Monday, November 17, 2008

Hellboy II

They're pretty much your typical couple. They're in love, but they're having problems living together. "I'd give my life for her," he says, adding in a dejected voice, "but she also wants me to do the dishes."

They're your typical couple. Except he's huge and red and has two devil-like horns. She, on the other hand, catches on fire when she's angry.

It's Hellboy 2, Guillermo del Toro's latest. del Toro co-wrote the script with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, and directed the movie. He seems to have figured out what went wrong in the first Hellboy go-round, and has corrected it. Hellboy the Original has a marvelous first half where we learn all about our main players, including our many-flawed hero, but the second half got too carried away with the villain. The villains here, although interesting, never get in the way of telling the stories around the characters we grow to love.

In the second story, which pretty much continues where Hellboy I left off, we learn more about the agents of the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research. Included among them is Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a Nazi experiment whose favorite things are candy bars and kittens, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who is an amphibian, Liz (Selma Blair) who, yes, lights on fire but she's learning better how to control it, and Jeffrey Tambor's stiff manager, who has the not-so-easy job of corralling our guys.

And the script is funny throughout, and marvelously shows us little things about these characters. When Abe falls for the princess, the sister of the villain who's trying to destroy all humanity, they have this little discussion:

Hellboy: Have a beer.
Abe Sapien: No, no. My body's a temple.
Hellboy: It's now an amusement park. Take the beer.

And then Abe puts on a Barry Manilow song. It's a very funny sequence. Super-heroes on beer. Okay, "flawed" works here.

The actors del Toro hired for this series are in their prime. Ron Perlman, famous for roles in which his face and sometimes his body is covered, is the right touch of sarcasm and innocence. Doug Jones, whose last role as the Silver Surfer didn't fully use his talents, is able to use his mime ability and his high-pitched voice to make the amphibian come alive. Jeffrey Tambor is the bureaucrat we almost pity but love to despise. The director is wise enough to realize that unless these characters are brought to life by capable actors who can emote beyond the masks they wear, we have nothing but a hollow story. These actors are more than capable.

Amid all the angst and fighting, there's a serious theme going on here, as Hellboy, and also Liz and Abe at various times, wonders how human he wants to be. del Toro has created a series of wondrous worlds here, visually stunning and all-at-once freakish, and characters who are more-than-human with whom we want to spend more time.

Thumb's up.



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