11 July 2008

Mooney at the Movies: Hellboy II

That's the last time he'll try the three-bean salad from Crafts Service. (Universal)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (A-)

Starring Ron Perlman, Doug Jones, Selma Blair
Written and Directed by Guillermo del Toro (based on the comic book series by Mike Mignola)

If you'll pardon the expression, comic book movies have been flying high lately.

Earlier this decade, we've experienced the greatness of Sin City and Spider-Man 2. But this summer, with Iron Man and The Dark Knight, the boundaries have truly been stretched as tales ripped from the dime-store racks have been worthy of the term "masterpiece."

If Hellboy II doesn't quite get there, it's certainly not for lack of trying. While the first film was entertaining, it was still a red-headed (or in this case, red-bodied) stepchild: plagued by a too-tiny budget (compared with other comic book flicks), distributed by a lousy studio (the now-defunct Revolution), and a trailer that made it look cliché as all get-out. Despite all this, it still managed to be much better than many higher-profile action films (this means you Fantastic Four).

But after the financial and critical success of Pan's Labyrinth, Guillermo del Toro has been allowed to flesh his wild imagination out, and the universe he's expanded is truly extraordinary. Now there's much more than a few creatures that "go bump in the night," as John Hurt put it in the first outing. You've got your underworld princes, your troll markets, and your cranky German ectoplasmic spirit. And don't forget those nasty Tooth Fairies.

Still, with all the vivid characters, this is the cigar-chomping, ill-mannered Hellboy's show. Thanks to Ron Perlman, returning under all that makeup, Hellboy is now a character as delightfully foul as Johnny Depp's Capt. Jack Sparrow. But, as the Village People once sang, "No man does it all by himself." And to the audience's benefit, the supporting players are given real purpose. Abe Sapian (played and now voiced by the indelible Doug Jones, who plays nearly all of del Toro's most fascinating creations) has much more of a presence (and gets to duet with the demon on a killer drunk version of Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You") as does literal firestarter Liz (Selma Blair) who's hiding a major secret.

One thing that's apparent though: there's not much of a story. Bad dude wants to take over the world, hero (or anti-hero as is more often the case lately) tries to stop him. But in all fairness, comic book movies are rarely known for their plots. Besides, when a movie is this eye-popping and imaginative, some witty banter will suffice.

Hellboy II is adequately stuffed. Still, when it comes to sci-fi portions, some may find this sequel to be it a bit much (I doubt anyone would find it short of its potential). Whether or not it sets any box-office records, I think time will be kind to this franchise, for its wonderful effects, its wild imagination, and its brilliant focus on the relationships of its characters. Not many films (comic-book or otherwise) get this last one right, and the fact that this gets it right alone is worth the price of admission.

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