|By Zach Patterson||Monday, 28 Jul 2008|
Being a casual fan of the comics a few years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the original Hellboy was a good movie, skillfully directed by Guillermo Del Toro and having inspired casting with Ron Perlman as the lead. I was also pleasantly surprised to see 2 animated features come out with the same voice talents as the movie, and then a full fledged live action sequel that is in movie theaters now. Between the Hellboys, Del Toro directed the critically acclaimed Pan’s Labyrinth and produced the similarly acclaimed The Orphanage, and has seen his star rise among many circles after landing the directorial duties for The Hobbit. Before that, though, we get Hellboy II, which is a really good film that has come out during a summer of great and epic blockbusters. While The Dark Knight and Iron Man and Indiana Jones get most of the spotlight, this movie is a fantastic comic book movie and great summer movie. It’s also easy enough to recommend to anyone who hasn’t seen the original or read the comics, because while the relationships in the movie are inherited from the first movie, this is largely a standalone product, and tells its own intriguing story.
The general plot of the movie is that long ago, humans and mythical creatures battled each other. The creatures created an army of 4900 unstoppable Golden soldiers, which would guarantee them victory. However, seeing the atrocities they caused without remorse, the King of the mythical creatures, Balor, decides to seal away the army and break the crown that would control them into 3 pieces, and give on piece to the humans. However, his son, Prince Nuada, does not agree to the truce and in current times, finally decides to act and bring the Golden Army back after seeing the humans abuse and destroy their world, while slowly destroying the forests and other places where the elves and trolls lived.
What this basically adds up to is Hellboy interacting with lots of crazy creatures, fighting for possession of the pieces of the crown, and some some romance between Princess Nuala and Abe Sapien, Hellboy’s best friend. The battles in the movie are excellent, with a real fantastical comic book type battle with a giant bean creature that turns everything into living plant matter. It’s a fun fight because the creature is so dangerous, and yet he’s also doing beautiful things and turning the city into an urban jungle. As Hellboy fights to destroy it, Nuada tests him, asking Hellboy to destroy the creature, the last of its kind, because that is what humans do. There’s also a great battle in a seedy troll market with a monstrous creature called Mr. Wink, who is physically Hellboy’s equal or better, but Hellboy eventually puts him through a grinder. Nuada himself has a half dozen great fight scenes, where he shows off his martial arts training, and all of it is convincing and impressive, not forced and full of quick cuts away to hide the lack of actual skill.
So the movie has some great fight scenes. But it also has a definite beauty to the cinematography, especially in the Elven world. The colors are deep, dreamlike, and rich. And in scenes like the Prince’s confrontation of the King and the discovery of the Lair of the Golden Army, it is downright breathtaking in scope, depth, and location. You can definitely tell that Del Toro’s time working on Pan’s Labyrinth influenced many things here as well.
Additionally, hats off to the creature designers, because they made some very unique and fun creatures. It almost reminded me of Jim Henson inspired creature shop stuff from the 80′s, since very little of it was CG, and most of it relied on extensive makeup and costumes. I can definitely appreciate that in today’s modern movies, where most any special effect is added in post production.
And while describing the movie may make it seem a little disjointed between the fantasy realm and the real world, it’s a nice contrast, and sort of shows why the entire conflict in the movie began in the first place. The fantasy realm is almost a dream world, while the real world is filmed much more realistically and the personalities are much more human (even if the faces aren’t). Hellboy is a bit of a blue collar man-demon, a guy who enjoys his job but hates to play by the rules, while his girlfriend Liz can’t seem to adjust to his overly self-centered lifestyle. Meanwhile, sea creature Abe is a central character in this one, as he finds someone in Nuala who is a kindred spirit, but yet he knows it pretty much is never meant to be. Also, their new boss, Krauss, is a crazy German spirit gas smoke thing that inhabits some 1940′s-ish diver suit. It’s a fun bunch of characters, and you get to know the supporting cast a lot better in this movie. A lot of their interaction is lighthearted and a little tongue in cheek, like the drunken musical sing-a-long scene where Hellboy and Abe get ripped in their government compound or when Hellboy stubbornly refuses let Liz have any space for herself in his room. But it all seems genuine and most importantly, it made me laugh more often than not. A lot of the scenes in the government compound where Hellboy resides had a Men In Black quality to it, which is definitely a good thing. They all kinda take the crazy shit in stride, and it makes for some great sight gags and amusing one liners.
This movie really did surprise me, as it was much better than the original, which I really liked to start with, and it managed to balance telling a fantasy story with continuing Hellboy’s story from the first movie and adding in a lot of artistic touches. And they did all this without making it seems like a mishmash of genres and being completely unfocused. Overall, most any other summer, I’d be saying this is probably the best movie I saw this summer. Well, it had some stiff competition this summer, but don’t pass this one up if you enjoy comic book movies, Hellboy, or Guillermo Del Toro. It really is a great movie that’s gotten lost under the bigger blockbusters.