Howdy Inter-Webbers. I’m Matt Cohen, and I dig Hellboy.
Anyone who remotely knows me knows that. I wear my love for all things Hellboy proudly on my sleeve (of my homemade BPRD shirt, no less). Big Red is my single favorite fictional character of all time, and his comic book is my favorite work of fiction. From the moment I first laid eyes on Hellboy on a T-shirt in Dogma I was in geek love. And, funnily enough, at some point the heavens conspired and my favorite filmmaker in the world, Guillermo Del Toro (or GDT, as he shall henceforth be referred to) decided to adapt my favorite comic book to screen. Rarely do things work out that perfect. The first Hellboy movie was a lot of fun but it left me wishing it were more, wishing it was an unfettered GDT film rather then what seemed like a tightly controlled studio movie. I was left wanting more comic book content and the visual flair that GDT was known for. I was left wanting a sequel. Well, on Saturday night I had the privilege of a lifetime to attend the world premiere of Hellboy II: The Golden Army and I can happily and proudly tell you that it has been done. The perfect Hellboy film has been made, and at the same time, one of the best comic to film adaptations I have seen in my entire life. Hellboy II is, to say it lightly, awesome. It makes up for everything the first film lacked, and more. GDT has managed to merge his big studio action flicks with his small personal Spanish language films, and the result is a giant roller-coaster of a summer good time mixed with the nuances and sensibilities of a small art film. Ron Perlman returns as the only man on the planet who can possibly do HB justice. And once again, he gives the performance of a life time. To make a long story short, this is as fun a time in the movie theatre that I’ve had in my life.
This is one of my favorite films of this year (or any other), and I truly feel that anyone who ever has called themselves a “Movie Fan” should experience this film in theaters for themselves. With that in mind, I want to avoid spoilers entirely if possible. Yes, there will be some hints of the movie discussed in here, but more theme and overall reaction then specific moments. And, as always, to save you the time and eye strain of reading another novel of a review, I’ve broken my feelings down into points, like so…
HERE TO PROTECT (PROS):
PLOT: While far from groundbreaking, the story of HB II works tremendously and GDT has honestly crafted a pretty timeless tale here, regardless of whether you’re a fan of the big red ape or not. If you have yet to watch it I would definitely recommend checking out the animated prologue released a week or so ago, and found here. What GDT (and Hellboy’s dad and Filmic co-scripter Mike Mignola) have cooked up is a tale that not only fits perfectly into the HB universe but also manages to quite skillfully echo some of our own modern “real world” concerns. GDT doesnt go as far as to make this an “eco-agenda” movie, but there is definitely a theme of “Man’s destruction of the planet” which makes the Elves and their leader, Nuada’s (Luke Goss) , motivations all the more genuine and sincere.
Imagine that humans aren’t the original inhabitants of this planet, but rather a passing fad. Now imagine the first citizens of the Earth, the ones relegated to shadows and living underground, forced out of their rightful homes by this interloper of a species (man). With that in mind, Nuada’s goals never seem evil for a moment, making him a much more complex and quite tragic baddie than the previous film offered in Rasputin, or most “Superhero” films offer in general. Nuada is not a bad guy. He is loyal to his people (to a fault). The viewer never once hates Nuada or the Elven forces, which makes Hellboy’s inevitable conflict (Monsters or Man ; Where does he belong?) all the more genuine seeming. Further then that, I found myself sort of agreeing with the “Baddies” by the end of the film rather then rooting against them. One gets the feeling, watching this film, that GDT sides with the monsters (and that he would make an amazing Frankenstein film) and at the end of the day, that is sort of what Hellboy II is all about. The monsters we can see versus the monsters inside of us.
There are some other more character based “spoilers” that I’d rather not go into, but let’s just say that the Elves aren’t the only conflict in Hellboy’s life. He’s got a girlfriend now (Liz Sherman/Selma Blair) and we all know how that goes… Right? (just ruined my chances of ever dating a female reader, didn’t I?). Mix in a new Elven love interest for Abe Sapien and the introduction of the german ghost man Johann, and you’ve got yourself one of the better ensemble/team movies I can think of. GDT didn’t reinvent the wheel, he just made it spin a lot faster and better.
ACTING: Let’s break this down again, shall we?
