Retro Review: HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY (2008){0}

If Steven Spielberg were just a little bit edgier, a little bit darker, and a little more (ok, I’ll say it) colorful, his movies would look a lot like those of Guillermo Del Toro. That’s not to knock Steven Spielberg (at all), nor is it meant as a straight comparison. But there were times during films like The Devil’s BackboneHellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth that the director felt like the wilder, more mischievous little brother to Master Spielberg. I’m basically trying to pay Del Toro a very large compliment by saying simply this: He’s as a good a storyteller as Spielberg, but his sensibilities are a lot … creepier. In the most playful and amusing way, but definitely creepy.

One of the rare sequels that comes from a different studio than its predecessor (Hellboy was a Sony release, whereas Part 2 is a Universal production), HB2: TGA is not exactly an example of wall-to-wall action — it actually slows down to an amble on more than one occasion — but it sure is one hell of a fun concoction. Pay close attention and you’ll find not only big-time action scenes and tons of colorfully bizarre characters, chases and escapes and ravenous little beasties that roam the streets, but damn if there’s not one hell of a bittersweet layer of subtext to be found here. Suffice to say that the villain, while horrific and deadly, is driven by a fairly logical goal: He wants to prevent mankind from ruining the planet.

Unfortunately this deranged dark elf of a prince wants to do it by eliminating all of mankind. Which of course means it’s up to Big Red, Liz the Flaming Goddess, Fish Dude Abe Sapien, and “robotic ghost” newcomer Johan Krauss to save the day! And what a divertingly strange adventure they have. Cynics and literalists should walk into Hellboy 2 well aware that it’s a flick not only steeped in fairy-tale lore and mythological wonders, but it’s also a snarky and fairly self-aware little rascal of a movie. It jumps from action to horror to light comedy to slight romance and it rarely misses a beat — and when’s the last time you saw a massive action scene involving a giant deadly plant that was really … weirdly … poignant?

Frankly I don’t see how you can’t fall for this big red lug, particularly as he’s played with such sardonic coolness by Ron Perlman. (How an actor manages to “emerge” from beneath all that makeup I’ll never know. But, damn, Perlman is really good at it.) Once again Selma Blair adds a much-needed dose of low-key humanity to the proceedings, plus we get a fantastic voice performance from Seth MacFarlane, and the always-underrated Doug Jones, who really comes into his own as Abe Sapien this time around. Other returnees include John Hurt (briefly) as the benevolent Dr. Broom, Jeffrey Tambor as blustery boss Tom Manning, plus we also get a funny little peek at the pre-teen Hellboy, PLUS the guy who plays the villain (Luke Goss) does a damn fine job of it! Toss in a lovely elven princess (Anna Walton), a hilarious Barry Mannilow rendition, and a creature-filled visit to the Troll Market — basically you’ve got enough ideas for an entire geek-friendly trilogy in this one crazy movie.

If much praise is due to Del Toro for crafting a cinematic toy that’s both modern and old-fashioned at the same time, then equal praise is due to artist Mike Mignola for creating this endearingly weird amalgam of a universe in the first place. I call it a match made in movie-nerd heaven, frankly, and although Hellboy 2 works perfectly well as a summertime afternoon crowd-pleaser, it promises to work even better as a DVD you pick through two or three more times. Just to catch all the subtle quips, the movie-nerd inside jokes, and all those ravenous little beasties that roam the streets.