“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

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“HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” (2008) Review

Based upon the Dark Horse Comics character, “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” is the 2008 sequel to “HELLBOY”, the 2004 hit about a red-skinned demon that works for a paranormal agency of the U.S. government. The sequel is about Hellboy’s conflict with Prince Nuada, son of the King of Elves, who wants to use a clockwork group of soldiers called the Golden Army to exterminate humanity in revenge for the latter’s past hostilities against mythical creatures.

Okay, so what did I think about the movie? About the same as I had felt about the original 2004 film – I though it was simply a good, old-fashioned adventure-fantasy movie, filled with solid entertainment. I never saw anything really exceptional about “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”. Well, I take that back. There were aspects of the movie that I really enjoyed.

For example, I was happy to see that director Guillermo del Toro managed to bring back most of the original cast from the first movie. I had read somewhere that the studio executives for the original film wanted someone like Vin Diesel in the leading role of Hellboy. Fortunately, del Toro had insisted upon casting Ron Perlman, with whom he had worked before. And all I can say is thank goodness. Just as Robert Downey Jr. made the role of Tony Stark/Ironman as his own, Perlman did the same with Hellboy not only in the first film, but in this second one, as well. Ron Perlman is Hellboy. Granted, Vin Diesel has become a good actor over the years, I really cannot see him portray the snarky and slightly aggressive demon with a mixture of gruffness, sarcasm and heartfelt tenderness toward his lady love.

Selma Blair reprised her role as Hellboy’s pyrokinetic love, Liz Sherman. And as in the first film, her subtle, yet sardonic take on Liz balanced beautifully with Perlman’s gruff Hellboy. Doug Jones’ portrayal of the fluidic Abe Sapien rose to the level of delicious charm and pathos, especially when his character falls in love with Prince Nuada’s sister, Princess Nuala. Jones also portrayed the androgynous and enigmatic Angel of Death with equal ease. Jeffrey Tambor was just as snarky as ever as director of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, Tom Manning.

Additions to the cast included Anna Walton, in a sweet and effervescent portrayal of Princess Nuala. Actor and singer Luke Goss portrayed the yang to Nuala’s yin, Prince Nuada. Although the villain of the story, Goss’ Nuada is a complex and fascinating character who desire for the destruction of humanity is not driven by sheer evil. He wants revenge for humanity’s betrayal against the supernatural world and views them – or us – as a potent threat to the future. And I must say that Goss as Nuada wielded a mean sword with moves that would impress (perhaps mildly) the likes of Jet Li. Replacing FBI Special Agent John Myers (Rupert Evans) in the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense was Johann Krauss, a German psychic who became an ectoplasmic being contained in a suit after a botched séance. And actor/writer Seth MacFarlane did a hilarious job in capturing the exacting and anal Krauss with a delicious German accent.

Screenwriters del Toro (the director) and Mike Mignola (also creator of Hellboy) created a solid and entertaining tale that centered around Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense’s attempts to meet the threat of Prince Nuada’s plan to use the Golden Army against the humanity. The movie also focused upon the demon’s continuing problems in his relationship with Liz (who is pregnant) and his new immediate supervisor, Strauss. Speaking of the latter, there is a hilarious sequence in which the ectoplasmic being uses locker doors to prove how dangerous he can be.

And what is a HELLBOY movie (or should I say Guillermo del Toro movie) without visual effects? Once again, del Toro enlisted the help of Spectral Motion to create some stunning visual effects. Amongst the most memorable for me were the collection of demons featured in the Troll Market sequence and especially the multi-optical demon voiced by Doug Jones – the Angel of Death. Usually, I tend to be turned off by over-the-top visual effects. Especially when they are pushed into your face by filmmakers eager to show the unusual aspects of their film. In “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY”, del Toro and Spectral Motion managed to refrain themselves by revealing the visuals when the story truly required them.

I am not going to pretend that “HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY” was at the same level as the Marvel Cinematic Universe films,“SPEED RACER” or “THE DARK KNIGHT TRILOGY”. But I must admit that it was damn entertaining, thanks to a first-rate cast led by Ron Perlman, a solid story and weird and stunning visual effects. I highly recommend it.

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“THE FANTASTIC FOUR: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007) Review

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“THE FANTASTIC FOUR: Rise of the Silver Surfer” (2007) Review

I found myself surprised that 20th Century-Fox would green light a sequel to the 2005 movie, “THE FANTASTIC FOUR”. When it was released, many critics panned the movie as a ghost of other Marvel cinematic hits such as the “SPIDER-MAN” and the “X-MEN” franchise or the DC comic hit, “BATMAN BEGINS”. Unlike these films and others such as 2003’s “DAREDEVIL”, “THE FANTASTIC FOUR” told the story of how four people with close connections ended up with super powers . . . and how they dealt with it. It also introduced the quartet’s main villain, Victor Von Doom. But it felt more like an comedic character piece than a costumed action film. Although this new sequel, “THE FANTASTIC FOUR: Rise of the Silver Surfer” managed to retain the comedic element of the first story, it turned out to be a suprisingly good action piece with strong character development.

