Life is short, what can I say.  On the heels of another earthquake here in southern California, I am again reminded to increase my productivity, before all this slides off into the sea.  Today I’ll be writing about a movie I’ve been meaning to write about for a few days, a movie that I’m afraid might be getting lost in the shuffle of the superhero summer tsunami of 2008, one that I urge those so inclined to go see, pronto, before The Dark Knight eclipses all…


Hellboy 2: The Golden Army


Written and directed by Guillermo Del Toro, from a story by Del Toro and Mike Mignola.  Universal, 2008.



Guillermo Del Toro generally makes movies that I should love and that I always want to love, but I generally don’t quite get all the way there. 


Take Pan’s Labyrinth, the serious critic’s dream date from two years back:  Del Toro has a near-unparalleled ability to conjure up wonderfully weird imagery.  The sequence with the saggy, pasty eyeball-hand guy was truly the most remarkable scene of that year.  Problem: That was maybe ten minutes out of a two-hour-plus movie.  Intellectually, I understand and appreciate what the family story and the wartime-in-Spain sequences surrounding the fantasy passages were there to do.  I get that Pan’s Labyrinth was a parable.  I get it.  But if you have the rare ability to create images and characters that no one has ever seen before, as Guillermo Del Toro does, I want to see more than ten minutes of them.  Maybe I’m a glutton.  (No, I AM a glutton.)  But it’s also true that the world needs more myth-makers, and the parable stuff can just as well be left to other movies – in my opinion. 


Hellboy 2 goes the other way.  I think I might have kind of loved Hellboy 2.


It improves on just about everything that dulled me out on the first movie.  To explain why, let me backtrack for a minute:


The Hellboy movies have been based on the comic by Mike Mignola, who is one of the few comic book luminaries I have ever gone out of my way to talk to personally — Stan Lee being the other one I can think of right now (that’s a story in itself).  I still have an inscribed Hellboy book with an original Mignola Hellboy sketch on the inside front page, and by admitting that, I think I may finally have properly flashed my official comic book nerd badge.  For those that are not similarly credentialled, the story of Hellboy: 


Hellboy is literally a demon from hell who was discovered and raised by the United States military during World War 2.  He now works for a special secret branch of the government alongside a couple other unusual characters, investigating weird monsters and ancient figures from world folklore.  He likes pancakes. 


In short, everything that’s good, fun, crazy, and unique about comic books. 


Hellboy The First (from 2004) was a solid enough cinematic interpretation of a pretty damn esoteric piece of work, and a minor miracle in the fact that it was made alone, but some of the quirk and the spark of both Mignola and Del Toro’s best work went missing.  A couple of intriguing villains drove the story, but a lot more screen time was dedicated to Hellboy fighting a reptile-type demon character that felt a little too derivative.  Also, there was an audience point-of-view character who redefined blandness – again, who cares about the humans when there’s a big red demon guy running around with his best friend, an amphibious blue guy named Abe Sapien.


Hellboy 2 fixes all that.  I especially like the simple brushstroke by which the moviemakers explain what became of that boring white guy from the first movie.  It has humor and pathos and even a little suspense, thanks to the script and choices made by Del Toro, the performances of a solid cast, characteristically striking cinematography by Guillermo Navarro, and a solid score as always by Danny Elfman.


And the movie is full of monsters.  I love movie monsters.  I love them so much.  I love King Kong, and Godzilla, and the Wolf Man, and the Predator, and those skeletons from Jason & The Argonauts, and the Terminator, and Gamera, and Mighty Joe Young, and the Creature From The Black Lagoon, and Nick Nolte, and all the other freaks and creatures that live forever on film.  Hellboy 2 introduces more a few new faces that we’ve never seen before.


I don’t want to say a single thing about what you’ll see in this movie if you decide to go see it.  I hope you see it for yourself.  So I’m not going to sit here and write one of those reviews that talks about what happens in the plot.  Movie ain’t perfect, sure.  But, I say:  Go for the monsters.  It’s worth it.


Aw hell, I do have to share at least this much…


The Golden Army referred to in the title is just so unbelievably joyful to watch, when they show up in the final act.  And the way that Hellboy & Friends confront them is equally enjoyable.


And look out for a character called “Wink” who is probably my favorite original character to appear in a feature film all summer.


Lastly, the titular [heh heh huh huh] quote comes from a line of Hellboy’s, upon being introduced to his new team captain, the ectoplasmic Johann Kraus, who is basically a ghost contained in a suit of armor and is voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane.  Upon learning that Kraus is a Kraut, Hellboy grumbles: “I don’t like Germans… They make me nervous.” 


That’s one thing that Hellboy (and Indiana Jones) and myself have in common.   Additionally, over here outside the fourth wall, I also get a little nervous around anything related to Family Guy.  No offense, it’s just not for me.  Turns out there’s no need for worries, on any count.  The character, and the voice inhabiting it, is a hell of a lot of fun.  That’s the democratic joy of this movie.  Practically every character, no matter how large or little, gets a moment to play.




P.S.  Can we also all stop for a moment and reflect happily on the fact that a movie exists with the title “Hellboy 2”, let alone made a solid chunk of change?  We’re pretty spoiled for good comic-booky fun this summer, but even amidst all that, it’s impossible to take an insane title like “Hellboy 2” for granted.  That means that there was actually more one movie called “Hellboy.”  There was actually more than one executive who thought that would play in Peoria.  Lunacy!  I love that.  Sometimes you just have to love life, amigos.