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guillermo del toro

More so than its predecessor, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an arresting visual experience with a loose story centered on the titular character and the army of paranormal investigators at the BRPD. The influence of Guillermo del Toro on the franchise, lifted from the pages of Dark Horse comics, has brought it to a more mainstream audience and amplified what it is to be different. The original film was a modest success for Sony and the ailing Revolution Studios, after passing on the sequel, Universal picked up the rights and brings us one of the top comic book movies of the year, so far.

Hellboy II manages to surpass its original installment, something that’s not easy to do, but becoming more common recently, in nearly all aspects. While the plot is still a prime excuse to link together fight scenes, the background story still has some muster and a mythological base treats fans of two different genres.

Long ago an elf king commissioned goblins to create an indestructible army commanded by a crown. The Golden Army was so destructive and indestructible that it nearly annihilated all of mankind and led to a truce between the two parties, the humans taking the cities, the elves taking the forests. While most of the elf population took this truce to heart for each generation, the king’s son Price Nuada (Luke Goss) drifted into exile only to turn up in the present day with the urge to command the army for himself and destroy the humans.

The antagonist is a bit weak, although its hard to top the terrorizing effects of undead Nazi’s from the first film. What really shines here is the character development of Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) and their struggling relationship. The writing has been tightened significantly with Perlman delivering one-liners like any leading man and making them count. Both Liz and Abe (Doug Jones) receive expanded parts in relation to the original, new character Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth MacFarlane) really brings a bit of freshness to the film.

The film also maintains aspects of the comic book’s back-story and mythology including more and more allusions that Hellboy will be the destructor of our world, and when the pregnant Liz hears this as a choice between Hellboy living and dying she understandably choices his life over, what may be, everyone else’s. While a common theme of the character, del Toro again tries to play up the fact that the world will never accept Hellboy, even when he, Abe, and the BRPD are ousted into the public eye. The red-skinned one once again contemplates his position within human society and if he can ever survive and be accepted.

Perlman loses himself in the role and makes the doubters who initially opposed him for the role eat a good sized helping of crow as he further evolves the character down new paths. He’s able to make a giant red demon into a humanized character, naïve in relationships, and sticking it to authority figures much to the dismay of his overseer Manning (Jeffrey Tambor).

As mentioned previously, the visual imagery of the film is stunning with some major holdovers from del Toro’s Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth including the creepy, yet enticing Angel of Death near the climax of the film. The battle between our heroes and the Golden Army is also very well choreographed and a visual masterpiece.

When it’s all said and done, the Hellboy series continues on its high road (as long as we don’t count videogames) and manages to outdo the original film in a planned trilogy in nearly every category from writing to action to character development. One can only hope that the next film capitalizes on this one’s success and high points and continues to climb upwards.

While waiting in line to see Hellboy on Friday night a few things were put into perspective for me. The first is lots and lots of people see movies, but almost none of them know anything about them, and the second was that there is still money to be made on new ideas, cult followings, and unknown comic book characters that come to life with the love of a great director. While waiting in line for about an hour before the film I was privy to a conversation between the only two men ahead of me. They simply stated, “I didn’t know this was based on a comic book.” To add insult to injury they then stated, “Did you know they were making a Spider-Man 2? I just heard about it on the news.” While the comments continued for a good 45 minutes, it gave me a perspective into the common moviegoer, someone who can’t remember an actors name, and also thinks The Matrix Revolutions was the best movie “ever.”

Regardless of what the general public knows, Hellboy is based on a cult classic comic book of the same name. The story centers on a demon, brought to earth through Nazi experimentation in the occult, and then raised by his adopted father to be an agent in a government bureau for paranormal research and counter-action. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is joined by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), voiced by David Hyde-Pierce, and Professor Broom (John Hurt), Hellboy’s adopted father. The man responsible for Hellboy’s appearance on Earth, Rasputin (Karel Roden), has returned from being sucked into a portal he opened up at the end of the second world war, and how he intends to open it again to bring the end of the world.

John Myers (Rupert Evans) is brought in to work with Hellboy, at the request of his father, to help him become more “human” in his actions. An awkward love triangle then forms between Hellboy, Myers, and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) who longs to be anything but a freak. Under the guise as waste management employees the agency begins investigating the reappearance of Rasputin and what he is doing back on Earth.

The story itself parallels the first Blade film in more ways than one, especially in the latter half of the film, but it’s the film’s heart, and the car that was taken into elevating it from “just another comic adaptation” to “a truly rewarding comic book adaptation” that makes seeing it worthwhile. Hellboy is a tormented soul, he wants to fit in, he loves Liz, and he wants to be free from his underground home, but it can’t be done. Unlike other comic book films, Hellboy is seemingly venerable, and he doesn’t always win. The X-Men fight for the good of mankind, Spider-Man is there for the common man plagued by crime. Like Blade, Hellboy doesn’t always get his man, and he doesn’t always win, he makes mistakes and they have consequences.

A lot of publicity has been given to the film based on the fact that it had be stuck in Development Hell for such a long period of time, partly because of the un-established character and director Guillermo del Toro’s instance that only Ron Perlman, a beloved character actor, could portray the character on the big screen. After the success of Blade 2, in which del Toro directed and Perlman had a small role, Sony greenlit the project and the success is apparent. Realistically, I can’t see anyone but Perlman in the role. His familiarity with working in make-up and comedic timing give the movie an extra bit of life and entertainment value.

For the most part the film is balls to the walls action, much like del Toro’s Blade 2, but instead of relying too much on CGI, one major fault of the daywalker’s second adventure, the action in Hellboy is represented well by the actors, and when computers are used the transitions are much more lifelike and seamless when compared to similar fare. The story starts us right off with the introduction of Hellboy and dives into origin stories for Abe and Liz, as well as introducing us to Professor Broom as a young man during World War II. The steams seems to diminish a bit as the movie winds down, and all the eye candy has been flashed on the screen, but the ending is fulfilling.

Not many may have heard of Hellboy prior to the first trailer hitting theaters and the web last year, but now that the comic has been introduced to a whole new generation of teenagers it seems unlikely that the graphic novel will remain in obscurity for much longer. It seems very likely, however, that a successful launch of this franchise could bring many other lesser-known comic book heroes to the big screen and bring the talents of many, now shrouded in darkness, into the limelight.