Ron Perlman and Doug Jones battle evil in ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army.’
(Egon Endrenyi © 2008 Universal Studios)
To ‘Hellboy’ and Back
A BAD WEEK for those with ears: on the one hand a symphony of ABBA in Mamma Mia!, brewing on the horizon like a thunderstorm; on the other, the unironic use of Barry Manilow for a drunken sing-along in Hellboy II: The Golden Army.
In Guillermo del Toro’s sequel, the big red title demon (Ron Perlman) shows his sensitive side; this tactic is designed to give heart to a crammed-to-the-rafters tale of a brewing war between good and evil. Hellboy, the illegitimate child of Harvey’s baby-demon Hot Stuff and Marvel’s Ben “The Thing” Grim, still stews in his juices in a government bunker in New Jersey.
His control (Jeffrey Tambor, one-noting it) grouses about his ulcers and the necessity of keeping things under wraps. Meanwhile, Hellboy’s pyrotechnic squeeze, Liz (Selma Blair, smoldering even before she bursts into flames), has discovered that she’s pregnant. She isn’t certain that she wants to settle down with a sloppy crimson lug.
The fish-faced Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), the team’s intelligence officer, tries to act as liaison between the feuding Hellboy and Liz. There are quarrels within the team even before the outside threat materializes: a prince of the elf world (Jones again) seeking to attack the Earthlings with an ancient secret weapon, a mechanical army.
Del Toro’s marvelous creatures give this unwieldy project a hand-made quality. They keep redeeming the film, even as the writing keeps letting it down. We glimpse a vicar of the uncanny world with a chapel emerging from his head, like an elaborate wood carving. The film’s troll market, underneath the Brooklyn Bridge but hidden from human eyes, teems with oddities. At the finale, the robot army steams and shrieks like angry living locomotives.
And there’s a new character on the good guys’ team: Johann Krauss, a deep-sea diving suit with a spirit in it; the rich Ludwig von Drake accent is by Seth MacFarlane. It’s such unusually debonair vocal acting that I could have sworn it was Paul Frees himself at work.
In these two superhero films, del Toro has taken the mysterious and made it believable. Unfortunately, then he keeps going: he takes the believable and makes it routine. The opening title card tells us that Hellboy comes from the underworld, but “he loves candy bars and television.” Is this supposed to sooth the fundamentalist Christians in the audience?
That kind of mystery-stripping attitude toward the hero deepens this movie’s sitcomish streak. Hellboy turns out to be another oversized slob with a (literally in this case) hot girlfriend. The baby plot, just seen in Shrek the Third, doesn’t get any new twists: how could it?
Since it has been noted that the Earthlings are bringing this cosmic war on themselves through their greed and pollution, the argument could have used some amplification.
The heavily digitalized photography doesn’t bring in the beauties of the natural world. A kind of natural-waste spill in Brooklyn, which turns an urban street corner into a park, isn’t just bad animation, it’s bad animation done right when the point of the film is being made. It’s a rule that if you have actors wandering around staring at where the effects are going to be and breathily saying, “It’s beautiful!” it isn’t going to be.
Richard von Busack
HELLBOY II (PG-13; 110 min.), directed by Guillermo del Toro, written by del Toro and Mike Mignola, photographed by Guillermo Navarro and starring Ron Perlman and Selma Blair, opens July 11.