Nothing called Hellboy, be it comic book or comic book movie, is going to take itself too seriously. Just saying that title aloud — HELL-boy — is enough to make most people chuckle.
But Mexican director Guillermo del Toro's take on Mike Mignola's comic book evolves in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. He makes a movie that is all brawn and bravura, big guy-big guns-big trench coat. And he stirs in a little of his Pan's Labyrinth pathos, a wistfulness over a world of magic that we've lost.
He's still a better director and visualist than he is a screenwriter. It's a lighthearted movie, but rarely a funny one. Del Toro still isn't comfortable with English-language zingers or punchy tough-guy dialogue. The TV commercials that have Hellboy (Ron Perlman in a red latex suit) taking on NBC's Chuck in a video game, or riffing with James Lipton in a Hellboy: Inside the Actor's Studio are funnier than anything del Toro wrote for the movie.
But as big, mindlessly fantastical summer entertainment goes, this falls comfortably between Iron Man (the gold standard) and the not-quite Incredible Hulk. It's a visually striking, mildly amusing way to kill a couple of hours.
The Golden Army takes us back to Hellboy's childhood, when his adoptive scientist-dad (John Hurt) reads him a tale of the ancient wars between ogres, goblins, elves and humans. He tells of a mechanical army the King of the Elves concocted, one which only a truce kept from wiping out humanity.
Now, that elf king's pale martial-artist son (Luke Goss) is back from exile, anxious to revive the Golden Army, "the harbingers of death, the unstoppable tide."
Not if Hellboy and his ragtag crew of demons from the B.P.R.D. — the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense — have any say about it.
Perlman is a very old hand at wearing the latex and playing a mythical figure. The onetime "Beast" of TV's Beauty and the Beast downs his Tecates (Mexican beer), chomps on his Cubans and chews up the scenery as a "freak" who isn't fazed by anything or anyone this world (or the "other" one) throws at him. He's Lee Marvin in latex. Hellboy has Liz ( Selma Blair), his flame (literally), and his pal, the brainy, watery Abe ( Doug Jones, replacing David Hyde Pierce from Hellboy) and a vaporous Teutonic boss (amusingly voiced by Seth McFarlane).
Pity he doesn't have much pithy to say. Every new horror or terror unleashed by Prince Nuada is only worth another "Ooooh, crap" from Hellboy.
"You will pay for what happened to my friend down there!" spits the Prince.
"You take checks?" Hellboy brimstones back.
Del Toro drags out the few jokes he tries (a Barry Manilow love duet) one or two verses too many. A few jokes from a script doctor might have helped.
But even if the humor and heart (some Blade Runner/X-Men lessons about what nonhumans can teach us) don't quite pay off, The Golden Army ticks over, gears, ratchets and cogs, like the clockwork comic book movie that it is, one that benefits from lovely baroque technology and imaginative retro-looking trolls and such left over from Pan's Labyrinth. And if there's anybody up to the task of chewing all that lavish scenery, it's Perlman. He makes even the weaker moments of this hellishly fun.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun