Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
|Director||Guillermo Del Toro|
|Starring||Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth McFarlane, Jeffrey Tambor|
|Release||11 JUL (US) 20 AUG (UK) Certificate 12A|
Del Toro returns with Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which sees him melding his unique visual style and adept storytelling powers to a visual feast. Hellboy II would be the best film of the summer, were it not for the Dark Knight. Over a succinct, luxurious two hours, Del Toro masters a fine and intricate tale that borrows from ancient mythology and seamlessly matches it to a glorious imagination. The plot is A-typical comic-book fare: Bad Guy looks for Thing With Which He Can Control The World, hero Hellboy tries to stop him. But there's an awful lot more to it than that.
Ron Perlman portrays one of the best heroic character turns in comic-book history. Unlike the holier-than-thou persona of Batman, or the equally tedious Clark Kent, Hellboy is a fully fleshed out character. We're watching someone who happens to have the fist of Hell on his arm. Despite his demonic appearance, Hellboy is a person, who behaves as real people do. Heroes aren't made; they're born that way, whether they like it or not. And Hellboy doesn't really like it. He's really just like you or I: a man of simple pleasures. He likes cats. He's never happier than with a cigar, or a beer. "I would give her the world," he says at one point,"and she wants me to do the dishes." We all know how he feels.
The rest of the film is starkly inventive. The addition of Johan Krauss (voiced by Family Guy's Seth McFarlane) to the team provides Hellboy with a fine, and ambigious foil. Is he a baddie? Or a goodie? By fulfilling all the stereotypes of a possibly insane, officious German scientist, you half expect Krauss to turn in a tired shock twist, and Del Toro paints this ambiguity with great skill to create a character who is likeable and, over time, really quite a lot of fun. Tellingly, each of the characters here could carry a film in their own right.
There's also a wonderful scene which sees Hellboy and Abe (Jones) bonding over a well-known (and utterly naff) singer of the '70s. The following sequence, awash with super-powered hangovers, is a joy to watch, as Hellboy and Abe face an enormous challenge with a stinking attack of hair of the dog. They stumble and slur, and it's far more realistic - if a film about a guy with the Fist Of Hell on his arm can be called realistic - than anything else seen in this genre in eons. Hellboy's the kind of guy you'd probably want to know as a friend. Could you really say that about Daredevil or Bruce Banner?
Del Toro paints the entire film in a lavish visual style. He's fast found a unique and brilliant voice, a unique cinematic vision that affects everything he does with a grotesque beauty. The Golden Army, which gifts the film its name, is a wonderful, fascinating invention. They, like the Elementals, make you wonder why no one thought of them before. The fight scenes are wonderful, never over complex, always inventive, never boring, nor reliant on CGI. There's a ton of FX work here, but it looks real enough (certainly an improvement over the last movie). The infamous Troll Market outdoes the Cantina Bar and Diagon Alley by several light years as a visual feast: it's a market where Trolls just do Troll things, minding their own business and its awesome. Like, first time you saw the Death Star awesome. It's never showy, never overdone, it just is, and it's there to serve the plot and the plot alone.
There's gorgeous, rich and stunning set pieces. There's terrifyingly plausible villians and monsters. There's laughs galore. There's absolutely everything you want from a summer blockbuster, including brains (and not the type eaten by zombies). Hellboy II is Guillermo Del Toro's most enjoyable film yet: good news for The Hobbit and even better news for the inevitable - and essential - Hellboy III. Mark