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'Hellboy II' delivers bang for your buck

 

Last updated 7/17/2008 at Noon

They say that sequels are never as good as the original. I don’t think that’s true; there are plenty of film sequels that were as good if not better than the first – I’d give an example if I could think of one.

Unfortunately, and much to my dismay, in the case of director Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” this maxim holds quite true. Where the first film had a well-paced focused story, the second came off muddled, with too much attention spent on subplots that would have been better left on the editing floor.

Hellboy is somewhat of a Southern California local, with the first printing of the character appearing at the San Diego Comic-Con in 1993. Its writer and artist, Mike Mignola, drew elements from the writings of Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft and laced it with old folklore and mythology to create a contemporary graphic novel that impressed not only comic readers but many in the entertainment industry.

As writer and directory Clive Barker once put it, “Hellboy is a comic book masterpiece. With style, imagination and a haunting simplicity, it creates a parallel universe of mystery and horror, which is unique in the medium… Hellboy restores my faith in the joy of comic books.”

Another impressed fan was Guillermo del Toro.

Del Toro is a well established director of the horror/fantasy genre. His two most critically acclaimed films, “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” have won numerous awards, including three Oscars.

Del Toro said he rediscovered Hellboy while shooting “Mimic” back in 1997 and has ever since been a hopeless fan of Mignola’s work. He has a strong passion for the big red guy, having turned down more lucrative deals to direct both “Hellboy” and “Hellboy II,” including “Blade: Trinity,” “I am Legend” and the “Halo” film adaptation.

The premise for the “Hellboy II” storyline is one of the old world being set against the new. Mignola’s latest work on the comic has placed emphasis on fey and Celtic antagonists and del Toro replicated this in the “Hellboy II” screenplay. Instead of Nazis and occultists as our hero’s villains, the Golden Army presents a tragic one: a long forgotten race of elves fighting for survival.

The exiled elfin Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss) seeks the key to an ancient power, the Golden Army, to destroy the human race and save his own race from slow extinction. Standing between him and genocide are Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) and the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD).

Selma Blair and Doug Jones return to play Liz Sherman and Abe Sapien, respectively, and a new member is added to the team: Johann Krauss, voiced by Seth MacFarlane.

While the conflict with Prince Nuada’s character is refreshing in a sea of two-dimensional movie villains, it feels like his potential was wasted. Del Toro spent way too much time attempting to flesh out the secondary protagonists with frivolous subplots: Liz is unsure about her relationship with Hellboy, Abe is in love for the first time and Tom Manning feels unappreciated. When FOX picks up “Hellboy” the TV series, these situations will be great to explore, but not in a two-hour feature movie.

There is also a strange sense of discontinuity in the characters and settings between the first film and the second. Hellboy seems less mature and much of his dialogue was glib and silly. The BPRD transforms from a serious force of investigators to something buffoonish. It was disconcerting to watch Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) and Abe walk down a corridor in the Bureau in a scene that seemed lifted straight from “Men in Black.”

But where Del Toro staggers in the execution of the story, he excels in the special effects.

Del Toro used seven special effect companies throughout the film, and it shows. This is definitely the strong point of this film. Like a parade, the film showcases odd and fantastic creatures, large, small, costumed and computer-generated, all seamlessly woven together.

Del Toro has an attention to detail that truly breathes life into his creations. As another saying goes, special effects are never a replacement for a good story, but in this case, they are definitely worth the price of admission.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is rated PG-13.

 

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