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Reviews - Hellboy II
 
by Allan Sugarbaker


Hellboy II movie poster Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Dark Horse Entertainment
Universal Pictures
Opening July 11, 2008

It must've been a hard sell, originally. "He's a demon raised among humans, and he fights alongside other outcasts against evil forces from beyond. Oh, and his name's Hellboy." But thousands of comic book fans knew him for the gem he was, and now that the movie-going public is aware of the irritable, cigar-puffing demon-turned-hero, a sequel was inevitable. After all, with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola co-writing the story yet again, director Guillermo del Toro had a wealth of ideas in easy reach. Comic books have been a gold mine lately at the box office - each rollercoaster of a movie gaining momentum from the last. The question is, will Hellboy II be worth the ride?

I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum herein, but if you want to preserve most of the surprises, just skip down to my thoughts and rating at the end.

When we last left our demonic hero...
Folks that missed the original film needn't worry: Hellboy II establishes the main characters within the first few scenes, jumping into their somewhat troubled lives midstream. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still struggling with being a demon in a man's world, while Liz (Selma Blair) is still struggling to maintain a relationship with a demon. Love and relationships serve to ground in reality this otherwise highly mystical and occasionally Lovecraftian adventure - though not in a sappy, rose petals and bath salts way. While Liz and Red (HB's nickname) try to work things out, their fish-like cohort Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde Pierce) just wants everyone to get along, though he begins to pursue interests of his own.

Hellboy and LizThe villains - in this case, the ancient and forgotten kingdom of the elves - are introduced early as well. The mythological framework the plot hangs from is related to us through the eyes of young Hellboy (Hellkid?), who gets the oddest bedtime stories. Vengeful elven Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is sure to evoke comparison to gamer favorite Drizzt, with his spinning dual-sword scene - and that's before he even meets the good guys. It's made perfectly clear that the two tracks of story - good and evil - will collide magnificently.

The ongoing subplot of Hellboy craving acceptance by the world at large seems dominant at first, and this need drives many of the character's decisions, almost to an annoying degree. This obvious subplot can't be ignored, but could easily be taken too far, and risk becoming another Xmen "Muties go home!" movie in all but name. But the movie backs off from this tangent just in time, getting back to its true strengths: big fights, strange creatures, and comedy.

That's right - Hellboy does comedy. Continuing to keep the wild plot grounded in understandable reality, the relationship challenges each character faces result in - well, they result in a drunken Barry Manilow sing-along, for one. These comedic time-outs may be jarring to some viewers, but taken in stride, they add flavor to the smoky, brooding spectacle.

The whirlwind tour
Abe
SapienSeveral impressive scenes wisk the audience from one exotic locale to another and back again. There's BPRD Headquarters (that's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, remember?) with it's Men in Black vibe as agents wrestle critters in the background. There's the hidden Troll Market, showing off dozens of creature designs from Wayne Barlowe and other visionaries. The vast hidden ruin of Bethmoora, where the indestructible Golden Army supposedly sleeps, is no slouch, either.

These lush, CG enhanced settings have so much activity, in layer upon layer of mystic weirdness, there's no chance of absorbing it all in one viewing. From nasty little fairy things that are all teeth and claws, to talking tumors, to a lumbering rhino-like henchman with a mechanical artifact for a hand, Hellboy II keeps the sci-fi eye candy coming. Just plan on following along with our hero as Hellboy applies his blunt-force-trauma approach to anyone that disagrees with him. If these scenes draw you in - particularly the Troll Market - plan on getting in line again for another round.

Thanks to the reactive, pulse-pounding score from inimitable composer Danny Elfman, transitions between one scene and the next are smoothed, and evoke a similar feel to the fondly remembered Star Wars transitions aided by John Williams.

 

My thoughts
Hellboy II has all the right ingredients - none of them new, particularly, but they're blended in a unique way. You have the anti-hero, the outcast crew of powerful cohorts, big action scenes with swords, magic, and explosions - and a Barry Manilow sing-along. Sure, you'll see a few twists and turns coming along the way - redshirts will die, showdowns will be had, and the like. But that scene right out of Cloverfield that all the commercials hyped is only the halfway point of the film. My point is, Hellboy II isn't the same predictable movie you've figured out the ending of by watching the trailers.

It's nice to have a few unexpected loops on the ride now and then.

Rating: A-

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