After waiting all day, the final bell at work rang and my shift was over. It took another hour to get home to meet up with a friend, and from there we were off towards downtown Chicago. What would normally be a forty minute drive had the option of turning into a full hour and a half in weekday rush hour traffic, and as anyone who’s driven in Chicago could attest, rush hour traffic towards the city is not fun. In fact, I do my best to stick to my suburbanite ways and avoid it altogether. This was different. I had waited all day and was prepared to brave any kind of gridlock to get to the movie theatres on time. I was going to an advanced screening of Hellboy II: The Golden Army, which I had graciously won tickets for via Capone at Ain’t It Cool News (thank you again!).
Arriving with five minutes to spare, I glanced around the packed theatre with delight. Relegating myself to a seat set alone from others, I settled in. I had been waiting for this. I’m a fanboy at heart and the summer of comic book movies has been great so far. Earlier in the year I witnessed my favorite hero from the page take his rocket boots to the screen, and now I was going to witness another of my favorites return to film done by one of the best director’s in the business. My anticipation was palpable.
To say I wasn’t disappointed would be a gross understatement. I was downright impressed. Smiling, ear-to-ear, throughout the whole movie, I took part in an experience that ensnared me into a world so unbelievably believable that I was left feeling happy. It’s rare that a movie evokes an emotional glee, which is why I can’t with good conscience just call Hellboy II another superhero movie. It’s a superhero film, a great cinematic endeavor.
The thing that set this one apart from predecesors mostly have to do with Guillermo Del Toro’s unique and uncompromising vision. The first of the franchise was a good take on a good character, but I didn’t feel as if anything really incredible was accomplished in the theatrical release. The director’s cut gave me a lot more to work with as Del Toro’s ideas that the studio ended up cutting out were some of the truly great moments. I had found myself wishing that Rasputin’s character was expanded originally and not just in Del Toro’s version. Needless to say, I was thrilled when I heard the buzz that Hellboy II was being produced exactly as Del Toro wanted it to be; the theatrical cut was essentially the same as the director’s cut.
Creative control from Del Toro was evident from the beginning. Rather than being forced to view another underdeveloped villain, the audience was treated with Prince Nuada (Luke Goss). The elf prince had depth, personality, emotions, and quite frankly was much more of a human character than most of the humans presented in the film. I felt myself understanding what Nuada was all about. Del Toro painted a beautiful picture of a man who knows where he stands and knows where the world stands with him. Nuada became a vocal piece for Del Toro’s own feelings about imagination and nature. The character’s flaw was all too human; extremism. Very easily, Nuada could have his own movie and star as a likable, tragically-flawed protagonist.
The other characters in the film weren’t handled in any less of a matter. Once again, Ron Perlman delivers an astounding performance as the sarcastic, childlike (in a wondrous, naive, and good way) Hellboy. The viral marketing interviews that Hellboy did for the film, in which the character was treated like a real person, felt justified because the film makes Hellboy feel just so. Selma Blair took a role that she began a film ago and evolved it into her own. Liz felt much more fluid as a character, and her chemistry with Hellboy made for some enjoyable, emotional moments without feeling tritely tragic as in the last film. She’s also undeniably attractive throughout the whole movie, which adds another reason to love this one. Seth MacFarlane, against my expectations, preformed vocal work for the new B.P.R.D. (Beareau for Paranormal Research and Defense) member Johann Krauss histerically while refraining from campy. The German ectoplasmic scientist fit perfectly with the team and shared some of the best on-screen time with Big Red. However, the absolute best supporting character of the film award has to go to Doug Jones as Abe Sapien. Between a drunken sing-a-long session with Hellboy that further cemented my desire to avoid Hancock (because there’s no way its topping this) and some of the best furthering of a character in the film through Ape’s love interest in Princess Nuala (Anna Walton, also perfect), Abe was an absolute pleasure to watch.
Back to Del Toro, the beauty of Hellboy II can’t be mentioned without consideration to the special effects. Unlike the Hollywood trend to throw CG at anything that might be considered impractical, Del Toro finds a way to incorperate practical effects that reminded me of why I fell in love with movies in the first place. The Troll Market scene was a feast for both the eyes and the brain. It’ll take at least ten viewings to process most of what was on the screen. Every little nuance, every costume, helped to build such an elaborately brilliant atmosphere that I couldn’t help but gape in awe. There’s no way to not become immersed into the world of Hellboy once you’ve taken a trip to the Market.
Another absolutely amazing sequence was the battle with the Elemental God. Not only are the effects stunning, but while the scene could have easily devolved into something cliche that’s been done many times before (most recently in Cloverfield) it felt fresh. Homage was paid to giant monsters of yesteryear, yet at the same time a new path was carved. The difference? The Elemental became a character all of its own. It drew the audience in to connect with it. I felt something for the thing. This scene also accomplished something else rarely seen, something echoed thoughout the movie; the action sequences all had very real consequences and raison d’etre. The Elemental fight, the showdown in the Troll Market, Hellboy vs. Nuada, and the battle with the Golden Army all not only furthered a whole lot of plot but also developed the participants. Del Toro has to be applauded for such a feat.
One last praise for Del Toro is his handling of the writing in regards to the humor. Normally it’s rather difficult to translate comic book humor to the silver screen (failed jokes in Ghost Rider and Fantastic Four are prime examples), yet somehow Del Toro captured the essence of comic book humor without producing corny and campy dialogue. He even used some jokes straight off the page (such as a great joke about the “SS”). Kudos, Del Toro, kudos.
If I had to issue any complaint about the film it would be the way the beginning was handled. It wasn’t bad, by any means, and I still enjoyed it. Yet, it didn’t feel as if young Hellboy was quite right (no pancake joke?) and I couldn’t quite place why Del Toro chose to tell the backstory of Nuada’s people at this stage of the game rather than disperse into the middle of the film. Perhaps it would’ve felt better if Hellboy referenced his childhood story later on but that never happened. Regardless, the manner in which the story was told was unique and interesting enough that it only made me question a “why here?” rather than a “why at all?”.
I can’t recommend any film higher insofar this year. I loved Iron Man, saw it three times, and hold it close to my heart. I can’t help but think, though, that Hellboy II was just a better film. I’m sure when Iron Man II comes around that it might top it in my book, but as it stands Hellboy II is the comic book movie to see this year. Of course, if The Dark Knight lives up to expectations then we’re in for a great July which only adds to a great year.
Thanks again to Capone over at Ain’t It Cool News for the great advanced screening.
Until next time, this is Brad, signing out.
Author’s Note: Upon a second viewing I rescind my statement about not knowing why Del Toro put the beginning sequence at the beginning, because I caught on to a bit more things that seemed to fall into place there. And Hellboy does reference his childhood story later on, I was just being too daft to notice. So…my only problem with the beginning scene probably is just that I didn’t like the kid actor/direction they took for the young Hellboy. Other than that, all is well.