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