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Now what? (l-r) Blair and Perlman in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.

A Real Man

By Laura Leon

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Directed by Guillermo Del Toro


Unlike the summer’s previous comic-book action films, Hellboy II: The Golden Army seems content with retaining its pulpy origins. Which means that while Hellboy (Ron Perlman) occasionally wonders, hurt, why the humans turn on him when all he’s trying to do is save the world, we’re not forced to watch him be introspective or, like Edward Norton in The Incredible Hulk, hone his anger-management skills.

For those who don’t know, Hellboy is a scarlet-skinned demon, rescued in the twilight of World War II by a kindly doctor who works for Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense—a quasi-secret U.S. agency—to rid the world of dark forces. He likes candy and Cuban cigars, prefers action to consensus building, and channels a weirdly sexy, old Warner Bros.-“Bogie” vibe. This time around, Hellboy, pal Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and main squeeze Liz (Selma Blair) confront the potential evil posed by the elfin Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), who wants to unleash a dormant golden army against the human race. Hey, they’ve destroyed the forests where his like once ruled, so what’s a patricidal control freak to do? Nuada’s plans initially are thwarted by his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton), who honors the pact her late father had made with the world. Oh, and she proves a fine love interest for Abe in the bargain.

Director Guillermo Del Toro, who co-wrote the script with the comic’s creator Mike Mignola, revels in the fantastical outpourings of childhood fantasies and nightmares, as anybody who saw Pan’s Labyrinth can attest. Thousands of creatures of all sizes and abilities haunt the screen as Hellboy and company search out the meaning behind Nuada’s cryptic messages and follow him to the fateful confrontation. Of particular note are a baby, cradled on a creature’s chest, which turns out to be a tumor (!) and an angel of death who has scores of eyeballs festooning her enormous black wings—but none on her face. The sheer imaginative power behind these beings is astounding, and one wonders what Del Toro’s mother thought whenever she came upon little Guillermo’s sketchpad. More importantly, at least for the story, these creatures provide a counterpoint to Hellboy, placing him squarely in the middle of a continuum that has ungrateful and wasteful humans on one end, and strange and endangered species on the other. At one point, Nuada taunts Hellboy, who is about to terminate a killer plant genie, with the fact that, like the green menace, Hellboy is the last of his kind. When Hellboy does, in fact, kill the offender, there is a brief and uncharacteristic moment of sadness as he realizes the truth of Nuada’s words.

The New York scenes in Hellboy II are flip and fast and full of the geeky humor—Hellboy and Abe sing “Can’t Smile Without You” while getting plastered—that makes the series so much fun. There’s a new partner in crimefighting, the vapor-in-a-diving-suit, Col. Klink-sounding Johann Krauss (Seth MacFarland), who gives Hellboy as much as he gets. When the action goes underground twice, things get a little messy. In the first instance, the entire sequence almost feels like a mini-movie of its own; in the latter, there isn’t much character interaction. As Hellboy and Nuada fight for control of the Golden Army, one is thankful that much of what we see looks real (or at least less computer-generated than we’ve come to expect), while at the same time noticing, with dismay, that other characters—notably Abe, Liz and Nuala—are just standing in the background. At the finale, again, there are tableaux of characters placed uselessly in the background and foreground in a way that makes me think that Del Toro neglected to direct them.

As with many such films, the ending leaves the door open for a Hellboy III. At the end, too, we’re kind of glad that it’s over: Hellboy II is too long and too busy. What saves it, of course, is Perlman’s evocative performance. Here’s a guy who seems to have spent a career playing roles that require massive makeup (basically removing any shred of humanity from his persona), and yet creating characters who become vividly real, even strangely sexy (remember TV’s Beauty and the Beast?). He swaggers through Hellboy II, a guy’s guy who isn’t afraid to use his big red fist, and who gets a real kick out of seeing himself on YouTube. In a real sense, Hellboy is a throwback to what we once expected of men, before we wanted them to share in the wedding planning and open up about their feelings. He may be messy, a little insensitive, and, yeah, he smokes and drinks, but he saves the world. No wonder he’s the best character onscreen we’ve seen this summer.

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