Ron Perlman (Hellboy): The only man who could do this part justice. Physically menacing and yet somehow so damn vulnerable, innocent, and likable at the same time. Whatever the first movie’s failings were, Perlman was perfect in it; much as he is in this film. I can’t imagine anyone else playing Hellboy, and the fact that Perlman is nearing 60 just makes the performance that more astounding and one for the ages. One of the greatest film characters ever realized, due in a huge part to this man. Ron Perlman is Hellboy, and I would pay to watch him do his laundry as this character, let alone beat the crap out of monsters. One of the most inspired and brilliant casting decisions of all time. I bow down…
“Who said they don’t like Comics & Comics?”
Selma Blair (Liz Sherman): Leagues better then she was in the first film, it seems that Selma Blair has finally found her voice in this crazy universe, and shines in the sequel (and smolders… I know. I’m hilarious). Sporting a new haircut but that same old Liz attitude, Selma turns in a really good performance, having to handle some chunks of dialogue that in the hands of a lesser actor may have come of cheesy and stilted. She is a great compliment to Perlman’s Hellboy and I look forward to seeing the happy couple together again in the third HB film.
Doug Jones (Abe Sapien): A minor buzz was created when it was announced that Doug Jones, that man responsible for the physical performance of Abe Sapien in Hellboy (And the SIlver Surfer, The Fawn in Pans Labyrinth, etc) would also be assuming the voice role of Abe in HB II, replacing David Hyde Pierce from the first film. And as a testament to Doug, the change over is barely noticeable if noticeable if all. In all honesty, I prefer Jone’s performance to that of Pierce. Jones brings a sense of calm and innocence that Pierce missed out on entirely. Doug Jones is one of my favorite actors in the world, and to finally hear him speak in a role made my day. In many ways this is Abe’s movie, and that is due in a large part to the wonderful performance of Doug Jones.
Luke Goss (Prince Nuada): Goss does a very capable job here, building on his first real feature role in Blade II. Nuada is not campy or stereotypically evil for one frame of film, and Goss goes out of his way to portray that. Many “unpolished” actors may have taken this role into the realm of overacting, but Goss maintains a sublety and grace that really befits the noble but disgraced character he plays. A good job by a young actor who I look forward to seeing in more films. Oh, and the dude is AWESOME at action scenes. Nuada gets some of the more impressive physical feats that I’ve seen in a long time on film.
“Is there something on my hand? You guys…? You guys…?”
Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning): I love The Larry Sanders Show, I love Arrested Development, and I love the comedic stylings of Mr. Jeffrey Tambor. Where extremely funny people can get relegated to cheesy laughs and one liners in some action films, Tambor is allowed to introduce his own hilarious sense of humor into the character, and it works. Really well. Like, much better than the character ever was in the comic book medium. The comic relief in a film that needs relief from nothing, so he’s pretty much just icing on the cake. Hey now!
ACTION: Anyone who’s seen the massively underrated Blade II knows that GDT can shoot action. Blade II’s fight scenes blew me away those many years ago, and I am happy to say that a few years of “Art” films haven’t spoiled GDT’S eye for all things awesome. THE ACTION IS FANTASTIC! From the hordes of “Tooth Fairies” that can be seen attacking in the now online trailer, to the more traditional Hellboy “Smash’em up” monster fights, to graceful and almost dance like sword fighting, Hellboy II has some of the most exciting and visually compelling action sequences I have seen in film. Period. GDT manages to channel everyone from John Woo to Woo Ping to the classic Universal Monster movies to John Carpenter, and more. This movie is an action buff’s wet dream. Stunningly gorgeous visuals mixed with envigorating and gravity defying action that not for one moment seems “CGI’d” out like some other big summer films. (I saw the trailer for the new Mummy film today. Yeah. It’s like that). Whether HB is knocking a fool with his fist or plugging away with his hilariously badass arsenal, this film doesn’t let down for a second (unless it calls for it). It’s rare that one man can make films that are both heartfelt and deep, and yet gigantic balls to the wall action at the same time, and Hellboy II further cements GDT as one of the best filmmakers in the world (and my personal favorite).
