by Mel Valentin
For his second comic book adaptation, Guillermo del Toro ("Blade 2," "The Devil’s Backbone," "Mimic," "Cronos") decided to bring "Hellboy," Mike Mignola’s long-running comic book series to the big screen. With a $60 million budget, the biggest of his career up that point, an absence of marquee names, and a cult comic book character, del Toro and the studio financing "Hellboy," Revolution Studios (with Sony Pictures as the distributor) were certainly taking a large risk. A positive, if underwhelming response from audiences ("Hellboy" pulled in just $60 million domestically and another $100 million worldwide) and critics all but guaranteed a sequel or sequels wouldn’t happen. Ancillary sales (i.e., DVD, cable, etc.) and "Pan’s Labyrinth," del Toro’s well-received dark fantasy/period drama, gave del Toro the opportunity to pursue a sequel to "Hellboy." And now here we are with "Hellboy II: The Golden Army," a combination of fantasy, horror, and action that takes Hellboy away from his roots in supernatural or cosmic horror and closer to the European folktales and fairytales that infused "Pan’s Labyrinth."Hellboy II: The Golden Army opens in the past, the 1950s to be more exact. A young Hellboy, eager for the arrival of Santa Claus and, of course, his gifts, convinces his surrogate father, Professor Trevor 'Broom' Bruttenholm (John Hurt), to tell him a story before he goes to sleep. Broom tells Hellboy a story about a long ago war between humans and fairies. Facing a bloody stalemate, King Balor (Roy Dotrice), decides, at the suggestion of a goblin (and weapons maker), to build the Golden Army. Only a special, three-piece crown created by the goblin for King Balor can control the army. Almost immediately, King Balor regrets his decision, obtaining a truce with the humans, with his daughter Princess Nuala’s (Anna Walton) support and his son Prince Nuada’s (Luke Goss) displeasure. King Balor divides the three pieces of the crown, keeping one, giving another to Princess Nuala, and hiding the third. Prince Nuada goes into exile. To the young Hellboy, the story is just that, a story. It’s more than that, of course.
"A superhero trapped in a supernatural universe. And that's a good thing."
In the present, Prince Nuada and his henchman, a giant troll, Wink, attack an auction house, both to obtain one of the pieces of the crown and to instill fear in the humans by unleashing ravenous tooth fairies. The government hands over the case to the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), nominally led by Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), a supercilious bureaucrat, but really led by Hellboy (Ron Perlman) in the field. The other members of Hellboy’s team include Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a firestarter and Hellboy’s girlfriend, and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a 140-year old, hyper-intelligent amphibian and psychic. Their confrontation with the tooth fairies leaves several other agents dead (wearing a suit and a trench coat usually spell doom for the wearers, Star Trek-red-shirt-style) and Hellboy’s identity exposed to the general public.
After Prince Nuada attempts a coup against his father, Princess Nuala flees with the third piece of the crown. Unfortunately, Prince Nuada and Princess Nuala share a telepathic bond (and perhaps more), making it impossible for Princess Nuala to keep any secrets from her brother. Princess Nuala’s path crosses with Abe Sapien, Hellboy, and the latest addition to the BPRD team, Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), an ectoplasmic German in a containment suit, in an underground troll market. With the fate of the human world in his hands, Hellboy has other matters to worry about, specifically his romantic relationship with Liz, which seems to have taken a turn for the worse. And as in the previous film (and the next one, if it gets greenlit), Hellboy has to deal with destiny as the “Beast of the Apocalypse,” the bringer of doom to the world (and maybe the universe), even as he and the BPRD race to stop Prince Nuada.
Like Hellboy, the sequel focuses on a superhero in a supernatural world (or universe). Fans of the comic book series or the first film will be happy knowing that del Toro retains the combination of horror, dark fantasy, and superheroics from Hellboy. Missing from Hellboy II: The Golden Army, however, is the pulpier story elements found in the first film (i.e., Nazis, H.P. Lovecraft-style cosmic horror). In its place, del Toro has substituted more fantastical elements (i.e., fairies, Lord of the Ring-style conflict), populating the sequel with singularly imaginative monsters. Still present, though, is Hellboy wisecracking his way through the latest punch-fest. Also present are several, well choreographed action scenes. Del Toro seems to have taken some criticism of the first film’s shortcomings to heart: Hellboy II: The Golden Army includes the obligatory, CGI-live-action battle involving the Golden Army, but it also includes the expected face off between Hellboy and Prince Nuada (it doesn’t disappoint)."Hellboy II: The Golden Army" isn’t perfect, though. Coincidences and contrivances are used (and abused) to push the storyline forward (e.g., the market scene, the reappearance of a character from the bedtime story, the easy resolution of a character’s fate). It’s especially egregious considering del Toro’s talents as a storyteller. Del Toro either didn’t notice these problems or, more likely, hoped moviegoers would overlook them. Chances are, they will. With so many visually dazzling treats cramming every frame, moviegoers will be transported to a universe that’s both familiar, because characters are given clear (and clearly human) motivations, regardless of their physical appearances, and strangely different (but not so different that we want to leave their world any time soon).
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originally posted: 07/11/08 01:30:16