There is an element to our culture that seems to eschew imagination, our child-like creativity; that seeks to crush it from us as a rite of passage to what it means to grow up. Guillermo Del Toro not only imbues all of his work with his own embrace of his child-like imagination, but sets this war on magic as an underlying theme to Hellboy 2: The Golden Army. His creature creations leap off the screen with their vividness, their realness.
After an ancient truce between humankind and the invisible realm, the realm of fairies and dark elves, is broken, Hellboy (Ron Perlman)—he of the shorn horns, tail, and oversized right hand—and his team from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense have to put a stop to the machinations of war. They travel between the surface world and the unseen magical one, where creatures of fantasy become corporeal as an elven prince, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), seeks to unleash an army of creatures—mechanical golems that appear fueled by molten rock—in a fey jihad.
So we have a “Lord of the Crowns” backdrop, with one crown to unite them all, playing out against a love story. On the personal front, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and Hellboy are a new couple in the process of making … adjustments.
“We die and the world will be poorer for it.” –Prince Nuada
Villains are heroes in their own stories and Prince Nuada is no different. Despite the trail of bloodshed and bodies, he’s a man fighting for a just cause. He is reclaiming his land and birthright, since humanity has forgotten the gods and magic while also neglecting the environment. He fights for an appreciation and preservation of the old ways, for lost things which may never be regained. In a lot of ways, he harkens back to our youth, when we could believe, and fears for the death of magic and imagination.
The prince’s story runs parallel to that of Hellboy in a few other ways: a person of two worlds seeking to fight against his heritage, yet with a role to play in the greater battle between good and evil. They each represent the last of their kind. In the prince, Hellboy finds a reflection, one that can reveal much about the choices he needs to make in life.
“Man had been created with a hole in his heart.” –Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm (John Hurt)
In addition to Hellboy, the BPRD operatives include Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a fish-man; Liz Sherman, the fire-starter; a new supervisor, ectoplasm in a suit, Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), and Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), the prince’s twin. Two couples in the movie are prevented with choices to sacrifice the love of their life in order to save humanity from some future threat … and everyone’s awfully quick to sacrifice the world for their one love. This speaks to the desperateness of our need for relationships and gets to the heart of what it means to be human.
Augustine spoke of a God-sized hole within each of us – essentially we are relational beings hard-wired with a need for intimacy. Hellboy and his friends are no different. They are a bunch of loners and misfits, alone in the world, searching for love and meaning. They are looking for acceptance or, realizing that they might be the last of their kind, striving to not be alone. In the process, they look out for each other. With each other, they have found people to be with one another on their journeys, to encourage, mentor, chastise, their own entourage of misfits. Writer Phyllis Tickle once said that “Misfits give texture to life. They also tend, on a routine basis, to challenge the preconceptions that masquerade among us every day as normative behaviors.“
“Let this remind you of why you once feared the dark.” –Prince Nuada
The movies del Toro crafts are myth for adults, with all of its attendant elements – woven with death and loss, courage and love and sacrifice. Drawing on the primal urgency of the original fairy tales before they were cleaned up for mass consumption, his lush and imaginative Pan’s Labyrinth was pure magical realism – fantasy firmly rooted in reality, both gruesome and spell-binding. He understands the underpinnings of faith, the symbolism inherent in religion, as faith and spiritual concerns are essentially magic.
We believe a lot of things when we are children. We have the ability to wonder, to look at the world around us with awe, full of its own brand of magic (it’s a shame that we lose the ability to dream as we get older). The idea is to have child-like faith, with the idea of keeping a sense of awe, wonder, and appreciation of mystery. The idea is to be filled with joy at the chance to explore life and learning to recover the capacity for wonder.
Darkly imaginative and funny, the Del Toro and Mike Mignola (creator of the Hellboy comic) team have done it again. Written and directed by Del Toro, his fingerprints are all over this movie. I have some quibbles. The music was sometimes distracting and cheesy when it oversold certain moments in movie. It telegraphed its ending which would have saved us about an hour and a half of movie. Still, we have our cigar-chomping bruiser who investigates with his fists. He knows what makes Hellboy work: the plant elementals, tooth fairies, tumbling +4 to damage sword-wielding elves, and other digital creatures aside, it is the moments of pure humanity, like the Abe and Hellboy singing and drinking their blues away scene. Moments which allow the otherwise non-stop action to breathe. Because Del Toro gets comics (see his Blade II) and the character, Hellboy 2: The Golden Army appeals to the cooler side of fanboy.
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