CREATURES: Before the film ran, GDT addressed the audience, and to paraphrase (sloppily at that) “People are right when they say that I make two different types of film in an alternating sequence - One small, Spanish language film and then one big budget studio action flick. Hellboy II is the first film that belongs in both of those worlds. The creatures and characters in this movie belong in the same universe as the little girl and fawn in Pan’s Labyrinth, and the babies in The Devils Backbone“. The man couldn’t have been more correct. Not only are the creatures in this new movie just as odd and wonderful as the ones in GDT’S previous work, to call them some of the best onscreen creatures of all time would not be overstating it. Simply put, GDT knows monsters, and the monsters in Hellboy II are the craziest, most imaginative, most visually stunning characters I have seen on screen since my childhood. I am immediately reminded of three films, A New Hope, Ghostbusters and Gremlins 2; my three childhood favorites. I think of the characters and practical makeup effects in those films and I weigh them against HB II, I am extremely hard pressed to declare a “winner”. Yes, I just compared Hellboy II to Star Wars, Ghostbusters and Gremlins. If I was a child when HB II came out, it may have been my favorite movie in the world. If you read any reviews before the film gets released, I can almost promise you the critic will make mention of the “Troll Market” scene, possibly comparing it to the Mos Eisley Cantina scene in the O.G Star Wars - and not only will they not be wrong, they will be closer to the mark then many of us will realize. Give this film some time to settle, and I definitely think it will deserve its place among the best “Monster” films of all time. Amazing work by the man, Rick Baker, their digital effects team, and anyone else who helped bring this world I love so much to life to life.
COMEDY: The first film had some laughs, but the sequel is downright hilarious. GDT has managed to make Hellboy and his universe funnier and warmer then Mignola ever did (though this movie does reek of Mike, in a good way). Johann in particular gets a lot of the really big chuckles, but the entire film is very funny. I couldn’t help smiling throughout, and that is due in a large part to this whimsical and light-but-dark tone that GDT has perfected in HB II. Perlman is no slouch in the laughs department, either, and Red is yet again one of the funnier more deadpan characters to grace movie screens this year. Unlike the first movie, however, the laughs are not kept to HB and Manning. Liz, Abe and particularly the new recruit, Johann, all have their moments to shine. SEMI SPOILER ALERT: There is a scene in this movie, so hilarious, so amazing, so perfect that I haven’t seen one review fully reveal it yet. And, I am not going to be that guy. Suffice it to say, A floor, lots of beer, Hellboy, Abe, and Barry Manilow. You should see the smile on my face right now…
SPECIAL AWARD: Seth McFarlane - Yes. I was wrong, yet again. I was one of the numerous people on the web who read the announcement that Family Guy creator Seth McFarlane would be voicing Johann, and I, like many others immediately, called shenanigans. I am embarrassed to admit that I doubted GDT for even one moment. I let my dislike of Family Guy cloud my faith in my favorite filmmaker. And boy oh boy, am I glad GDT’s a lot smarter then me. SETH McFARLANE NAILS IT!!! He is incredible in this movie - hilarious, authentic, creepy and yet vulnerable at the same time. His performance as the B.P.R.D’s Teutonic ectoplasmic man is one of the best voice over jobs I have ever heard in my life, and made me appreciate the character more then I ever thought I would. He not only fits in the film universe, he compliments it amazingly well, gaining many of the biggest laughs and “badass” moments of the film. Johann is a welcome member to the cinema team, and one of my favorite comic to film translations to date. A tremendous performance that just earned Seth McFarlane a new fan. Truly Awesome.
“A government hired crime fighter or walking bong… You decide”
SENT TO DESTROY (CONS):
Young Hellboy’s makeup: Not great. Not even good. But not horrible. You can see what GDT and Baker were going for here, and though it is a noble attempt, the look just doesn’t work well. The skin is way too red and the hair just looks goofy…
Not one other flaw I can think of: Yeah, kids… It’s like that!
So, basically, see this movie, folks. Many many times. You won’t regret it. I’m gonna go as far as to say this is one of my all time favorite films. I really hope the world loves it as much as I do.
Anyhoo friends, check back next week for more fun in the proverbial sun. You won’t regret that, either. I’ll be here, you’ll be here. It’ll be nice. And, as always…
“Keep em’ bagged and boarded”
Matt Cohen is currently typing with the right hand of doom.
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