Hellboy is unique in the world of superheroes. He was conjured from hell by the Nazis, but he’s a good guy who watches too much TV, and enjoys a fine cigar, Baby Ruth, and the touch of a soft kitten. His weapons of choice are his rock hard Right Hand of Doom and a great, big gun. In his debut feature, he and his fellow members of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense confronted a resurrected Grigori Rasputin (Karel Roden), his blue-eyed gal named Ilsa (Bridget Hodson), a clockwork Nazi assassin named Kroenen, and a demon called Sammael.
Four years have passed since “Red” made the leap from Mike Mignola’s comic book to the big screen, and, finally, he returns in “Hellboy II: The Golden Army.” Also written and helmed by Mexican uber-director, the film begins with a flashback. An adolescent Hellboy begs Professor Broom (John Hurt) to tell him a story before he goes to bed. The professor agrees, telling him that a long time ago, human beings and the invisible realm came into conflict. You see, humans were born with a thirst that they could never quench, but that didn’t stop them from destroying everything in their path.
Desperate times call for desperate measures, so a demonic blacksmith was asked to create for the elf King Balor (Roy Dotrice) a Golden Army, which was a veritable juggernaut. It could only be controlled by whoever wore a special crown. Because Balor isn’t a warmonger, he and the humans called a truce. In addition, he broke the crown into three parts – giving one to the humans and two to himself. The story isn’t real, is it, Hellboy asks. Flash forward to the modern period, and the kitten lover gets his answer. He, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), and aquatic empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are sent to an auction house, where there has been a “tooth fairy” attack. There are no survivors. During their investigation, Abe notices two boxes on which he sees the royal crest of King Balor and his family. The man behind this recent attack is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), King Balor’s defiant son who has grown tired of the truce and wants again to command the Golden Army. All he needs to do this is the rejoin the three pieces of the crown. Standing in his way is the B.P.R.D. and his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton).
“Hellboy II” topped my list of the most anticipated films of the year. Not only am I a rabid Guillermo del Toro fan, but I also adore Ron Perlman. So what’s the verdict? Was it worth the tortuous wait? Yes and no. First, the good news. If you’ve seen the trailer, you already know that “Hellboy II” is a visual treat. The art direction, costumes by Sammy Sheldon, the production design by Stephen Scott, and the cinematography by long-time del Toro collaborator Guillermo Navarro are tantalizing and majestic. This is “Pan’s Labyrinth” continued. The script by del Toro contains a bit of everything – an environmental message, fantasy, some comedy, action sequences, and even a musical number. If you like martial arts and swordplay, Prince Nuada is THE reason to see this film. I got goosebumps from watching him swing his blade.
And now for the bad news. Del Toro not only develops the romance between Liz and Hellboy but he also has Abe Sapien fall head over heels. Sigh. Nothing spoils my superhero film more than a love story. Second, Hellboy isn’t as charismatic this time around, and I think the reason he seems relatively lackluster is because his foe, Prince Nuada, is so cool. I’m sorry. I love the brutish muscle-bound Hellboy as much as any woman, but give me a choice between a foul tempered guy who pummels monsters into submission or blows them away with a huge gun, and a long haired, blonde elf who has Jet Li moves and a noble cause, and I’m going to have to choose the latter. Blame Legolas, folks.
And speaking of noble causes, how could you really take the side of the humans in this film? Not only are they notorious for their overconsumption but they also attack Hellboy once he’s helped them. Give me nature and all the things that go bump in the night anyday. Del Toro also seems to side with the invisible realm, otherwise why else would he make it so interesting? And that’s my final complaint. I enjoyed the film’s back story so much that I found myself getting restless whenever the action returned to Hellboy and the gang. In fact, I think the human vs. the invisible realm conflict would have made a better film. It was sort of “Lord of the Rings” meets “Night Watch.”
Even though I’m nitpicking, I still enjoyed “Hellboy II.” But then, I can’t name a del Toro film that I haven’t loved. He’s probably one of the most genuinely inventive, intelligent and imaginative geniuses working in the industry today. I can’t wait to see his take on “The Hobbit.”
Guillermo del Toro (director) / Guillermo del Toro (screenplay)
CAST: Ron Perlman … Hellboy
Selma Blair … Liz Sherman
Doug Jones … Abe Sapien / The Chamberlain / The Angel of Death
Seth MacFarlane … Johann Krauss (voice)
Luke Goss … Prince Nuada
Anna Walton … Princess Nuala
Jeffrey Tambor … Tom Manning
John Hurt … Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm