Friday, August 22, 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army - Review

I very much enjoyed the first Hellboy movie. What grabbed me was the really likeable characters and their complex relationships with each other. Then there was the amazing universe that they were living in that fascinated me. While the actual plot was a little undercooked I still looked forward to a sequel to see and learn more about the characters. It has taken a while but Hellboy 2 has come along and given me exactly what I was hoping for.

I feel that the story in this movie is significantly stronger than in than in the first. The plot is introduced very cleverly by Guillermo del Toro in with a neat visual twist. The story of The Golden Army is told to a young Hellboy as a bed-time story and we see the story acted out in the same way as a young child might visualise it. The idea of this fantasy world starting an uprising against mankind is an intriguing idea and as a bonus allows some more complex ideas to enter into the story. The idea for instance that Hellboy just might be on the wrong side in this fight. After all, the humans that he protects are all scared of him while he fits right in with the creatures that he fights. The main antagonist in the movie is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) an elf who believes that mankind has ruined this world with their greed and believes that his kind could make it a better world. Unfortunately, Nuada is not afforded enough screen time try to justify his actions. I think more could have been done with trying to get Hellboy to switch his allegiance but that is only a minor quibble.

As the story progresses from one set piece to the other, which are very enjoyable, the real joy to be found in the movie is in the bits in between. The everyday interactions between the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence (BRPD) team members in their personal and professional lives. We get a glimpse of the work that goes on at the BRPD or when we see how Hellboy and Abe like to kick back and relax. The film also takes the time to introduce new team member Johann Krauss in what turn out to be some of the best scenes in the movie. The Krauss character is an interesting new addition to the team. I found it unusual that this by-the-book uptight character would also provide some of the films funniest moments. Krauss really does steal the show in most of his early scenes. The movie is just filled with little moments that elevate this movie above most other comic action movies. From the post-mortem/interrogation of a tooth fairy, a POV shot of tooth fairies being crushed from above (just loved this moment) to a scene trying to get information from a troll. All throw away moments that might not get into the final cut of more high profile comic book movies but make this movie all that richer for having them.

It is good to see that most of the cast is back and on form for the sequel. Rupert Evans' character John Myers is missing without explanation but his character brought very little to the first film so his omission is no loss. Ron Perlman once again excels in now what is surely his signature role. He is just the ultimate tough guy hero with a range of one-liners to challenge even John McClane. Selma Blair gets more to do with Liz Sherman this time around rather than act depressed and confused like in the first film. I hope the success of this film will get her more recognition and higher profile roles. We could all do with more Selma Blair on the screen. Doug Jones' Abe Sapien gets the biggest boost in the film in terms of screen time. His character was a little under used in the first movie but here he is almost an equal player with Hellboy. Also a boost for Jones is that this time they have used his voice in the role rather than have it dubbed. I think he did a great job as Abe and as the other creatures that he performed as. In fact, his tentative relationship with Princess Nuala is one of the highlights of the movie for me.

The real star of this movie is undoubtedly director Guillermo del Toro. Justly acclaimed as a visionary director after Pan's Labyrinth he has continued on the fine work with Hellboy 2. The creatures in both films have a similar look and it isn't unrealistic to think that both films could be set in the same universe. I have to say that I like that idea very much. The worry about a movie like this is that it would become over reliant on CG. Thankfully this is not the case. Off course there is plenty of CG on screen but only where it is necessary and what is there is of a very high standard. The rest of the world is executed with a brilliant mix of makeup and practical effects. The result is astounding, especially in the Troll Market scene. I am already excited over getting the Blu-ray release to see everything again in sharper detail. It is amazing to see what del Toro can create with a relatively small budget ($72M) in comparison to say, the final scenes of Indy IV ($185M budget). The creature design is also of the highest quality. Many of them are grotesque and scary while others have a curious mix of cuteness and repulsion, the tooth fairies being a prime example. It is safe to say that The Lord of the Rings franchise is in very safe hands.

The movie has a bit of everything really - horror, fantasy, comedy, action and emotion. If you were a fan of the first movie then I'm sure you will be going to see Hellboy 2. If you haven't seen the first don't worry about not knowing the characters. This story is very self-contained with very little reference back to the first. Whatever you need to know is explained to you so there really is no excuse not to go see this movie. Now to add this to my Christmas wish list of Blu-rays.


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