Friday, July 11, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

We're Back

Created by Mike Mignola, Hellboy is the devil from Hell who in a parallel universe, was summoned by the Nazi occultists in a bid to save the Third Reich from crumbling. With the successful intervention of Allied soldiers and scientists, this kid devil was prevented from doing its intended deed, and being raised by the US in a secret lab, he gets conscripted to the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense to apply the lid on some X-Files worthy creatures who from time to time require a physical application of Hellboy's Right Hand of Doom to send them back to where they came from.

I liked Guillermo del Toro's cinematic incarnation of the character so much that I had forked out good money to purchase the 3-disc Director's Cut edition of his 2004 Hellboy. Hellboy II: The Golden Army, starts off with a teenage Hellboy being told the legend of the said army, in a prologue that looked very much like something ripped from Lord of the Rings, perhaps Del Toro's wink at the audience that he's a worthy successor to Peter Jackson in taking on franchise with The Hobbit, dealing with elves, dwarves and one crown to rule them all, split into 3 pieces in a truce between a mythical world and the humans, to maintain the peace between them, and to keep the Golden Army deactivated and at bay. It's something like the activation codes to a nuclear bomb, where once unleashed and the world tasted its ability, a tacit vow to never again use such destructive powers had to be kept.

Until of course you have those who crave power to come at an opportune time to seize what was thought to be rightfully his, with Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) staging a coup and in pursuit of his sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) to recover the last piece of the puzzle. But we can count on our big red devil to stand in his way right? Not quite. I thought this storyline had been played out fairly frequently, what with the last one of their kind being caught up in an unappreciative world. Think Superman, Spider-man, Hancock, X-Men and just about any typical superhero and you get the drift. For Hellboy's case it boiled down to something as banal as his looks and the lack thereof, putting a mirror in front of us and making us blush at how we generalize or accept people at first glance so long as they please our eyes, and being wary toward those with physical flaws.

But while I thought such themes would have been developed in depth here given its runtime, surprisingly it didn't. And for a lot of its subplots or not-too-subtle messages that tried to muscle its way through, such as us humans being deemed unworthy to inherit the Earth and other related environmental messages, they generally great brushed aside without providing much of a second thought after their introduction at one point or another. Are we looking for deep, profound exploration of themes, or an all round good time? Hellboy II tended to slant toward the latter, but does so by providing us some excellent characterization between the players, never mind if the vilain Prince Nuada seem so one-dimensional.

What proved to be a riot here, is Ron Perlman's Hellboy, like watching an old friend come back again, one whose gruff exterior and sarcastic wisecracks betray the soft nature of his, especially toward his main squeeze Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) who returns with a chic hairdo and in better control of her powers, though somewhat still being underused. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones with his voice for the character intact) got provided an expanded role, and no doubt his fans will celebrate his being integral to the plot, especially his scenes of camaraderie with Hellboy. Here, their friendship got a little challenged by the introduction of a new superior from Germany, Dr Johann Kraus (John Alexander / James Dodd, voiced by Seth MacFarlane), a gaseous being kept inside a containment unit whose sticking by the book conflicts with Hellboy's settle-with-the-fist and laissez-faire attitude.

Following his Pan's Labyrinth, Del Toro again showcases his highly imaginative creature creations small and large, and I thought it was rather interesting that the creatures are always more than meets the eye, with threat levels you never could tell from their presentation. This movie becomes an expected special effects extravaganza with busy creations that would sit right up there with science fiction greats, and The Golden Army's reputation of being virtually indestructable, brings new and true meaning to the term autonomous computing. While I think some may gripe over the kung-fu fight scenes, since having Prince Nuada as a highly skilled martial arts exponent, the mano-a-mano between hero and villain brings to mind memorable fight sequences such as that in Once Upon A Time in China's Ladder Duel, and this one doesn't pale in comparison, which says a lot.

However the clincher for me in the movie is how very simple day to day misunderstandings and grappling with the notion of feelings, seem to baffle our heroes more so than the easily dispatched monsters. First love take centerstage, as does love that is already mature. And what I thought was a brilliant move, probably in prepping us up for a possible sequel, was a reminder of Hellboy's heritage and true origins, as well as how decisions made here would have repercussions and have set in motion some storyline to continue where certain scenes here had left off, especially with the brewing of to-hell-with-the-world mindsets setting in. I hope we don't have to wait another 4 years to see another Hellboy movie, especially if this one is as successful as its predecessor.

In a crowded summer box-office, I guess Hellboy would have made its way through via its niche audience, and there's little doubt that the this installment would have won over new fans as well. If one should summarize the movie in one sentence, then it will be that it is full of fantastical visual fun! Recommended though personally I'd still prefer the first one, and I want a big baby of my own too!

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