Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Call it the Pan’s Labyrinth effect. Brimming with confidence and new ideas, writer/director Guillermo del Toro has made Hellboy II a different kind of film compared to its predecessor — itself a satisfying development. The first film was necessarily an origin story, which can be detrimental to a superhero movie, but director Guillermo del Toro and leading man Ron Perlman, just visible glaring out from inside his demon-red character makeup, tackled it with smarts and heart, emphasizing the conflict between Hellboy’s ostensible destiny — he’s meant to be the catalyzing agent for Armageddon — and the new home he’s made among humans who need his protection. The new movie moves Hellboy’s inner friction forward in logical, intriguing ways, forwarding a notion that must eventually occur to every great, sensitive curmudgeon: what if the human race isn’t worth saving?

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Hellboy, a movie I caught up with only

under threat of sequel, turns out to play exactly toward

director Guillermo del Toro’s strengths — it’s a sprawling fantasy story brimming with

dark whimsy, and realized through an intense visual imagination. Ron

Perlman is Hellboy, as far as I can tell a kind of domesticated demon

who was brought into our world during World War II by some especially

evil immortal Nazis seeking to catalyze the end of the world. But a

funny thing happened on the way to the Apocalypse, and Hellboy ends

up as part of a secret supernatural task force (based, hilariously, in Newark), having been aised by a British egghead who taught him to fight against

the powers of darkness instead of leading them to victory. It’s your

classic nature-versus-nurture situation, and it’s given Hellboy a bit

of an identity crisis – he keeps his frightening red horns filed

down to stony nubs, a personal-grooming metaphor of the type that

flows naturally out of the character’s comic-book origins. Ostensibly

it’s a way to make his imposing figure less terrifying, but you

quickly get the feeling that it is really a way for him to keep reminding

himself that he’s one of the good guys.

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