Although I’m not naive enough to believe in the good old tales of good vs. evil anymore, this theme is always attractive to me in movies or literature. Four years ago, we were introduced to the anti-hero Hellboy. I knew nothing about this comic book character, but his quirky personality and the humorous and innovative take on the genre by the imaginative director Guillermo del Toro pleasantly surprised me. So when the sequel that critics were all calling bigger and better than the original came out, I decided to follow yet another comic book hero franchise to the theatre.
As part of the team that take care of supernatural threats to humanity, Hellboy feels that he deserves proper recognition for his job well done. However, unsurprisingly, the world still sees him as an ugly monster. Humans are selfish. They turn on Hellboy and his comrades as soon as threat is eliminated. The elf prince Nuada knows all too well how damaging human nature is. His clan made a treaty with people out of mercy, but now they’re driven into the dark and forced to live in shame as men’s greed takes over the world. He determines to unleash the unstoppable army that once terrorize humans and reclaim what he feels rightfully belongs to his people. Nothing can stand in his way, not even his own blood and kin. Hellboy, even though alienated himself, chooses to defend human kind that despise him, showing what a true hero really is.
OK, this story line is cliché, as seen in numerous comics from my favourite X-Men and the now darker Batman franchise. But Hellboy is different because he is not melodramatic like the others. He is still the beer-chucking, cat-loving, cigar-smoking demon we adore. The fact that the film is not taking itself too seriously is fresh air in a pile of carbon copy superheroes. Light humour and characters that we can relate to are two of the reasons why this movie is enjoyable. In fact, Hellboy II: The Golden Army makes an obvious effort to portray the human side of these crime-fighting "monsters." Hellboy is the spontaneous boyfriend who messes up the place and still doesn’t understand why his girlfriend is mad at him. Abe Sapien is also showing his tender side this time. As the learned scholar, he always has a sophisticated charm to him. We get to see how he fumbles around and devotes everything to his love interest. To feel the characters’ frustration and understand their disappointment, it is important to see them in humans’ flesh. And the movie is a success in that department.
The director Guillermo del Toro is known for his extraordinary design of otherworldly creatures, as demonstrated in the masterpiece of an adult fairly tale, Pan’s Labyrinth that I strongly recommend. In Hellboy II, we see that he lets his imagination runs free again in the creation of the Tree God – reminiscent of the forest god in Hayao Miyazaki’s Mononoke-hime, the trolls’ market, the Angel of Death, the Golden Army – which is kind of cute rather than horrifying – etc.
Ron Perlman is perfectly cast as the big red. He looks like he walks off the pages of the Dark Horse comics and carries the personality of the character so naturally. In fact, del Toro has said that there will be no more movies if Perlman would not play the role anymore. That speaks for how well he pulls it off. Selma Blair also returns as the fire-starter Liz Sherman. She seems stiff in her line delivery to me, but there was a subtle apathetic tone in her voice that suits the character. And her bickering with Hellboy was fun, so that makes up for the flaws. Doug Jones as Abe gets more screen time in the sequel. While it’s hard to see his expression under all the makeup, his body language and sophisticated voice say it all.
I like Hellboy the character because he is the ultimate reluctant hero. He is strong, but not invincible. He gets hurt and complains about all the trouble he has to go through to save the world, but the next day he would still get up and go to work. Hellboy is no Superman, he is a blue-collar hero just like every hard working average Joe around us. And it always feel good to see "one of us" be the hero against all odds.
- Peter Jackson approached Guillermo del Toro to direct Halo (2009), and even though del Toro considered it, he turned the offer down so he could direct this sequel. Also, Del Toro turned down I Am Legend (2007), One Missed Call (2008), and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009) for the same reason. That’s a shame. I would love to see his vision for a Harry Potter movie!
- All photos © 2008 Universal Pictures