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Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Posted in movies,reviews by YTAH on September 19, 2008
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All hail the hellspawn, as once again the fate of the world rests on Hellboy and his friends from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. The inimitable Ron Perlman returns as the demon affectionately known as “Red”, with the indestructible red fist and a penchant for cats and cigars. He’s aided once more by his fiery girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) and an aquatic empath named Abe, plus a vaporous new German agent (Family Guy‘s Seth MacFarlane). This time they’re up against an elf prince who plans to unleash an army of golden golems to punish humanity for crimes against nature.

We’re clearly in fantasy country, but if that “elf prince” reference conjured up images of Lord of the Rings, rest assured, this is an entirely different breed. The director, Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), and the rest of his team have gone out of their way to make their film stand out from the recent glut of superhero movies, both in its style and tone. Forget the angst and the inner conflict of some other comic book or superhero films – the emphasis here is on fun (when last did you see a superhero movie with a drunken sing-along?). The film has shades of Ghostbusters and Men in Black in terms of its humour and good-natured energy, but perhaps the most appropriate comparison would be to the Indiana Jones movies, whose spirit the film manages to invoke more successfully than the recent instalment of The Mummy, or even The Crystal Skull.

For a decidedly non-angsty movie, there’s a lot of talk about fitting in and finding one’s place. At one point, the team’s harried supervisor – played by Jeffrey Tambor, the loopy patriarch from Arrested Development – describes Hellboy and his friends as “a dirty secret”. But Hellboy is tired of lurking in shadows and decides to announce his existence to the world. Things don’t go as planned – it seems most people assume the arrival of their otherworldly saviours is somehow connected to the arrival of the baddies (in this sense it’s appropriate that the film references James Whale’s classic Bride of Frankenstein, where the monster escapes and interacts with the outside world for the first time.)

On one level it’s a story about love and the concomitant need for self-sacrifice. More importantly, it’s about finding a kindred spirit when you thought you were one of a kind. In the previous film, Hellboy discovered that, as a demon, he is unharmed by Liz’s fire powers, a revelation which prompted a greater intimacy between these two outcasts. Similarly, in The Golden Army, Abe finally finds another empath, which prompts him to confess: “She’s like me … She’s alone in the world.” It says something about the fertility of the fantasy genre, and the filmmakers themselves, that they managed to do this without invoking the stink of emo. This is as far from The Crow as you’re likely to get.

As befits the fantasy genre, the film is filled with flourishes both musical and visual: forest gods and other marvellous creatures roam the streets of this world, while Danny Elfman’s score brings a much appreciated playfulness to the sound design. And like the characters, the film itself inhabits a strange world between worlds, stylistically it shares the same solar system as Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s a completely different planet – one that gets a lot more sun.

So if The Dark Knight proved too great a drain on your energy, do yourself a favour and recharge by basking in the energetic, sunny presence of our friendly red fiend and his comrades. And remember: Hellboy will be waiting, “Like a shadow… Like a shadow, in the night.

[Originally posted on MyChannel24, Friday 19 September.]

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