To Hellboy II and back

Colin Browne shakes the Right Hand of Doom.

Caught between the warring factions of Earth and Elfland lies the demonic softy Hellboy and his gang of inter-special outlaws / government agents.

Adapted from the Dark Horse comics series of the early 90s, Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army has been given the full animatronic treatment: a special effects and make-up makeover of grand proportions that doesn’t stray too far from Mike Mignola’s original characters, while making good in its digressions.

For those unfamiliar with the story, our hero Hellboy—red-faced possessor of the feared “Right Hand of Doom”—was discovered off the Scottish coastline near the end of the Second World War, and consequently “secretly adopted” by a regular old Scotsman, played here by John Hurt. In time, Hellboy (Ron Perlman, in a reprise of his role) has become a revered member of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, along with fellow comrades Abe Sapien (Doug Jones)—something of an aquatic C3PO with the gift of psychic empathy—and girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), who has the power to spontaneously combust into flames.

With the assistance of BPRD Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) and hired gaseous being Johann Strauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), the gang have set out to defend the world from a potential uprising of the long dormant Golden Army—4900 sprocket monsters deep—under the vengeful rule of self-exiled Prince Nuada, hellbent if you will, on ending the truce between the underworld and Mankind.

You still with me?

From this point on, del Toro (Blade II, Mimic) unleashes his imaginative, but carefully understated vision for the film. What results is a finely crafted blend of humor, drama and supernatural action that exists in a world of its own. Characters are introduced with a refreshing balance of old-school costuming and modern technical trickery, and will likely have you asking on more than one occasion, “was that some sort of porcupine bird?”

Despite its originality, Hellboy II: The Golden Army does not fight to conceal its film influences (Star Wars, The Matrix, and, to a lesser extent, The Wizard of Oz). It does, however, manage to fuse these tendencies with enough cultural relevance to keep things from feeling stale or rooted in nostalgia. A sequence involving Abe and Hellboy getting plastered on canned beer is just one of several pleasant diversions from the self-importance of your typical comic book adaptations populating screens of late (which shall remain nameless).

The human beings in Hellboy II often display a kind of selfish ineptitude, lacking compassion for these ‘freakish’ creatures whose only mission in life is to defend them. As Prince Nuada proclaims to a terrified public upon completing the first phase of his quest, “Sit down—proud, empty, hollow things that you are!”

A grim comment on the state of modern civilization.

Accordingly, is it any coincidence that the only victims of a ruthless horde of ‘tooth fairies’—disgusting, carnivorous little insect skeletons, sent upon the earth by Prince Nuada to stop Hellboy and the BPRD—are humans? As a metaphor, one might interpret this as the actuality of man being swallowed by his own lies: (‘The tooth fairy? Yeah right, I suppose the next thing you’ll be telling me is there’s a bunny coming to the house this weekend to leave candy for everyone!’)

The narrative—although it was engrossing and consistently managed to steer on the upside of plausible—felt a bit rushed toward the end. And there was a nearly-unforgivable amount of strange coincidences. And the actual ‘Golden Army’ seemed to be brought in as almost a necessity to honor the film’s title rather than serving any real function in developing the plot.

A climactic fight sequence between Hellboy and the Prince is commendable for its low-frills, 2-guys-brawling kind of approach, but is not quite classic enough to give the movie the epic ending it needed.

What you’ve got here is an inventive genre film that succeeds on a visual level and does not require previous knowledge of the characters to enjoy. Also, the 14A rating is a bit of stretch. Most 9 year old kids today would be all over this.

Hellboy II is now showing at Mount Pearl Shopping Centre. Call 364-8527 for times and prices.