August 15, 2008

One Big Giant’s Causeway Leap for Hellboykind

By Noel McAdam

Graphic novel fans will get a kick out of this inventive yarn, and for the rest of us, there's the thrill of it being set in Norn Iron. Rock on, says Noel McAdam

Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

(12A, 120 mins)

Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, Luke Goss

Don't tell anyone, but there's a whole army buried deep up along Northern Ireland's north coast.

This from years before the Brits got here.

These strange, sleeping beings take up the whole last half hour of the latest comic book-inspired movie blockbuster in a summer chock-full of superheroes.

And it's quite a surprise to see the red-coloured Hellboy striding out across of the headlands near Ballintoy.

Or appearing to: those computer-generating-image folk can play great tricks, you know.

And though the interiors are meant to be below Ulster soil you just know it's Hollywood, not Holywood.

The first thing to say about Hellboy 2 is, however, that you don't need to have watched the original to enjoy this sequel. In fact, it may not even help.

We first find out the Ulster connection well into the general mayhem when the ectoplasmic robotic ghost figure Johann Krauss says: "Ze cylindrical co-ordinates show it is County Antrim, Northern Ireland, a place called the Giant's Causeway."

Minutes later the lady who turns into fire, Liz, says: "We will go to Antrim; we will find the Prince."

Optimistic, obviously, given the high level of princes to be found here, though the first creature they encounter on Ulster soil seems to be half leprechaun, half shopping trolley.

Before you can say 'begorrah' the very rocks have fashioned themselves into a version of Finn McCool, and the rock just keeps on rolling.

The Ulster audience I saw this with laughed and roared and applauded. I thought we were going to have to endure more dancing in the aisles than a Mamma Mia! screening.

But then again it's been a long time since Banbridge got a mention in the environmental disaster-action pic, The Day After Tomorrow.

You could almost forget that director and co-author Guillermo del Toro's film based on the cult comic strip by Mike Mignola is designed to remind you why people are afraid of the dark.

One of the trademarks of del Toro, the man behind Pan's Labyrinth, is to make you shiver one moment and chuckle the next and Mignola's monster character creates both reactions with ease.

The movie opens with a short cameo from John Hurt, in his second blockbuster appearance of the summer (in Indiana Jones he played an aging, doddery professor designed to make Harrison Ford look young) if only in flashback.

An Albino swordsman and his gargantuan sidekick arrive at an auction where memorabilia from their ancient lost Kingdom is about to be sold off.

Within minutes, Jeffrey Tambor, in a role very similar to his legendary Hank Kingsley on the Larry Sanders show, is emphasising how secret the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence to which Hellboy belongs must remain. Then almost instantly he's in front of TV cameras.

Like Mignola's comic, del Toro's movie has the good sense to continually send itself up. As Hellboy, Perlman - and probably nobody else could play him - has such a hazy Herman Munster/Addams Family sensibility. But few of the other characters involved in the first Hellboy outing make a return: they are probably being held for the final episode of a trilogy.

It's an entirely different story, too. Predictably, it's populated with del Toro's trademark creepy creatures, and he also likes to pack the screen with references to other movies - See You Next Wednesday appears on billboards, as it has in other del Toro works.

The camerawork is continually dense and original and the emphasis is on action, with little exploration of Hellboy's colleagues including his inflammable partner Liz (Blair), aquatic mate Abe Sapien (Jones) and the terrifying Teutonic-suited blast of ectoplasm Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), with an array of goblins, fairies, elves, and even a troll market.

Add to that a superb use of Barry Manilow and his soppy wet ditty Can't Smile Without You and this is yet another entertaining cinema event inspired by graphic novels.

Once again the world of comic cuts makes the cut. PPP

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