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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

(Late) REVIEW - "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" (2008)

After “Hellboy” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” Guillermo del Toro is a director I’ve looked at with great respect. Though not always exerting his fullest potential, as seen in “Blade II,” any film with his name on it is worth looking in to. Knowing this it pains me to admit that, in a summer full of cinema’s best comic book flicks, “Hellboy II” doesn’t quite cut the cake.

Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense stumble upon a broken pact between mankind and mythological creatures. Determined to stop Prince Nuada from unleashing the Golden Army to slaughter all of man, Hellboy, Liz and Abe travel from the known to the sublime to save a world they don’t belong in.

The story is certainly attractive. Del Toro makes no apology that this is a no holds barred fantasy film. The subplots involving Abe’s love interest and the difficult relationship between Hellboy and Liz are both stories worth telling. And the introduction of a new authority figure, Johann Krauss, was brilliant as well. There are ideas that needed to happen in “Hellboy II” to keep the franchise fresh. All the above mentioned were vital and intriguing moves by del Toro. But there’s a single element in this movie that tends to take the audience out of the drama: Comedy.

I’m in the minority when it comes to fans of the Hellboy franchise, but the comedic aspects of the film tend to make the Hellboy character out to be too much of a clown. The first movie had a fair share of comedy yes, but those elements worked. The scene in the first film where Hellboy has a talk with a kid about girls over a glass of milk is ingenious because children want to believe in mystical creatures. There was a sense of irony to the scene. That quality is absent in “Hellboy II.” Clever writing is exchanged for slapstick and vital characters are made light of far too often.

Outside the offbeat humor the story doesn’t exactly merge well with the Hellboy universe as established in the first movie. Gone is the dark, impending doom and instead is the fantastical peril of “Hellboy II,” a situation that feels less dangerous than the previous installment’s antagonism.

The fantasy elements themselves are additions to marvel at. Director del Toro knows how to give the audience the strangest and most beautifully bizarre creatures the silver screen can bring. But the time and place for these creatures only barely fits the movie. The point was to give Hellboy and his kin a world where they would feel welcomed. Strangely, the established characters fit better in our reality. It’s as if del Toro and his writers did their job too well in the first film. One would think that a hornless demon that saves humanity would be as hard to accept as world peace, but here’s Hellboy, as interesting of a character as any and easily integrated into one version of our reality.

Abe Sapien finally gets more screen time in a subplot that’s invested to satisfy the finale. Though the voice of David Hyde Peirce is sorely missed, Abe’s character is the best relation to the overtly whimsical world featured in “Hellboy II.”

Meanwhile, the most beautiful fragments of humanity bleeds through the screen with Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). She’s been my favorite character in these two movies and it only makes too much sense that she would deliver the film’s best scene: With Hellboy’s life on the line, she has to decide before “The Angel of Death” whether or not to keep him alive. It’s either he dies, or he lives and inadvertently brings unimaginable suffering to the Earth—Specifically Liz herself. “I’ll deal with it.” Is a haunting line that clearly foreshadows events that will be destructive for mankind and perhaps deadly for her. At the same time it shows the recklessness of the character and the love she has for our favorite freak. Selma Blair should win an award for delivering the most affective one liner.

Though the creativity is staggering, the film seems to suffer from too much of a good thing—As idiomatic as that sounds, it’s not hard to watch “Hellboy II” and wonder if there’s too much fantasy. Or too much comedy. It’s a fun film with wonderful charm, but it could have been a brilliant film with wonderful charm.

**½ out of ****

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