Hellboy II The Golden Army
Hell comes to the Antrim Coast in Guillermo Del Toro's monster sequel
‘It’s like the X-Files monsters investigating the cases.’ Director Guillermo Del Toro isn’t far wrong. His superhero sequel is a monster movie with a difference, in which the son of Satan, his pyrotechnic girlfriend and a blue fish-man are the only things standing between us and the things that go bump.
Adapted from Mike Mignola’s Dark Horse comics, the cigar-chomping, dry-witted Hellboy (played by Ron Perlman) provides something of a relief from the philosophical weightiness of a crusading Christian Bale as Batman, and, bizarrely, finds the time to delight our tourist board with a trip to ‘Norn Iron’.
Hellboy II is undoubtedly a summer blockbuster in intent. It’s a bruiser of a film, full of action set-pieces, a plot to take over the world, monster bashings and a damn large revolver. Generally, it’s fairly efficient and energetic, delivering bangs and wallops with a clunking red fist.
But there’s something else going on. Del Toro, whatever you think of him, is a director with a precise and peculiar visual eye. His career has veered between accommodating studios with crowd-pleasers like Blade 2 and personal projects like Pan’s Labyrinth, but increasingly the two are beginning to blur.
Hellboy II is flashy, but there’s a delicious sensibility working the gears. Unlike the Lucas school of brash, indiscriminate CGI, Del Toro is able to create an insular, believable, imaginative universe.
The monster world that operates beneath our own is genuinely interesting, with some frightening teeth fairies, a German ectoplasmic commander and a wonderful sequence with a flower shower in New York.
The film is helped by a breezy script and likeable, realistic characters. The paranormal investigators, part of the government team BPRD (Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence), are an unusual bunch that have to deal with real-life problems. Hellboy and Liz are dealing with relationship hiccups, and the gill-based empath Abe Sapien is struggling with the first pangs of love.
Abe is perhaps the star of the show in fact, Doug Jones playing him perfectly as an over-wordy Niles Frasier figure. The other agents are less memorable. Selma Blair is a bit wet, funnily enough, as the fire-wielder, and Ron Perlman comes off a touch too ordinary in the ‘ordinary Joe’ routine. More a purveyor of sardonic clichés than conflicted half-creature, the Beast of the Apocalypse exudes hardly any real darkness.
Like the clockwork army of the title, there is something slightly mechanical about the film’s construction. The design is delicious and the action bounces along, but once the plot gets going it’s all a bit formulaic. Luke Goss’ elfish prince, the villain of the piece, is too bland to be dangerous, and his plan to raise an army against the human world is difficult to take seriously.
Del Toro has an excellent eye for aesthetics, but the script, by him and Mignola, lacks any sense of real danger. Hellboy is torn between his allegiance to a world that thinks he’s a freak and his inner demon, but only thematically.
In actuality there’s never a sense of conflict because the script presents the protagonist as little besides a wise-cracking, horned Philip Marlowe. And without any proper emotional payoff, the last act sort of fades into the credits.
Still, Hellboy II achieves much of what it was supposed to. It’s occasionally funny, visually unique, and has the best use of Barry Manilow in any film, but it’s certainly a popcorn flick.
Before we finish, though, there’s this Northern Ireland business to attend to. There’s an odd part near the end when the location of the Golden Army is revealed in an insert to be ‘County Antrim, Northern Ireland’, a moment eliciting cheers from the audience at this writer’s viewing, and, no doubt, others.
A trip to the Giant’s Causeway thus beckons…sort of. The sequence, more a collage of greens and blues, features little of the location’s famous rocks. According to newspaper reports, a production team simply filmed aerial shots onto which the action was superimposed in post-production.
The Giant's Causeway has hosted a fair few fabled creatures in it's time, but not the spawn of Satan, despite the rumours. Hang around the Moviehouse after hours, though, and you never know what otherworldly individuals you might come across.