Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army


Written & Directed by: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Ron Pearlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones & Luke Goss

Big red returns in a solid and entertaining sequel which may be more visually stunning than its predecessor but sacrifices the dark and grit making for a more unsatisfying ride. The characters are certainly given expansion, which is always great, but the mood and tone feel a little off. This time Hellboy (Pearlman), Liz (Blair) and Abe Sapien (Jones) must do battle with an evil prince (Goss) who with the help of a certain mechanical army wants to take back the real world for all the creatures, monsters and other beasties of the fantasy world. Not only that, Hellboy and Liz must contend with their budding relationship all the while trying to fit into a society where they are branded freaks.

Del Toro is one of the most talented directors working the in business today and Hellboy 2 further confirms this. Matching his unique visual style and attention to character of Pan’s Labyrinth with his breakneck, well staged action of Blade 2, Hellboy 2 takes the summer blockbuster in a new direction. Visual opulence and big SFX action merge perfectly with deftly drawn characters and spot on performances from all principals. Pearlman is a joy to watch as Hellboy and is obviously relishing the chance to play the character once again. Blair and Jones are also great, with their roles considerably expanded, and the scene of Abe and Hellboy getting drunk and singing a Barry Manilow song is comedy gold. A big red devil and a fish man showing there are human and getting drunk when they can’t figure out the women they love. Great stuff.

But this is perhaps where the slight problem lies: the comedy. Only a slight problem, as really Hellboy 2 is a wonderful film, just not quite as good as the original. The comedy aspect is perhaps played up a little too much. More subtle in the original, the comedy plays through the whole film and unfortunately sidelines the threat made by Luke Goss’s evil prince. Hellboy was more horror and dark in tone, while Hellboy 2 goes the fantasy and lighter touch route. Good to see the makers going in a different direction and if fantasy is your thing then who will not doubt love it. I myself preferred the horror and Nazi’s up to no good tone of the original. However, Hellboy 2 still has a great bad guy in Goss (who’d a thought one of the brothers from Bross would end up being such a good actor?) but he just isn’t in it enough. Also the introduction of new character Johann Krauss to the Hellboy team wasn’t really needed, as he comes across as more of an annoying twit than some cool new character.

Yet Del Toro pulls it out the bag with the visuals and action. Rather than describe the visual aspect, just go see it on the big screen and bask in the wonders of the troll market and the battle with the elemental forest monster. Visual splendour largely created through old school prosthetics that captures the wonderment of the imagination and fantasy movies of yesteryear. Del Toro knows his action as well (just check out Blade 2 or the original Hellboy) and crafts some stunning sequences that for the most part allow us to see the action and don’t rely on heavy cutting. Goss’s prince gets to cut loose in some awesome sequences of martial arts action (coordinated by Jackie Chan stunt team member, Brad Allen) not least the epic duel between him and Hellboy. Plus there is a great fight in the troll market and that aforementioned smack down with the forest beastie.

Hellboy 2, despite its few flaws and perhaps too rushed pace, is still an amazing achievement for a studio summer blockbuster which shows what a director with a certain vision can really do when allowed to. Fusing action, fantasy, huge set pieces and comedy into a coherent whole, Hellboy 2 is the alternative summer movie. Just bring back the darkness for the third instalment.

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