VIDEO: The trailer for Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Before El laberinto del fauno|Pan’s Labyrinth, I’d have said Guillermo del Toro is a very talented genre filmmaker. Now, I’d say he’s a very talented filmmaker who happens to work in the genre field. The richness of his vision as a filmmaker is even more visible in Hellboy II: The Golden Army than it was in 2004’s Hellboy, the last movie he made before Pan.
|Hellboy II: The Golden Army | Directed by Guillermo del Toro | Written by del Toro and Mike Mignola based on the comic by Mignola | With Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Hurt | Universal Pictures | 110 minutes|
The characters and scenario will be familiar to those who saw the first film or have read Mike Mignola’s comic book. Once again, the heroic demon Hellboy and his fellow mutant misfits, the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and the man fish Abe Sapien, are called upon to save humanity from invaders from the realm of magic and myth. Again, Hellboy’s rocky romance with Liz is on the front burner. (We learn early on that she’s pregnant, but she’s reluctant to tell the future Helldad.) Again, FBI bureaucrat Manning, who oversees the group, tries in vain to keep their efforts discreet. There’s even a sequence like the one in the first film where a stuffy Manhattan cultural establishment (here a tony auction house instead of a museum) is overrun by ravenous monsters.
What makes this variation an improvement is that it is both more otherworldly and more human. Del Toro starts with a marvelous puppet-animated prologue, a bedtime story that kindly Dr. Broom (John Hurt) told Hellboy as a child. It explains the origin of the Golden Army, a legion of ancient robots used against humanity by magical folk in the prehistoric times when humans had driven them into the forests. The soldiers were as ruthless and unstoppable as Terminators, so the merciful Elvish king called a truce and put the robots to sleep. His son, Prince Nuada, stormed off into self-imposed exile. In the present day, Nuada has returned to break the truce, reawaken the army, and take the world back from mankind. Along the way, he’s aided by some delightfully fearsome yet beautiful monsters. (In typical del Toro fashion, they tend to have no noses and sprout eyes in places they shouldn’t.) Hellboy even feels tremendous remorse (an unusual emotion for him) after killing a particularly wondrous and lovely creature, the last of its kind. Of course, said creature was a woodland demigod that threatened to turn Brooklyn into a giant fern.
For all its gorgeous freakishness, the movie is even more about love and friendship than the first one was. The centerpiece moment finds Hellboy and Abe commiserating about their love lives, getting drunk on Mexican beer, and singing along to Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You.” It’s hilarious but also heartfelt. (It helps that Abe is voiced this time around by Doug Jones, the actor inside his fishy skin.) Ron Perlman’s performance in the title role is less about cigar chomping and wisecracks than about trying to grow up and be a man. As Liz, Selma Blair also gets to mature and be more than just an explosive raw nerve.
And there’s a new team member, a martinet named Johann Krauss (voiced by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane) who despite being made of wisps of ectoplasm is as rigid and by-the-book as his Germanic name suggests — until Hellboy, Abe, and Liz get him to loosen up. That it takes monsters and freaks to teach us to be human is a perfectly normal proposition in del Toro’s world.