Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor. Rated PG-13.
is never easy for the Bureau
of Paranormal Research and Defense’s human minions.
Saddled with the already daunting
task of keeping tabs on the government’s worst-kept secret – a hulking,
cigar-chomping demon known as Hellboy (Ron Perlman) – they seem hopelessly
ill-equipped to defend themselves against the beasts that go bump in the night.
In Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 adaptation of Mike Mignola’s popular comic, they
were torn limb from limb by overgrown insects. In Hellboy II: The Golden
Army, the bureau’s flesh-and-blood agents
are devoured by spider-like parasites with a hankering for human teeth.
If their duties seem thankless,
consider the quandary facing mutants like Hellboy, whose square-jawed scowl
aptly suggests a prickly disposition, and his incendiary girlfriend Liz (Selma
Blair). With their cool-headed amphibious comrade Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) in
tow, del Toro’s superhuman peacekeepers are charged with protecting a public that
considers them monsters. They police their own kind, only to retreat to a
clandestine, Batcave-style lair where they hide, almost apologetically, from
society. As if to stress the indignity, it’s in Jersey.
While the first Hellboy found its hero
struggling to accept himself, sawed-off
horns and all, The Golden Army is more
of a coming-out party, as the lobster-red menace begins to embrace his roots
with something resembling pride. It’s about time – Hellboy deserves better than
a life spent in shadows – but it presents a soul-stirring dilemma when Nuada
(Luke Goss), fabled prince of the forest creatures, returns to modern-day
Manhattan to lead a revolt against mankind.
Should Hellboy reject his fellow
freaks to defend those who treat him no better than Frankenstein’s monster?
It’s a legitimate head-scratcher that lends The Golden Army (named for Nuada’s
legion of assassins) real emotional
resonance. Iron Man and Batman may be human at their baggage-heavy cores, but
they are never as emotionally accessible as Hellboy, who’s just as likely to be
belting out a Tecate-soaked rendition of Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without
You” as body-slamming a troll.
Indeed, del Toro’s story, which
tempers the gloomy threat of a holocaust with the in-your-face swagger Perlman
brings to his role as a brazen trash-talker who’s never met a problem his stony
fists couldn’t aggravate, is as much a sly romantic comedy as a no-holds-barred
adventure. Clearly, the Mexican-born director has a deep affection for both his
characters and the world of gods and fairy-tale monsters, and it translates
into a rich, sophisticated sequel that actually improves on the original.
It is also a film whose visual
majesty recalls and even surpasses del Toro’s last feat of the imagination, the
Oscar-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth. He
envisions startlingly ornate universes in the darkest, most forbidding corners
of our world, beneath bridges and in abandoned subway tunnels. And yet his
lavish sets and hellish demons would be little more than demented eye candy
were it not for his gift for storytelling and his deep respect for the power of
During a season filled with
superhero adventures, Hellboy II stands alone as one of the year’s best films.