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Hellboy II A Fun Opening Act to The Dark Knight

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro
Universal, 2008

A couple of years ago, Guillermo Del Toro unleashed Pan’s Labyrinth on the world, and he was being touted as one of the best directors of our era. Back then, I reviewed the movie differently from the nearly unanimous consensus, feeling it was getting undeserved raves. I felt like the movie could have used more time in fantasyland, and the “quests” were too easily passed. While a later viewing warmed me a little more to the film, I still didn’t get the excitement everyone else was experiencing. I knew Del Toro made exactly the film he wanted to make, and in the process of criticism I guess we’re supposed to, at the very least, give a movie that much praise. But something better seemed to be crawling underneath the surface.

The movies from Del Toro I like the best are Blade II and the original Hellboy. His Peter Jackson-esque sensibilities, which have translated into him being pegged as the director of the upcoming Hobbit movies, work very well with special effects blockbuster hopefuls. Just looking at the trailer for Hellboy II, it was easy to see that I was going to enjoy this film…but I do have some reservations.

In this sequel, the red beast with his horns worn down, Hellboy (the always affable Ron Perlman), is having some problems relating to his girlfriend, the fiery Liz (Selma Blair). Government handler Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) is having problems with Hellboy blowing his cover on every mission. This otherwordly-creature, government-sponsered X-Men-like academy is supposed to be secret, after all. But Hellboy wants recognition and fame for what he does, so Manning has no chance. Meanwhile, the blue fish-like empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) senses Liz’s issues have to do with being pregnant and keeping the secret from the out-of-control Hellboy.

The swirling evil in the world that Hellboy and crew must stop is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), a white-haired super-ninja whose people have been relegated to the underground in a truce with human beings. Nuada has tired of the agreement, and he’s begun to create an army of trolls and other beings, but the force he wishes to control is the Golden Army, which can be controlled through having three pieces of a crown that was split up long ago. His twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) is not down with her brother’s actions, and is thus put in danger because of it. She is shepherded by the government, and Abe falls in love with her. That’s a bit of a conflict, since she feels all the pain that her brother feels, and so killing him would mean killing her.

Much like any detective story, some actual investigation has to take place, and the government enlists the German almost-total-robot Johann Kraus (voiced by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane) to take control of Hellboy’s team. He’s got this smoke that comes out of his glass-domed head that can reanimate the dead, or solve puzzles, or kick some ass. But he’s by-the-book, and wouldn’t you know it, that kind of thing just doesn’t fly in the underworld.

All of this leads to the showdown with Nuada and the Golden Army, of course. Del Toro once again shows a knack for taking us into a completely fantastic world, with some truly grotesque, but beautiful, creatures. One of my main issues with the flick is the same sort of stuff I didn’t like about Pan’s Labyrinth: take, for instance, a Ghostbusters-esque sequence where this giant “forest king” is created from a small jumping bean and it starts to wreak havoc on Manhattan. The creature is amazing and yet it gets wasted pretty quickly. The movie does this a lot, introduce something awesome only to have it not be all that good at fighting or be stopped too easily.

That’s not to say the action isn’t good, though. The visuals are impressive and it has a good dose of humor. In fact, it’s practically an action-comedy. Ron Perlman is perfect casting for this, and almost every scene he’s in he owns. This is a fun warmup to next week’s The Dark Knight, so it’s worth a look.

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