27 July 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Starring Ron Perelman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor

If you haven’t seen Hellboy, don’t hesitate to leap into Hellboy II: The Golden Army. You’ll be able to follow it with minimum fuss without the first movie. A quick prologue at the opening will get you oriented to the adventures of the BPRD, the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. If you’re still curious, go rent the first movie after you finish seeing the second. It’s an enjoyable film, although not a great one.

The second movie most definitely is a great film, and the third movie this summer to which I’ll bestow that honorific. (The other two are WALL·E and The Dark Knight.) It’s a movie for people who read both Lord Dunsany and comic books, love Michael Moorcock and Raymond Chandler. Guillermo del Toro is my kind of filmmaker; I’ll bet he and I would have days and days worth of geek-joy to discuss.

I’ve been riding the Guillermo del Toro train for a while now; I jumped on when Blade II shocked me with its quality. Pan’s Labyrinth made me certain of the man’s ascendancy. Now he’s set up to direct The Hobbit. I have enormous love for Señor del Toro. There was a push for him to direct one of the Harry Potter films, but I’m glad he ended up in the J. R. R. Tolkien camp.

Have you ever wanted to see a scene where a beefy horned red devil and a lovelorn fishman drink Tecate Beer and sing along to Barry Manilow’s “I Can’t Smile without You”? Me too! And that’s exactly what Hellboy II delivers.

It would a great film just because of that one scene, but what about the rest of the flick? The first Hellboy dealt with Nazis and H. P. Lovecraft-esque beasties, but this one turns toward the realm of faerie and dark fantasy. An elven prince breaks the long truce between the realm of fearie and the human realm to take revenge on the mortal world’s encroachments. He plans to unleash magical automatons upon the world, the Golden Army of the title, if he can gather the three keys. However, his sister rebels against him and turns to the BPRD—and the love-smitten Abe Sapien—to save the human race from her brother’s magical wrath.

Del Toro adores monsters (another way that he and I are muy simpático) and his sympathies often lie with the beasts, even when they’re trying to wipe out the whole human race. Hellboy confronts a rampaging nature god, which is as beautiful as it is lethal, and its destruction is a moment of bizarre tenderness that you wouldn’t expect from this sort of summer entertainment. The film is filled with these unexpected moments of pathos.

Perlman again is dead-on as our title character. For an actor usually playing supporting parts, Perlman goes full-throttle with his lead role. But the performance on which I really want to shine a light is Doug Jones’s. All hail Doug! The suit actor who has turned into del Toro’s Robert DeNiro (he played both the Faun and the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth) finally gets to add his voice to one of his characters. In the first Hellboy, David Hyde-Pierce provided his voice to Jones’s portrayal of the amphibious Abe Sapien (and refused credit because he saw how much the character belonged to Jones), but now Jones gets to control the complete character of the intellectual Abe. Jones isn’t just a great suit actor, he’s a great actor, and people should recognize him as such after what he delivers here.

Now, on to Guillermo del Toro’s Hobbit!