Give ’em heck, Hellboy
Superhero movies just hit a new peak with this funny, exciting sequel, writes Donald Clarke HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY Directed by Guillermo del Toro. Starring Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss
12A cert, gen release, 120 min THE TIME for complaining about the cinema being engulfed with superhero movies has passed. We are, perhaps, at the stage where we should start complaining about newspapers being engulfed with columns (and reviews) complaining about cinemas being engulfed with superhero movies.
At any rate, there have been more than a few such entertainments this summer – from the ropey Hancock through the enjoyable Iron Man and on to the cracking The Dark Knight – and you could, thus, be forgiven for greeting one more comic-book adaptation with weary dread. Fear not.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army,
another adventure in benign Apocalypticism from Guillermo del Toro, surpasses its predecessor in every regard and, alongside The Dark Knight, offers further proof that the genre can have appeal outside its core teenage audience.
The zippy, quippy script, written by the director and Mike Mignola, creator of the original Dark Horse comic, offers us a story straight from the Hokum Central stop on the Sword & Sorcery Line. A prologue sees the young Hellboy, a demon raised by US government officials, being told an ancient myth about a battle between frail humans and a massed clockwork army designed by long-haired fiends. Decades later, our big red hero, now living with his (quite literally) fiery girlfriend in a New Jersey bunker, encounters the belated aftermath of this conflict.
The truce, whereby humans agreed to keep to the cities and the spooky creatures elected to remain in the forest, has broken down. Now an albino warlock is launching a new assault on complacent humanity. When you hear that this Prince Nuada is played by Luke Goss – late of unlamented Aryan pop sensations Bros – then you will understand the true horror of he situation.
There’s a lot more where that came from. The story is, however, just a trellis erected to help Mignola and del Toro display their dizzying array of grim horrors, fanciful characters and mind-spinning concepts.
About halfway through the picture, Hellboy, played as a demonic Lee Marvin by the ageless Ron Perlman, descends beneath Brooklyn Bridge and discovers a “troll market” full of various hideous organisms. “I’m not a baby, I’m a tumour,” a lump with eyes and a mouth barks at the paranormal detective.
It is, perhaps, best to regard Hellboy II as the cinematic equivalent of the troll market. The sparky Selma Blair may make something touching of Liz, Red’s mournful squeeze, and the doomed romance between Doug Jones’s gilled mutant and Anna Walton’s Princess Nuala, sister to Nuada, is rather moving, but the film works most effectively as a shapeless celebration of perverse creativity.
Also on display in this curious fete we find a collection of German vapours in a diving suit, voiced hilariously by Seth MacFarlane, creator of Family Guy, and a legless Northern Irish gremlin who takes the gang on a trip beneath the Giant’s Causeway. It’s all weird. It’s all funny. And it’s all absolutely gorgeous to look at.
There is, despite the abundant chaos, a consistency of vision to the picture. If there is one thing that sets the sober The Dark Knight and the comic Hellboy II apart from the superhero pack, it’s the fact that each film looks like the work of one, lucid human rather than a compliant committee.
Fans of early, more individual del Toro pictures such as The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth may regret the lack of an elegant narrative arc, but Hellboy II is alive with the director’s familiar obsessions. Look hard and you will see traces of the stories of HP Lovecraft, the illustrations of Arthur Rackham, and the films of James Whale. But, like all great artistic borrowers, Guillermo fashions his influences into something wholly original.
One word above all conveys the film’s charms: it is unmistakably, unapologetically, unrelentingly “del Toroesque”. (Actually, that is, I guess, one-and-a-half words.)
The devil you know: Ron Perlman is back as Hellboy