Guillermo Del Toro is an interesting case in the annals of Hollywood. He’s an arty, independent director who works in his native Spanish language. But on the other hand, he makes big-budget Hollywood spectaculars. And yet both aspects to his career make plenty of money and garner critical acclaim. It’s a good thing then, that Del Toro sticks to his artistic principles and never seems to compromise just to get the films he’s making done. Take Hellboy, for example. Nobody would have thought that casting Ron Perlman as the central character would work. But Del Toro, and Hellboy creator, Mike Mignola did. And they were right. Hellboy didn’t set the box-office alight, but it was a modest hit. And did well enough to warrant a sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army picks up where the previous film left off. In the opening few minutes we see Hellboy as a kid, watching Howdie Doody before he’s put to bed with a story telling of the creation of the Golden Army, a force created by Elves to destroy human kind. Young Hellboy assures himself it’s just a story. Years later, the prince of the Elves, Prince Nuada returns from exile to wage war on the humans once again. He wants to control the Golden Army, but his father and sister resist him. Far be it for Nuada to let a family squabble get in the way. He kills his father. His sister goes on the run with the last piece of the crown that will allow him control over the Golden Army. Meanwhile, Hellboy is having a rough time while working for The Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development. He’s having a rough time with his girlfriend, Liz Sherman. The Bureau want to tighten control on Hellboy, while he craves attention and fame. And with Prince Nuada making things difficult for everyone, Hellboy’s life is about to get a whole lot more complicated.
Hellboy is one of those franchises that flies under the radar. It’s never going to have the success of Batman or Spiderman films. But at the same time, the quality of the films is as good as the higher profile films. Guillermo Del Toro’s flair for the visual does give the Hellboy films something over it’s rivals. The films are packed with crazy and inventive monsters and creatures. Del Toro’s fascinated by visually stimulating media and draws inspiration from everything from Goya paintings to fairy tales and it’s because of this that his films are so fascinating to watch. Pan’s Labyrinth was one of Del Toro’s most personal films. But at the same time, Hellboy II, despite it being a Hollywood blockbuster, retains a lot of the personality of Pan’s Labyrinth.
While Hellboy II deals with the fantastical, the character of Hellboy also has to deal with personal issues. He’s hungry for fame, but finds himself the subject of ridicule when he gets the fame. He’s in love with Liz Sherman, but he’s also responsible for the breakdown in the relationship. And he’s got a huge problem with his temper. So while on the face of it, Hellboy II is a big spectacle film, it also has a personal side. Having said this, the story is the weakest part of the film. A personal side to these films is what gives them the edge over brainless blockbusters. But the spectacle must be huge. And for some reason, Hellboy II just doesn’t seem big enough. I know this seems like a contradiction, but there was just something lacking in the film that made it feel bigger than the screen.
Ron Perlman seems to have been born to play Hellboy, and here, he’s once again great as the big Red one. He’s certainly tough enough. But he’s also got the comedy edge to Hellboy down, and is always entertaining. Doug Jones plays a number of characters in the film, but mostly Hellboy’s colleague and friend, Abe Sapien. Jones is a Del Toro regular and he’s amazing in the monsters he embodies. His movements are unique to each character, and you really just don’t think it’s a human creating these characters. Jones also gets to use his own voice for Sapien, this time. In Hellboy, Sapien was voiced by David Hyde Pierce. Luke Goss, yes, him from Bros, plays the villain, Prince Nuada. Goss does pretty well in the role, which, for a villain, isn’t entirely unsympathetic. He’s got a beef, but it stems from injustice in the past. Del Toro’s writing makes the character interesting, but Goss manages to pull the role off, despite some dodgy acting in the past. The rest of the cast, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, fill out the roles you’d come to expect from a film of this kind, but none really stand out. It’s just up to Perlman to do his thing, and he does it well.
While Hellboy II: The Golden Army won’t usurp The Dark Knight as the best comic book movie of the summer, it’s definitely very entertaining. The visual side of the film is fascinating, and the monsters are brilliantly designed. It’s not the greatest story in the world, but it’s funny, exciting and very entertaining. With Del Toro’s visual flair, and Peter Jackson working with him on the script, The Hobbit looks like a pant-wettingly exciting prospect. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is gives us a taste of what will come.