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Film Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008; Directed by Guillermo Del Toro)

Taking visual and metaphorical cues from his magnificent Pan’s Labyrinth, Guillermo Del Toro places Mike Mignola’s cigar-chomping demonic action hero in a stunning and occasionally meditative tale of folkloric magic fighting back against aggressive modernity.

"Ragtag band" doesn't begin to cover this crew...

To some extent, The Golden Army is more of the same as both Del Toro’s Spanish Civil War-set masterpiece and his first Hellboy film from 2004, but it franchises and deepens what might have stood simply as a solid one-off comic book film. Ron Perlman’s Red struts his way through more exciting paranormal adventures, accompanied by his hot (in more ways than one) girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), sophisticated, logical, and now-lovesick sidekick Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), exasperated government liason Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), and a by-the-book German ghost encased in a mechanical suit (voiced ludicrously by Family Guy svengali Seth MacFarlane). Del Toro’s action setpieces are clear, concise and elegantly shot; you’re never disoriented, and spatial concerns are always paramount. Perlman is once again pretty great even under his complex prosthetic; he lets rip with the one-liners, banters with friends and foes alike, and emotes when the need arises.

But the comic-book accoutrements are just a framework for Del Toro’s latest beautifully-crafted blend of harsh modernity and fragile mythological fantasy. From the film’s haunted prologue of wooden puppets waging war on forward, the symbolic background of magic hidden beneath concrete is what’s really memorable about Hellboy II, and provides plenty of opportunities for Del Toro and his collaborators to lay down a thick layer of beauty. A sequence in a troll market beneath the Brooklyn Bridge is a feverish expansion of both the cantina scene in Star Wars and Diagon Alley of the Harry Potter films, a complete, bustling world of fantastic monstrosities that passes by almost unnoticed, its mundanity the wellsrping of its magic. The action sequence that extends out of the market is even more striking, as Red wastes a towering beanstalk-like elemental that then sprouts into a delicate green garden in the midst of a faceless New York City street. Even the villain, the pale elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), is presented less as a world-threatening psychopath than as a representative of a magical underworld that promises to welcome Red more gladly than the bland post-industrial world of the humans ever will.

Even in a whiz-bang comic-book action blockbuster, then, Guillermo Del Toro manages to craft a thoughtful and poetic film about being haunted by mythological possibilities. That the film is also purely entertaining on its own merits is just the icing on the cake. It all just makes one lament his now-lost vision of Middle Earth for the forthcoming Hobbit films even more. Can you imagine what that might have been like? Watching Hellboy II, it’s sadly clear that we’ll only ever be able to imagine it. But for Del Toro, imagination is everything.

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Categories: Comics, Film, Reviews
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