By Adam Frazier
Director Guillermo del Toro has a fixation, a fetish even, for great-looking monsters. His films, so beautifully draped in rich colors and fantastical myth, are often populated by a vast hodgepodge of exotic creatures. From insects, fairies and trolls to tentacle beasts, fauns and firestarters, del Toroâ€™s films ignite the imagination with ideas of what might go bump in the night.
After writing and directing the highly acclaimed â€œPanâ€™s Labyrinth,â€ del Toro turned down numerous film projects to direct a sequel to his 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignolaâ€™s comic, â€œHellboy.â€ The delightfully macabre â€œHellboyâ€ is about a demon who finds himself fighting alongside the U.S. government against diabolical dark forces bent on world domination. â€œHellboyâ€ has a level of folklore and myth to it that certainly makes it stand out compared to other comic book or superhero films, and del Toroâ€™s style and sensibility always seemed like the perfect fit for Mignolaâ€™s comic.
In â€œHellboy II: The Golden Army,â€ del Toro is up to his old tricks again â€“ packing dark, moody worlds with monsters of all shapes and sizes. Ron Perlman is back as Hellboy, a big red demon raised by man, who loves American television, kittens and fine Cuban cigars. His girlfriend, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) is a cute, seemingly ordinary girl with the strange ability to engulf her body in fire. Then thereâ€™s Abraham Sapien (Doug Jones), A blue-green bookworm with gills and flippers.
Together they work with the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (B.P.R.D) to track down the bad guys, whether itâ€™s advocates of Nazi occultism or your occasional ogre that gets out of line. Hellboy and his team are, as the late Professor Broom put it, the ones who bump back. In â€œHellboy II: The Golden Army,â€ the mythical world starts a rebellion against humanity in order to rule the Earth, so Hellboy and his friends must fight for humanity, whether they appreciate it or not.
The leader of this magical rebellion is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), a skilled warrior with intentions of using a fabled golden army to vanquish humanity and take back what, he believes, is rightfully his. Not the entire mythical world agrees with Nuada, however, namely his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton). She believes it is her kindâ€™s duty to honor the pact made between their kind and humans so long ago â€“ and using the golden army would be a diabolical abortion of that pact.
Whereas â€œHellboyâ€ dealt with the more practical elements of Mignolaâ€™s universe â€“ mad scientists and Nazis and historical legend, â€œHellboy II: The Golden Armyâ€ explores the mythical, fairytale aspects. The film opens with a wonderful prologue that shows Hellboy as a, well, a young boy. Heâ€™s decked out in pajamas watching Howdy Doody (Itâ€™s the â€˜50s after all) when his father (the always brilliant John Hurt) reads him a bedtime story. Instantly del Toro focuses the style and heart of this movie in a well-told bedtime story.
We are treated to a wonderful animated envisioning of humanity battling mythical beasts. There is a great blend of computer animation with classic special effects techniques like stop-motion photography â€“ the bread and butter of guys like Ray Harryhausen, whom del Toro deeply admires.
Not only is the film sure to appeal to those like-minded individuals who have an obsession for monsters, but itâ€™s so laugh-out-loud funny and absurd at moments that general audiences will surely get a kick out of the expertly crafted mix of comedy, action and visual stimulus. The story, while on the surface may seem like nothing more than a simple superhero flick, has some deep roots in folklore and del Toro reminds us that without myth â€“ without magic â€“ we would be a poorer species.
In one particular scene, where Hellboy and his team enter a hidden troll market (under a bridge, go figure), flashes of my childhood crawled up my spine and slammed into my brain, sending neurons dancing about â€“ igniting my imagination to a scary, 8-year-old kid kind of level. The troll market is reminiscent of the Mos Eisely Cantina scene in â€œStar Wars.â€ Youâ€™ve been introduced to this fantastic world, and suddenly, hidden deep in some far-off corner of that world, there is an area teeming with life.
In the troll market there are hordes of unique monsters to stare in awe at. Trolls and ogres and goblins, all merchants selling assorted goods like boiled eyeballs and such. There are street performers â€“ musicians and organ grinders looking for some small compensation for their talents. Thereâ€™s even a monster that doubles as a barber, gently applying shaving cream to another bizarre-looking creature before swiftly and skillfully shaving away the thingâ€™s stubble.
Is â€œHellboy II: The Golden Armyâ€ a flawless film â€“ no. The acting can be cheesy and campy at times, but isnâ€™t that in the spirit of the story? I think so. Overall, if you enjoyed the first film or were blown away by â€œPanâ€™s Labyrinthâ€ then you should definitely see this film. Itâ€™s one of the best films of 2008 and one of the more nourishing, entertaining films of this summer.