Monday, July 14, 2008

Monday Movie Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) 7/10
Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a demon foundling raised by humans, works for a secret US government agency that combats supernatural threats. Together with Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Hellboy's girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), they must prevent Prince Nuada of the Fairy (Luke Goss) from raising the indestructible Golden Army in a final war against humankind. Written and directed by Guillermo del Toro.

The first Hellboy movie created a conventional Judeo-Christian universe of evil demons and dark forces that must be battled by warriors of light. Hellboy is a demon struggling with a massive nature vs. nurture conflict. This is almost invariably how the supernatural is portrayed in movies and on TV; anything supernatural is either evil or deeply conflicted, and has a connection to Hell. The original movie also connected Nazis and demons, which is a comforting way of viewing evil; it is large and colorful and Satanic, rather than banal.

More... This movie drops all of that and posits a mythic, even Pagan, worldview. There are mythic beings and there are humans, and they war because they are different, with neither being evil. Hellboy II explores the nature of these worlds living side-by-side, and the anger in the mythic realm at the increasingly destructive presence of humans. Again, Hellboy is asked to choose sides; he sure doesn't look like he belongs among the humans. This is all much more interesting than the same-old-same-old Dark Evil Forces™ storyline, so I wish it had occured in a better movie.

Don't get me wrong, I really enjoyed myself; Hellboy II brings a lot to the table. But it's also cliché-ridden, and del Toro doesn't know how to construct a plot worthy of his premise. Hellboy's conflicts with Liz are lowest-common-denominator stuff—they fight because he's messy? Really? She claims it points to a deeper problem, but can't articulate what that problem is. Instead, the conflict devolves into a (very, very funny) comedic scene of the two guys (Hellboy and Abe) getting drunk and whining about relationships. Most of the structure is on the too-easy-to-write side; meet the new boss, encounter with villains from a childhood story, supernatural artifacts at an auction, Liz has a secret that Abe knows and doesn't know how to tell Hellboy, the sidekick gets smitten with the beautiful new character. Some of the folkloric elements are absolutely delightful, but the elven beings bear too much resemblance to Tolkein, and the garbled Irish mythology (Nuada is the son of Balor? And has a twin sister?) doesn't help.

What does help is a fantastic cast and great visual beauty. Ron Perlman is, again, perfect. Something about him is so much larger than life that, in the monster makeup, he's life-sized and utterly human. Selma Blair can bring depth and complexity to a shampoo commercial, and newcomer Anna Walton is haunting as Nuala. These are well-drawn and interesting characters, and the actors really embody them.

So, yeah, it's a summer blockbuster. Stupid plot tricks are easy enough to forgive. It's a fun movie a cut above the typical fun movie. And by the way? Two silly scenes that seemed like they would get old and never did; I laughed and laughed.

(Oh, cross-post.)