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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (12A)

Rachel Winterbottom feels sympathy for the devil

Written by . Published on September 2nd 2008.


Hellboy II: The Golden Army (12A)

With the recent spat of super hero movies in the cinemas, producers now seem eager to prove that their particular brand of hero is unique. Gone are the days when a two-dimensional man of steel could satisfy us. Give us teen angst and brooding millionaires – we need to see the man behind the mask and, damn, he’d better be ugly. Figuratively speaking, of course.

While this is no Pan’s Labyrinth, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has lovingly infused The Golden Army with elements of his darkly gothic fairy tale. The carnivorously feisty Tooth Fairies, the plant-like Elemental and the unsettling Angel of Death could have all stepped easily from its depths.

Still, there are heroes and there are anti-heroes, and then there’s Hellboy. Postbox red with horns, a tail, a gigantic stone hand and a penchant for cigars and cats, Hellboy is not your average leading man/demon. And in this case, that’s only a good thing.

Exiled elf, Prince Nuada (the angular Luke Goss), declares war on humans. To defeat them all he needs are the three pieces of the crown that controls the Golden Army – a study in death by clockwork. After killing his father, the King of the Elves, for the first piece, he sets out on a mission with his troll-like cronie, Mr Wink, to collect the last two parts. One of which is held by his twin, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who unlike her brother wants to uphold the peace between the fantastical realm and the real world, and so goes on the run.

The princess soon finds protection at the headquarters of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence (BPRD). Thus follows a treasure hunt style narrative where Hellboy and his fellow public outcasts from the BPRD indiscreetly blast their way between some truly awesome set pieces until they’re ready to battle it out at the ancient resting place of the Golden Army which is, of all places, in Ireland.

While this is no Pan’s Labyrinth, Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has lovingly infused The Golden Army with elements of his darkly gothic fairy tale. The carnivorously feisty Tooth Fairies, the plant-like Elemental and the unsettling Angel of Death could have all stepped easily from its depths.

Similarly, there are some beautiful moments pencilled in between the comic book-style action. Del Toro deftly handles what could have been quite a clunky back-story by depicting a battle scene between humans and the Golden Army with CGI wooden puppetry. But by the time you reach the heady visuals of the Troll Market you begin to feel he’s just showing off.

It’s hard to imagine anyone other than the box-jawed Ron Perlman as Hellboy, aka ‘Red’. Grouchy, stubborn and pigheaded though the character may be, beneath all those prosthetics beats a bleeding heart. He’s the ultimate misunderstood anti-hero, as easy to hurt as he is to love. And funny too. Forget “Hulk smash!”. Nothing beats Hellboy pounding his stone mitt into anything that annoys him.

This time around Abe Sapien is voiced as well as played by Doug Jones. His tentative relationship with Princess Nuala never really gets off the ground but it does lead to a gem of a scene where Abe and Hellboy drunkenly sing ‘I can’t smile without you’. It’s a testament to del Toro that this isn’t cringe-inducing: it’s this cheeky filtration of humour throughout his Hellboy series that lets it get away with things like big red demons and psychic fish.

Hellboy’s squeeze, Liz (Selma Blair), is back with more control but is still the disturbed young woman whose pyrotechnic abilities left her with more issues than Metro. Their relationship is on shaky ground but you feel that their troubles, along with the plot, play second fiddle to the special effects.

This is a flaw that keeps cropping up in this instalment. The story is minimal and the main characters aren’t really given the chance to bloom amongst the sheer brilliance of the special effects. Your eyes are given a visual feast, but, like the Pale Man’s buffet in Pan’s Labyrinth, the fare is unsubstantial.

Del Toro, whether he means to or not, sets the bar too high early on for the long-awaited arrival of his Golden Army. Where the first film brought us its ‘big monster’ scene in its final moments, the sequel decides to get it out of the way half way through and in the process leaves you breathless – and hard to impress. However polished the final battle scene promises to be, it’s already been outshone by the scene-stealing Elemental.

It doesn’t help that Luke Goss is a bit wet for a bad guy – perhaps a negative side effect of del Toro’s need for the audience to empathise with his monsters. His character’s single-handed approach to world domination means that the fairy-folk aren’t going to start crawling out of the woodwork any time soon to back him up. Knowing this, you don’t really care whether he wins or loses because what’s the worst that can happen? The Golden Army is across the water in Ireland, and gold sinks.

7/10

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is on general release

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mitchSeptember 2nd 2008.

Pans Labyrinth was a boring and self indulgent film which thumped home Marxist cliches from all angles. The same political conscience when applied to dumb comic book characters merely seems trite and uninspired. The anti-hero died with most of Clint Eastwoods dismal output, Del Toro has failed to resurrect it with Hellboy.Who really CARES about this character or the unbelievable antics? Time to say goodbye to recycled comic book clowns and make more modern, relevant and politically aware films.

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