If you ever wondered what controlled visual madness looks like you probably want to look at Guillermo Del Toro’s (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Devil’s Backbone, Blade II) latest, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Every sketch, every special effect, every bit of imagination he has is all onscreen. What more can he possibly squeeze out? Everything’s here. It’s like the Wacky Land from Looney Tunes meets Lord of the Rings. There are new creatures, new sights to see in almost every scene. The movie’s pièce de résistance, a Mos Eisley-like location called the Troll Market, is a feast for the senses, with a billion moving, crazy things to keep track of. It’d be worth to get on DVD just to freeze-frame the myriad of characters and happenings going on at the same time. Be sure to leep a look out for a creature carrying a huge set of dentures!
But what’s the use of production design without strong characters and story to back it all up? Fortunately, when Ron Perlman’s Hellboy is onscreen the movie shines its brightest. He is effortlessly great, a big doofus with relationship problems who misses his father – and his destiny is to bring about the apocalypse. Who can’t relate to that? When paired with his aquatic empath buddy, Abe Sapien – who finally has way more to do in this sequel – they’re great fun together. Doug Jones, who plays the character without David Hyde Pierce’s voice this time, is an amazing physical performer. The way he moves his hands, and even his posture is most impressive. These two are like the Boris Karloff and Lon Chaney Jr. of our times, hidden underneath miles of make-up and prosthetics yet still utterly lovable. I’d love to see these two monster pals get wasted in another sequel.
Wait, get wasted? Ah, yup, Hellboy 2 almost takes a Spider-Man 3 approach to superheroes and has fun. Though there are no big musical dance numbers there are some antics that ought to put a wide, stupid grin on even the staunchest grumps. And the set pieces – wow. Much more action-oriented then its predecessor, the fights are as imaginative as the scenery, due mainly to the villain’s martial arts prowess. He’s a flipping-through-the-air-spear-wielding dervish. Some great, great eye candy and none of it looks like rubbery CG. Or rather, it’s all masked well.
The villain, a sort of elven prince who represents the monsters of myth and legend living in hiding, isn’t really even really a villain. He’s a guy on a mission he really believes in, and I, a lowborn hume, see where he’s coming from. The Prince wants to take back the world for all monsterkind because us humans are lame. When the movie shows us as a bunch of wimps who get devoured by tooth fairies, and New Yorkers as boorish rock-throwing morons, it’s tough to disagree, especially when our supernatural heroes take such a selfish approach to protecting mankind. Without going into spoiler territory yet, Liz Sherman, Hellboy’s beau, makes a choice that probably won’t work out too well in the end.
A new character also shows up, one Johann Krauss, an ectoplasmic entity stuck in a diving suit (or something) with a heavy German accent. Mark this event down as history because Johann’s voice actor is none other than Family Guy douchebag, Seth MacFarlane, who finally did something that didn’t piss me off. That I can’t bring myself to hate his performance as much as I can’t stand his cookie cutter cartoon shows must testament to his talent for funny German accents. Until his last line anyway – something fellatio-based combined with a German word. Har har! As much as I want to get down and dirty and scream “Fuck you, Seth”, he’s a cool addition to the cast and has a memorable “fight scene” with Hellboy, who’s dubious of Johann’s ancestry.
One character who does not get enough screentime is Tom Manning, played by Arrested Development‘s patriarch, Jeffrey Tambor. There’s just not enough of him and hilarious comedic timing, and with Agent Myers from the first movie gone, he’s our one link to the human world we have left. Yet Manning is still seen as a totalitarian asshole even though he taught Hellboy how to properly light a cigar at the end of the first movie, which was supposed to act as some kind of treaty-signing between the two. Well, who cares about consistency anyway?
This dips into nitpick territory, but hey, that’s what sequels based on comic book movies elicit. The headquarters for our paranormal agency is now located in Trenton, NJ, not Newark as it is in the first flick. Yet it has a perfect view of the New York City skyline, something that’s impossible in Trenton, yet plausible in Newark. Though it begs the question “Has anyone on the production team BEEN to New Jersey?” (probably not) it was probably a mistake made by whoever was responsible for Hellboy 2‘s incessant use of location subtitles. TRENTON, NEW JERSEY. 16:24 HOURS. THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, NEW YORK CITY. 20:04 HOURS. UNDERNEATH THE BROOKLYN BRIDGE, NEW YORK CITY. 20:15 HOURS. Considering how redundant they are and how frequently they show up I hope it was part of the jokey nature of the movie as a whole.
When the movie isn’t so jokey and charming is when the story kicks in. First of all, there’s no mystery in the plot, it’s all laid out for us in the first scene. The Prince wants to find the mythic Golden Army of the title which means it’s your standard role-playing game stock plot where the villain must collect things to conquer world. Wouldn’t it have been cooler if the Prince’s goals were unknown? If there was any sense of mystery involved? But then there wouldn’t be a John Hurt cameo to explain everything at the beginning. Eh. What’s worse is the mixed tone of the movie. Hellboy and Abe are having fun and then suddenly SERIOUS EMO ELF STORY, as if two different movies are going on at the same time – fun buddy cop flick and deadpan revenge story. Eventually the movies merge and that’s when Hellboy 2 picks back up again. It tends to undulate the entire time, the plot dips up and down and my interest along with it.
For instance, there’s an out-of-left-field Miyazaki-esque environmental scene. The forest god from Princess Mononoke shows up and Hellboy has to battle it. It’s a great scene – it’s where the Prince challenges Hellboy’s beliefs about the stone-throwing yokels he’s protecting – but the aftermath is cheesy. Like, the Prince harps on about humanity’s sucktitude enough, a “green” statement is akin to a big mossy mallet smashing our garbage-producing foreheads. We get it, movie – we suck and we don’t have flame powers. We have to deal with it enough already!
Liz Sherman, who does have fire powers, is angry and hormonal and nuts most of the time. Which is understandable considering her situation but her scenes kinda all blend together. Yell, yell, yell, yell! BIG FAT SPOILER ALERT SCROLL DOWN IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW: Also, she’s preggers. Yeah, what?! Didn’t Superman Returns teach filmmakers to not give their superheroes irredeemable baggage? C’mooon. And it’s revealed so SOON, too, so the whole movie is weighed down by this revelation. I mean, it’s kind of cute and really weird (inter-species marriage! hurray!) and all, but inconsequential. When it does reach some sort of relevance is late in the movie, when the Angel of Death (the thing with eyes in its wings you may have seen in trailers) shows up. We get some lip service in that scene that seems to set up for a far more compelling sequel as he/she/it reminds everyone “Hey, yeah, Hellboy’s fun and all but destroying the world is kinda part of his destiny.” But then I don’t think even Hellboy creator Mike Mignola thought that far ahead yet.
NO MORE SPOILERS: The music is bland. Bland bland bland, so I was shocked to see it was Danny Elfman in charge. In hindsight I did recognize some of his “sound” but nothing stands out. Maybe I could pinpoint something memorable in another viewing but that probably won’t be for a while.
Hellboy 2 has lots of little details, excellent scenes, fun moments but it’s less than the sum of its parts. It’s definitely worth a look though especially if Dark Knight is all sold out next week.