The movie began with the arrival of a mysterious alien presence that caused havoc with the Earth’s resources in various locations. This alien turns out to be the Silver Surfer (Doug Jones and voiced by Laurence Fishburne). The movie soon shifted to more familiar ground – namely the upcoming marriage of Reed Richards aka “Mr. Fantastic” (Ioan Gruffudd) and Sue Storm aka “The Invisible Woman” (Jessica Alba). Or should I say . . . another attempt by the couple to get married. It seemed their past efforts at matrimony have ended up being delayed by either their roles as costumed super heroes, or Reed’s anal obssession with his work. With the threat of the new alien presence announced by Army General Hager (Andre Braugher in a rather intimidating role), Reed and Sue are forced to cancel their wedding plans once more and join other FF4 members – Ben Grimm aka “The Thing” (Michael Chiklis) and Sue’s younger brother, Johnny Storm aka “The Human Torch” (Chris Evans) – to save the Earth from the Silver Surfer.

The blue-suited quartet are eventually embroiled in other crisis as well. As I had stated earlier, Reed and Sue end up enduring an angst fest over their failure to get married. Johnny’s first encounter with the Silver Surfer ended up changing his DNA structure. Because of this, he is able to change powers with any of his colleagues with only a touch. Even worse, Johnny’s uncertainty regarding his powers and his failure to seduce General Hager’s beautiful aide – Captain Raye (Beau Garrett) – led him into an emotional crisis. Also, an old nemesis returned in the form of Dr. Victor von Doom (Julian McMahon). Claiming a desire to help the Army and the Fantastic Four deal with the threat of the Silver Surfer, Victor’ real agenda turned out to be a desire to claim the Surfer’s power source for his own use.

As I had earlier stated, the 2005 movie mainly told the story about how the quarter acquired their powers and became a costumed super hero team. The 2007 sequel, on the other hand, features a solid action-filled story on how the Fantastic Four battled the Silver Surfer, Victor von Doom, the U.S. Army and their own neurosis. Which is probably why this new story is a lot better than the original. Yes, the humor had remained. But the new movie seemed better paced, more solid . . . and dare I say it? More mature. Their interactions with both the Silver Surfer and General Hager turned the story from a basic comic book action flick into something more complex. And adding to the complexity were Reed and Sue’s further obstacles facing their relationship, and Johnny Storm’s troubles with his powers and his own self esteem.

Thankfully, the people at Marvel had decided to reunite director Tim Story with the cast of the 2005 film. Because of this, Story was able to maintain the style created two years ago and take the FF4 franchise to a more complex level. With the exception of Michael Chiklis and Julian McMahon, the returning cast managed to take their roles to a new level in characterization. Do not get me wrong . . . both Chiklis and McMahon did a fine job with their roles. But their characters were not able to shine as much as the others. I suspect this was due to possible conflicting schedules with their respective TV series (“The Shield” and “Nip/Tuck”). Andre Braugher’s tough and intimidating performance as General Hager seemed to have put the rest of the cast on their toes. Both Ioan Gruffudd and Jessica Alba’s screen chemistry seemed a lot more believable in this film as their characters – Reed and Sue – struggle to take their relationship to another level despite the obstacles put in their paths. The real surprise turned out to be Chris Evans’ portrayal as the usually shallow Johnny Storm, who discovered their was more to his life than fast vehicles, women and his celebrity status as one of the Fantastic Four. Who would have thought that this superficially charming character could possess real pathos? Yet, Evans’ first-class performance made this possible. He also provided one of the movie’s funniest scenes, when he “accidentally” torched the bridal bouquet before his new girlfriend, Captain Raye, could catch it. Although I found the Silver Surfer’s abilities and his impact upon the Fantastic Four impressive, I must say that his personality struck me as a little too distant for me to really care about him. At least the revelation of his bondage to a powerful and destructive alien entity made his character a little more interesting than I had originally believed. And I have to give Laurence Fishburne kudos for doing a good job with the character’s voice over.

I would highly recommend “THE FANTASTIC FOUR: Rise of the Silver Surfer” if you are looking for some solid summer action. Granted, it does not have the level of angst or epic-like proportion of other Marvel movies such as the “SPIDER-MAN” or the “X-MEN” franchies, it is still a more complex and interesting story than its 2005 predesessor, “THE FANTASTIC FOUR”.