After watching Pacific Rim I thought I’d take a look back a the duo of Guillermo Del Toro’s films that, for me anyway, have stuck most in my mind and also hint at his love of monster and skills in world creation – Hellboy.
Following on directly from his work on Blade 2, which added an extra depth to the world of Marvel’s day-walking vampire, the first Hellboy movie, released in 2004, is pure comic book on-screen.
Watching it now in a world post Avengers and The Dark Knight, Hellboy does feel slightly dated but is none-the-less very enjoyable as our hero, “The Son Of The Fallen”, fights off paranormal Nazis and Rasputin who have their sights set on turning Hellboy (Ron Perlman) to his true path as the bringer of Armageddon through the medium of the Ogdru Jahad, visualized here as giant tentacled demons.
The film really comes to life in the scenes where Del Toro is dealing with monsters, which hints strongly towards Pacific Rim, with Sammael (a hellhound) and the smaller version of Ogdru Jahad that possesses Rasputin. As Hellboy deals with these beasts, variously in a museum, an underground railway station and a mythical temple beneath a Russian cemetery it is easy to see through the slightly dated effects and get swept up in the world of Hellboy.
If Hellboy is a good fun comic book action movie, then Hellboy II: The Golden Army ups the stakes considerable on all levels.
From the start here, through a flashback and a fantastic animated sequence, a sense of the history of the fantastic beings that exist in the world of Hellboy is instantly established. This, combined with the addition of new characters of elves, an ectoplasmic being, trolls, giants and goblins expands the world of the BPRD into something more akin to the comics but also pushing it into the realm of high fantasy, albeit with a more action-adventure angle.
While we also get some great creatures and Kaiju-esque monsters, where Hellboy II builds on its predecessor most notably is in the characters which gives us much more attachment to them and belief in the peril in the story.
While in the first film a love-triangle is attempted between Hellboy, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) and new human agent John Meyers (Rupert Evans), it is often the presence of Meyers, as our new eyes on a new world, that causes the disconnect from the fantastic characters.
The second movie however ditches this and makes Hellboy the lead in every sense with new space now available for Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) to develop into a more rounded character and making the relationship between Hellboy and Liz more real as well.
These more rounded characters, thrown into the more developed and defined world based on Mike Mignola’s comics but with a good helping of Del Toro’s own flavour, make for a much more satisfying movie than the first and even give time for the villains to become slightly more rounded figures.
In having a younger, sprightlier arch-villain than Rasputin, we get some brilliant action sequences between Hellboy and Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) which make it clear that Goss was trained by a former member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team and up the ante considerably from the first films often slow and lumbering fist fights into real high paced and thrilling sequences, particularly in the movie’s climax.
With a real sense of their own universe, some terrific action set pieces and great characters, as a pair of films Del Toro’s Hellboys are certainly two of the most flat-out enjoyable comic book movies, with only Iron Man 1 and 3 and Spiderman 2 really matching up to them and, I am hoping, that the director and his star (Perlman) can find funding to round off their trilogy as Hellboy II in particular hints that there are many more great stories to tell about the creature otherwise known as Anung Un Rama.