I could spend this column lamenting that most of the filmmakers churning out superhero flicks are not as talented as Mexican virtuoso Guillermo del Toro.But instead, I’ll simply be grateful that he’s out there creating eye candy that still inspires awe despite the fact that comic book films are as plentiful as blades of grass these days. It also doesn’t hurt that he can also tell a story or coax first-rate performances from his flesh-and-blood stars.
Like its predecessor, “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” features a large, surly earthbound demon named Hellboy (Ron Perlman) who has been recruited by the US government to combat malevolent supernatural forces.
His enlarged stone fist and relative invulnerability make him formidable weapon against the forces of evil. But he’s not a cooperative one.
The government, represented by a duplicitous FBI director (Jeffrey Tambor), desperately wants to keep Hellboy and his supernatural peers secret. But Hellboy’s boorish manner and his craving for recognition prevent anonymity.
The fact that the setup works for a second round can be attributed Perlman’s ability to juggle brash enthusiasm with hardened sarcasm. Astonishingly, Perlman accomplishes this under a crushing amount of prosthetics.
The “Hellboy” movies illustrate one of the reasons I was dissatisfied with the “Hulk” films. Effective makeup is always preferable to cheesy computer effects. Yes, the Hulk is not obligated to show any emotion other than destructively blind rate. But Perlman’s face and low booming voice are more engaging than any computer-generated substitute.
This time around our antihero has to fight the pre-Christian prince Nuada (Luke Goss, del Toro’s “Blade II”) who wants to summon mechanical army to destroy humans for ruining the earth. His sister Nuala (Anna Walton) opposes him and escapes from her world to warn humans of the impending battle.
Hellboy and his telepathic, fish-like partner Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) are called in to stop Nuada’s plans, but their lives have become a little complicated. Hellboy’s relationship with fellow agent (and fire starter) Liz (Selma Blair) has evolved from unrequited longing to domestic bickering.
Abe, on the other hand, is nursing what may be his first crush on Nuala. The romantic subplots often veers toward the corny, but they give our supernatural heroes just enough flesh-and-blood to make them compelling.
This might partly explain why “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” knocked “Hancock” down from the top of the box office last week. Perlman can effortlessly shift from sarcastic to sincere without looking fulsome either way. The committee-written script for “Hancock” didn’t give “Hancock” star Will Smith much of a chance to grow.
Del Toro and “Hellboy” creator Mike Mignola borrow extensively from dozens of sources like J.R.R. Tolkein and H.P. Lovecraft. But they add enough of their own ideas to keep the series from feeling stale or excessively derivative.
Hellboy’s latest teammate is a gaseous fellow confined to a spacesuit-like body. Johann Krauss (John Alexander, James Dodd, and Seth MacFarlane’s voice) has a thick German accent and a sense of propriety that makes Hellboy chafe. Johann can also take over just about any object his vaporous form can occupy.
As he demonstrated in “Pan’s Labyrinth,” del Toro can deliver more visual wonder with relatively meager budgets than some of his peers can with blank checks. Whereas “The Incredible Hulk” suffered because the filmmakers decided that fourth-rate CGIs can pass for a convincing monster, Del Toro has a better idea of which technology to use for which sequence.
While there are multitudes of computer generated visuals in “Hellboy 2,” they don’t have the “pulled for a Nintendo Wii” look that plague a lot of modern films. Del Toro also realizes that no computer could be as engaging as Perlman’s or Jones’ performances.As an extra for the upcoming DVD, del Toro might want to include any rehearsal footage of the two actors without their makeup on. I have a feeling it would still be entertaining.