July 11, 2008


'Hellboy II': The Red Menace Rides to the Rescue (STEVE DOLLAR, July 11, 2008, NY Sun)

Thanks to its one-two punch of pulp-fiction archetypes and an encyclopedic grasp of demonology — and a considerable degree of cockeyed humor — 2004's "Hellboy" was the comic-book superhero movie for people who hate comic-book superhero movies. It didn't hurt to have the Mexican director Guillermo del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth") and his fabulist imagination at the helm of the obsessively detailed costumes and design, which extended to elaborately conceived monsters, mythological contraptions, and the crime-fighting freaks of nature led by that cigar-chomping, kitten-loving spawn of Satan: Hellboy.

Photo Credit: Egon Endrenyi

COMIC RELIEF Selma Blair and Ron Perlman as the title character in Guillermo del Toro's 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army.'

Mr. del Toro's visionary fancies raise the ante for fans of his art-house fare, and they surely provide an unexpected bonus for the rock-'em, sock-'em popcorn munchers in the multiplexes. Handed a $72 million budget for the "Hellboy" sequel, Mr. del Toro goes for the gusto. He gorges on computer-generated effects like steroids, creating opening and closing battles royale that exploit the multiplicity of destructive entities: whether it's flesh-eating airborne orbs that chatter like angry ferrets or the eternally dormant Golden Army (mechanized robot warriors whose rise from the mists of history promises the end of mankind) of the title.

All that stands in their way is Hellboy, whom actor Ron Perlman again plays as a beer-drinking, fight-craving, film-noir tough guy with a big, gooey soft spot underlying his crusty veneer.

"Hellboy II: The Golden Army": The fanciful, witty follow-up to "Hellboy" is so beautiful, you may forget it's a "special-effects" movie. (Stephanie Zacharek, Jul. 11, 2008, Salon)
There's so much to look at in "Hellboy II" -- so many weird beings with crepelike skin, or eyes in all the wrong places -- that the picture runs the risk of being excessive. But in the end, its grandness works because it's so well balanced by the expressions on the actors' faces (even when those faces are laden with latex and makeup), or by offbeat little touches like the troupe of cats who cautiously emerge from beneath Hellboy's bed after he and Liz have had a particularly noisy dust-up. I confess I've come to dread movies in which the hero faces down an "army" of anything: Elaborate battles are now a staple of fantasy movies, and the big CGI showdowns of the "Lord of the Rings" pictures set a standard that everyone is now trying to top. But bigger isn't necessarily better -- in fact, it seldom is. Even del Toro seems to realize that, and he constructs the climactic battle sequence so that it caps off everything in the story that's come before -- the movie ends with an emphatic (if somewhat open-ended) period instead of three exclamation marks.

And as with the first "Hellboy," del Toro is most interested in using fantasy to explore the humanity of his decidedly nonhuman characters. There are some new ones, including Johann Krauss (his voice belongs to Seth MacFarlane), a walking suit of armor that serves as a container for a personality, which is essentially an ectoplasmic vapor. (The fact that Krauss is German gives Hellboy, who was rescued from the Nazis as an infant, no end of wisecrack material -- although his prejudices aren't permanent.) There's some domestic strife between Liz and Hellboy, who strive to do good in the world even as they're finding it difficult do right by each other. Blair and Perlman have a lovely, prickly give-and-take here: Their recurring annoyance with each other is part of the electricity of their love.

And in "Hellboy II" del Toro has created an expanded role for the wonderful Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. (In "Hellboy," David Hyde-Pierce was the voice of Abe, but Hyde-Pierce realized that Jones was so completely responsible for the shaping of the character that, magnanimously, he withdrew his name from the credits. In "Hellboy II," the voice we hear belongs to Jones.) It was only a matter of time before a deeply romantic creature like Abe fell in love, and in "Hellboy II," he does. As he explains to Hellboy in his most lovesick moment: "She's like me -- a creature from another world," a simple way of explaining how wonderful it feels to be connected to someone when you've spent your life feeling isolated.

Special effects have so radically taken over the content of mainstream movies -- particularly summer blockbusters -- that they've reached the point of being nothing special at all. We're still seeing more action movies that use special effects to beat the audience into a state of something resembling awe (as "The Incredible Hulk" did) than ones that put the focus on live performers, using special effects judiciously and with some sense of how they need to serve a story and its characters (à la "Iron Man").

But Guillermo del Toro's "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is something else again: It's too wildly fanciful, too witty, too operatic in its vision, to fit comfortably into any of the convenient folders we might use to keep our mainstream entertainments sorted in our minds. I left the theater so enraptured, so energized, that it didn't immediately register that I'd just seen a "special-effects" movie, although, of course, I had.

REVIEW: of Hellboy 2 (Steven Greydanus, Christianity Today)
Is the human race worth saving?

That's the unanswered question looming in the background of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, Guillermo del Toro's sprawling, take-no-prisoners follow-up to his comparatively timid first stab at Mike Mignola's unconventional comic book superhero four years ago.

The red-skinned, cigar-chomping Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still a demon fighting on the side of the angels, alongside pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), amphibious empath Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and their colleagues at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. But does an ungrateful, greedy world deserve their efforts? Given a choice between heroism and happiness, between saving the world and saving one's beloved, will self-interest always win out?

Amid a welter of eye-popping creature-feature smackdowns and stunning visions of grotesquerie, Hellboy II finds time to toy with questions like these. If Hellboy II is a Middle Movie, as it seems to be, answers may or may not be forthcoming in Hellboy III.

Zemanta Pixie

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 11, 2008 3:31 PM

h e double hockey sticks just doesn't have the same ring to it.

Posted by: buttercup at July 11, 2008 7:40 PM
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