Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)


Hellboy (a.k.a. 'Red') and the B.P.R.D. are back for another installment--this time facing off against the elf prince Nuada, who is hell-bent (heh) on reviving the long-dormant 'Golden Army', a horde of indestructible mechanical soldiers built by goblin blacksmiths long ago. The Golden Army is more than capable of wiping out the human race, but is held in check by the longstanding truce between men (who agreed to keep to the cities) and elves (who retained control of the forest). But times have changed, and the humans aren't living up to their side of the bargain, and Prince Nuada has had enough. Hellboy--with an assist from his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz, the amphibious humanoid Abe Sapiens, ectoplasmic medium Johann Krauss, and Nuada's twin sister Nuala--must keep Nuada from collecting the three pieces of the ancient crown that, once united, will reactivate the Golden Army. Meanwhile, Liz has to make some tough decisions about her future . . . and Red's.

Guillermo del Toro has a reputation for creating highly visual films--most notably the critically acclaimed Pan's Labyrinth.  Hellboy II: The Golden Army, like Hellboy before it, is not quite in the same league as the Academy darling Pan's Labyrinth, though both Hellboy movies were favorably received by critics (the sequel enjoyed more box office success).  Still, it is still clearly identifiable as a Guillermo del Toro work, and has a slightly creepy, off-center vibe (largely because of del Toro's set design and visuals) that sets it apart from the average, more straightforward comic book adaptation.

Sadly, the (admittedly excellent) sets and effects--particularly the brilliantly designed underground Troll Market--outstripped the story, which was rather lackluster. I would love to see del Toro apply his imagination and visual genius to a more substantial story. In fact, I found myself wishing I were watching a del Toro adaptation of Neil Gaiman's exquisitely visual novel Neverwhere instead. (Dear Hollywood: Please please please make this happen. Thanks a bunch!)

There were hints of some interesting ethical questions, too. Obviously, the central conflict is environmental in nature--is man justified in eradicating plants, animals, and other creatures in order to survive and flourish? This question proves to be a bit problematic for Hellboy, who in many ways has more in common with the elves and trolls and other magical creatures than he does with the humans who fear and ostracize him. But Hellboy and Nuada are not the only ones facing moral dilemmas--Liz must also make a difficult choice, weighing the life of the man she loves against the very future of mankind.

Ron Perlman continues to perfectly embody the titular Hellboy, Selma Blair is a fine Liz Sherman, and Luke Goss was quite effective as the eerie and cruel (yet not completely unjustified) Prince Nuada. I found myself missing David Hyde Pierce's vocal portrayal of Abe Sapien, but you can't have everything. All in all, it was a decentish movie--brilliant visuals supported by a merely adequate story and script.

Worth checking out if you like del Toro, if you enjoyed the first movie, or if you've a soft spot for comic book movies. If none of those things are your particular cup of tea, then you may want to give the particular film a pass.

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