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

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - Filmreviews -

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,

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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

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