as fish-man Abe Sapien), and Selma Blair (as Hellboy’s pyrokinetic gal pal Liz) proving themselves to be a remarkable screen team. Even in the scrawniest of filler scenes, they make things work thanks to a genuine rapport. As with the first “Hellboy,” we come to love these heroes not as comic book characters, but as actual people.But does that make “The Golden Army” a good movie? Ya know, it actually does. After all, if you’re going to have a thin story, you might as well decorate it with characters you love to watch, actors who fit perfectly into their roles, inventive mythology that fascinates more than it confuses, well-paced action that keeps things chugging along, and a visual style that’ll leave audiences leaning forward, trying to soak in every detail in every corner of every frame. That’s a good movie.
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originally posted: 07/11/08 00:00:00