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HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008) *** movie review by COOP

Posted on July 18th, 2008
Posted on July 18th, 2008

The first “Hellboy” film changed the way the modern, general audience looked at traditional comic book heroes. Adapted from Mike Mignola’s cult comic book series, the story follows the adventures of the Son of Satan who grows up amongst humans and feels an obligation to protect them, despite his dark destiny. Armed with a massive gun named “Samaritan” and teamed with a secret government agency that commands a team of super-freaks, Hellboy fights the forces of darkness. How can something designed for evil possibly fight for good? I would’ve preferred the films explore this theme further, but the result of the first film delivered light, ghoulish fun.

This second effort suffers from sequel syndrome. Say that five times fast. Director Guillermo Del Toro usually nails the story, pacing and visuals into a near-perfect cinema symbiosis but this time he skimped on the first two. This film starts with a 1950’s flashback with Professor Broom (John Hurt) telling an elementary-aged Hellboy a Christmas bedtime story about ancient Elves creating a mystical robot army to eradicate humans off the face of the planet. Yep, there’s an environmental theme because apparently the elves don’t like the way we usurp and ravage the land. Good things those elves have a conscience because after witnessing the destructive power of this “Golden Army,” they box it up and vow never to use it again. Fast forward to present day. One elf prince, Nuada (Luke Goss), gets fed up with the urban sprawl and quests to find the key to unlock the army. Once again, it’s up to Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his band of government-funded freaks to stop the end of the world.

I found disappointment in the decision of Del Toro to advance the relationship of Hellboy and his pyrokinetic girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair), into a bickering dysfunction. Who would take Batman seriously if his significant other moved and started complaining about leaving his dirty, bat-underwear all over the floor? Exactly, and it plays out just as tedious here. Hellboy doesn’t get women, which is too bad considering he’s been around since WWII, so you’d think he’d learn a thing or two by then. Also he’s starved for attention and intentionally blows his cover to reveal himself to the world, only to feel disappointed when the world doesn’t accept him. A mild naivety was a part of his charm in the first film, but the fact that his character doesn’t seem to grow much emotionally doesn’t help the story progress. The same goes for the telepathic man-fish character, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who is over 140 years-old, but makes frighteningly foolish decisions when offered the slightest taste of female companionship. The film hits a misguided, comedic low point when Hellboy and Abe get drunk, sing along with Barry Manilow and complain about women. The pacing felt clunky and didn’t move along as swiftly or masterfully as Hellboy I. Despite all this, I still liked the film.

The first saving grace comes from Ron Perlman who continually proves to be one of the best chameleon actors since Chaney, Karloff and Lugosi. Ever since his performance as Beast in the 1980’s primetime soap, “Beauty and the Beast,” Perlman’s become the new “Man of 1000 Faces.” Working as comfortably under the latex and makeup as with his own skin, Perlman embodies Hellboy so perfectly you forget the actual human underneath.

That brings us to saving grace number two: The production design, creature design, special effects and makeup. Great sets, great costumes, great eye-candy and the monsters… Oh, the monsters. Once the team reaches the “Troll Marketplace,” prepare yourself for a visual treat. Such a menagerie of inventively designed alien creatures has not been seen since the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in the original “Star Wars.” When I get a hold of the “Hellboy II” DVD, I’m going to watch this segment over and over again, taking in all the wonderfully bizarre abominations designed for the film. The creators of these monsters must receive an Oscar nomination if there is any justice in Hollywood.

Saving grace number three: The introduction of Hellboy’s new teammate, the heroic Dr. Johann Krauss. Although not explained well in the film, Strauss was once human but now lives as a cloud of ectoplasm contained in a steam-era spacesuit. His strange powers and abilities contributed to a few “wow” moments in the film, his expressive hands made up for his lack of a face and his voice (played by “Family Guy’s” Seth McFarlane) brought an air of whimsical authority… Although, I’d rather like to forget the silly scene where he challenges Hellboy to a locker room fistfight.

Finally, I commend the acting and stunt talents of Luke Goss as the villainous elf prince, Nuada. Imagine if the hero elf Legolas from “Lord of the Rings” lived until present day, got cheesed-off at what the humans had done to the planet and decided to wipe us all out. Now imagine him scary-looking with kung fu skills. That’s Nuada. Luke Goss knows how to play scary. His performance as the vampire/virus hybrid in Del Toro’s “Blade II” made him the most intimidating vampire villain since Gary Oldman in “Bram Stoker’s Dracula.” With his powerful voice, martial arts skills and commanding stage presence, I expect him to appear in even meatier roles in the future.

Although I’m not giving this an especially high rating, I imagine this will be a film I end up watching over and over again on video and cable. It’s not terrific, but there’s so much to look at and enjoy, I doubt I could resist repeat viewings. It has all you need in a summer action film. Watch, have fun, but don’t expect the story quality of the first film.

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