July 09, 2008

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

The Fantasical Four

Grade: B –

Director: Guillermo del Toro

Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, and Jeffrey Tambor

MPAA Rating: PG-13

Running Time: 1 hour, 50 minutes

Perhaps it is sheer coincidence that Guillermo del Toro’s duel film flagships – Pan’s Labyrinth and Hellboy – each indulge a latent anti-fascist fetish. The former’s fantastical dreamscape was the product of a child’s desire to escape the harsh reality of Franco-era Spain, while the florid protag Hellboy was teleported into our dimension thanks to Nazi experimentation.

The common denominator might be a healthy distrust, even derision, for authority, a trait Hellboy exudes in spades. In this respect, he is hardly a World War II or Cold War relic; indeed, his contempt for evildoers and his government handlers alike fits firmly into a contemporary world in which the specter of Big Brother hurdles headlong toward becoming reality, and where the branches of government brazenly flaunt their own laws and then pass new laws to immunize themselves against their illegality.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is best when the dislocated, discontented Hellboy (Ron Perlman, still superb and the real force behind this franchise), and his surly, irreverent persona deflate the pretension of del Toro’s Machenian milieu and Roald Dahl-inspired set designs rather than, as is too often the case, allowing the surrealist setting to supplant character and plot progression. Indeed, del Toro’s visually arresting follow-up to his 2004 original appears, at times, more akin to a Pan’s Labyrinth sequel.

Hellboy, aka “Red,” and the rest of his secret government team must stop an ancient prince (Luke Goss) from awakening a dormant, mechanical phalanx forged to eradicate humankind. A rather plodding, methodical odyssey leads from Brooklyn’s clandestine underground to the shores of Northern Ireland, where Red must face both external and internal demons. There are some appealing, albeit derivative thematic tidbits at play, such as the price Hellboy pays for the celebrity he desperately courts, which in turn feeds the ongoing paradox of Hellboy’s struggle for acceptance in a universe in which he does not belong. But other subplots, such as Red's travails with his gravid girlfriend (Selma Blair) and foreshadowing his apocalyptic destiny, eclipse any lingering intrigue over the principal conflict. Moreover, the sense of pleasant discovery inherent in the original film is supplanted here by an endless array of otherworldly creatures that seem to exist solely for the sake of their cinematic creator.

Clumsy storytelling and some shockingly sloppy scene transition ultimately reduce Hellboy II to the level of a high-gloss B-movie. Still, any film featuring a hell-spawned, Cuban cigar chomping, Tecate-swilling, devil-may-care antihero that also incorporates a rendition of Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You” as its unofficial theme song cries out to be seen. Now, that's surreal...

Neil Morris

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