Entertainment

'Hellboy II'

Can he use his terrible strength for good? Or even mediocre?

By Steve Burgess 11 Jul 2008 | TheTyee.ca

Steve Burgess writes about film twice a month on The Tyee.

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Ron Perlman, dehorned.

Forget the 3-D glasses -- in order to succeed, comic book movies require three dimensions in the script. Making a character believable and human is complicated when the individual can fly, or stop bullets, or is the only begotten son of Satan. The latter fellow would be Hellboy, now following his 2004 movie debut with the new Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Guillermo del Toro is back at the helm, having in the interim raised his prestige and profile with the success of 2006's Pan's Labyrinth. Ron Perlman once again dons the red paint to play the guy who is the ultimate test-case for the nature-versus-nurture debate.

The original Hellboy was a winsome fantasy. Del Toro transferred Mike Mignola's comic-book creation to the screen as a truly likable demon, sprung from hell and raised on Earth by a loving Dad who taught him to use his terrible strength for good -- even as he and those around him fear the possibilities suggested by his unholy parentage. A great supporting cast included the amphibious intellectual Abe Sapien, voiced in the first movie by David Hyde Pierce, and Selma Blair as Hellboy's flame-throwing love interest, Liz. Jeffrey Tambor played Hellboy's government supervisor Tom Manning, a buffoonish bureaucrat who ultimately proves to have his heart in the right place.

They're all back for Hellboy II (except for the voice of Pierce -- Sapien is now voiced by Doug Jones, the actor who actually wears the fish suit. Pierce was better.) But has Del Toro managed to relight the flames of hell? Tough call. For much of Hellboy II, the devil is in the details.

Bats out of hell

Large chunks of the new movie consist of thoroughly generic comic-book adventure. The new villain is Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), an Elf who overthrows King Dad and breaks an ancient truce with humanity. His sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), is on the side of humanity despite being psychically and physically bound to her brother. Classic-rock fans will instantly be reminded of Johnny and Edgar Winter, whom the royal siblings closely resemble. When Prince Nuada swings his lance around, he looks like a slimmer, costumed version of that Star Wars kid who became infamous on YouTube for his light-sabre dance.

There's an annoying carelessness to the other creature sequences as well. Early on, the team faces nasty little flying fellows called "tooth fairies" (because they like to eat yours). In action they are basically a huge swarm of bats, very much like those prominently featured in the 2005 movie Batman Begins (whose sequel The Dark Knight arrives next week). Now imagine if, in that movie, Bruce Wayne had attempted to deal with the swarms of bats by shooting at them. People would have laughed. Yet that's how Strike Force Hellboy deals with the tooth fairies. It makes no sense, and then it's over. On to the next sequence.

Fun-loving goofs

Like so many sequels, Hellboy II often seems to be struggling to justify its existence. In the process, it opts for a defiantly light-hearted tone. This is a movie determined not to take itself too seriously, as exemplified by a scene in which drunken, lovesick pals Hellboy and Abe sing along to Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You." It's fun. But the goofy tone threatens to sink the whole affair. I did enjoy the film's major new character, Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane): Hellboy's new Teutonic boss who turns out to be a cloud of magic smoke contained in an old diving suit. That, at least, we haven't seen before.

Hellboy II does finally work up some momentum in its final third when the team sets off in search of the titular golden army. Del Toro trots out an angel of death who is rather too reminiscent of the eyes-in-its-hands creature from Pan's Labyrinth (in fact Del Toro does the eyeless thing twice in this movie). Mr. Death drops hints of tremendous plot portents to come in future films -- a welcome development, but rather jarring after all the light-hearted goofiness that preceded it.

Still, the movie eventually reminds viewers of the potential the series might hold. Hellboy II: The Golden Army earns a pass for its likable crew and the hint of better things to come. But it's no screaming hell. Next, let's see what Batman can do.

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