Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Reviewed by Carmen Potts
Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
With Hellboy II: The Golden Army visionary director Guillermo del Toro does something that very few genre directors before him have been able to accomplish: He has deftly switched genres in the midst of a film series, and the casual viewer is somehow none the wiser.
Like Sam Raimi, who jumped from horror to fantasy for the final chapter of his Evil Dead trilogy, del Toro makes the identical leap in his latest cinematic gem – somehow combining everything that was great about the first Hellboy into an action-packed comedy fantasy with just a pinch of the requisite sci-fi thrown in for good measure. Sound like overload? Well somehow, through the filmmaker’s cinematic prowess, it’s not.
Hellboy II opens with a beautifully animated prologue, detailing the creation of The Golden Army using wireless marionettes in the place of the warring humans and elves. Once we discover just what power this clockwork force holds, our story leaps into the present with Big Red (Perlman) and Liz (Blair) in the midst of yet another lovers’ quarrel. Their banter is broken up when they’re called in to investigate a disturbance at a Manhattan auction house, unaware of the fact that ancient elf prince Nuala (Goss) has just re-ignited the millennia-old war between man and monster.
Before you can blink, Hellboy and clan have a new supervisor, the corporeal Johann Krauss (amusingly voiced by "Family Guy"’s Seth MacFarlane) and are scouring the city for answers to why and how this renegade elf has gone off the deep end. Their search leads them to The Goblin Market, a subterranean city buried under the Brooklyn Bridge that makes Harry Potter’s Salakin Alley look positively mundane, and up against a mammoth Forest Spirit that would give H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Gods a run for their money.
As the plot rather unashamedly exposes, del Toro has a deep, forthright love of fantasy, and it shows. Whereas the original Hellboy’s horror-laced back-story reveled in Nazi occultism, reanimated corpses, and a showdown that took place literally in the fires of Hell, The Golden Army skillfully reveals that the fantasy realm is truly where this character belongs. A scene where Liz and Hellboy confront Death himself echoes hauntingly not only of del Toro’s own Pan’s Labyrinth but also of Michele Saovi’s beautiful horror fantasy Dellamorte Dellamore.
A few rather misplaced comedic moments don’t quite hit their marks, but more often than not the gags are sure-fire. A befuddled Abe Sapien (Jones) discovers unexpected love in the elf princess Nuala (Anna Walton), leading to him and Hellboy throwing back a case of Tecate beer and hilariously belting out love songs to their absent female prospects. When the subject of love is brought up in a few more straight-faced scenes, it’s handled well – and in a way that allows the action-hungry viewer a satisfied smirk without having to yell, “Get on with it!”
Yet, in his heart Hellboy in a demon, and this also shows. The movie offers up several creepy moments, most notably during an early scene in which they face off against an army of flesh-hungry tooth fairies. Goss portrays the nimble Prince Nuada with such ferocity and seething hatred, yet infuses him with so much character that he eventually becomes an antihero truly worthy of Hellboy’s ire. The elven prince’s plea to Big Red – that he belongs amongst the creatures of fantasy – can’t help but be duly noted, and one gets the impression that Hellboy second-guesses his place amongst the humans on more than one occasion during his misadventures.
Minus a few amazingly small gaffes, most of which are simply too minor to bicker over, it’s safe to say that Guillermo del Toro has succeeded in creating yet another masterpiece of genre storytelling. The Golden Army is a film worthy of following its wonderful original and, in many ways, superseding it. Its not only one of the best genre films of this year, it’s one of '08’s best films – period. And while it won’t change the rather vocal opinions of those who somehow failed to enjoy the original movie, fans of the first are in for a cinematic treat unlike any other.
4 1/2 out of 5
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