Wednesday, July 04, 2007

All The Hellboy 2 You Can Handle (For One Night, Anyway)

Hellboy 2 is currently filming in and around Budapest - as any Maddy Gaiman fan will tell you. I've had the good fortune to be able to read a copy of the script and, putting that together with the on-set snaps that have appeared so far, and the little bits and pieces to have popped up in the news, I'm getting quite a clear idea of how this one is going. This post might have some failry heavy spoilers in it, so go forward carefully.

Neil Gaiman has been shadowing Guillermo del Toro on this set, to get pointers for when he directs Death and Me later this year (why not remind yourself of my script review of that one?) and, really, the plan seems perfect. This is quite easily the most Gaimanesque of Del Toro's projects, he'll understand just what's going on, probably be able to look past the specifics, which will seem so natural to him, and see how Guillermo handles this kind of material.

The script picks up with a dazzling magical robbery at an auction house. The film's chief villain is a scheming elven prince, in this scene shown as just a 'shadowy figure'. He's after a piece of an ancient Crown and has some amazing tricks to help him nab it:

A darkened corridor where other STEWARDS wheel auction lots to and from a sales room.

The STEWARD notices an open window at the end of the corridor. He leans out and looks down. Ten stories below - a snow-covered alley.

Suddenly, he sees the SHADOWY FIGURE above the window frame, clinging to the smooth granite wall!

What the h-

Quick as lightning, the SHADOWY FIGURE covers the steward's mouth. When he withdraws his hand, the steward's mouth has VANISHED!

The Shadowy figure grabs the hapless man by the lapels, hauling him outside and dangling him over the void.

Far below: a spiked wrought-iron fence.

The Prince has enlisted some rather creepy creatures to help him out with this crown heist - a thuggish Troll called Wink, eight foot tall and "with grey skin and a huge scar over his left, empty, eye socket. His right hand is missing and he sports a heavy iron mace instead"; and a horde of horrible, scrabbling, flesh-gnawing... well, I won't spoil the surprise. But they are famous creatures of folklore given a new, sinister spin. And they like to feed on calcium. Brrrrr.

This huge army of tiny terrors create chaos, and while the BPRD arrive at the auction house after the Prince appears to have fled, they still have a lot of havoc to control. Their personal spin master Tom Manning is in too, to try and shield them, to force a positive media profile and to keep Hellboy, Abe and Liz top secret.

The twist this time is... he fails completely. Liz goes absolutely supernova - quite necessarily - but the resulting explosion blows Hellboy flying through the air:

Like a cannonball, HB flies out of the upper floor window.

A ball of flame, he arcs downward.

Below, the onlookers scatter as the massive Red Giant lands in their midst, cracking the pavement.

Liz and Abe go to the window and look down. A TV CAMERA LENS ZOOMS IN ON THEM BOTH.

Liz (into her radio)
HB? HB?? Are you alright?

The scene ends with:

Manning hurries forward, witness to his worst nightmare. A sea of camera flashes explodes on a grinning Hellboy.

And the opening credits roll...

This plot this time picks up with Liz and Hellboy deep into a relationship. In fact, as we're introduced to them, they're in the middle of a superpowered domestic disupute. Like last time, their romance is a key strand to the film, if not, indeed, its heart. And it definitely provides a very sweet conclusion (which some might see as a cliffhanger).

Threaded in with that twine of plot are two more spinning directly out of this opening sequence: the Elven Prince has an epic, deadly plan that will spell disaster for the human world; the public become aware of the BPRD and their 'freaks'; and a third that doesn't so much: ectoplasmic man Johan Krauss becomes the new head of the BPRD field team. Kraus is brilliantly conceived and portrayed - he's like a movie adaptation of something from Nintendo's Geist game and gets some brilliant moments in the action set-pieces as well as many crackling verbal confrontations with Hellboy.

Along the way, we meet the Elven Princess, who shares a link with her twin brother that verges on all that Skeksis/Mystic business; Abe Sapien falls in love enough to start listening to Barry Manilow records; there's a massive, massive, massive (think Ghostbusters... or even Ghostbusters 2) confrontation with a tree elemental on the streets of New York; Hellboy ruins a Bowling Alley; a very Gaimanesque (there's that silly word again) expedition occurs to a secret Troll Market; Del Toro proves several more times just how much of a clockwork fetishist he is; the Tonight Show turns nasty; and there's a dragon on the loose in Russia, an army coming to life in Ireland and a very strikingly described Angel of Death.

Here's the biggest spoiler material maybe, so be warned once more: there are brief cameos for two deceased characters from the first film. Professor Broom appears in an origin flashback for Johan Krauss, while a post-credits sequence (legal issues permitting - this film is coming from a different studio) will resurrect Kroenen, apparently in set-up for a third chapter.

All of this is to say, frankly, there's so much incident packed into this episode that any issues you may have had with the first film's pacing will surely be forgotten. This is a bigger story, on a more epic canvas, but the intimate, intense heart still beats bright red.

I think Hellboy 2 stands every chance of being far, far better than the first film - which, to be clear, I loved, particularly in its longer cut. The same character abounds, despite the upshift in scale, and the essential elements are all intact. I contemplated giving you some of Hellboy's best wisecracks - his insults and cruel names for Johann Kraus are often laugh out loud funny on the page - but there's no way the typed word will do them justice the way Ron Perlman will.

This is what adventure films should be like and, perversely, Neil Gaiman is really the last filmmaker who needs to be taking notes.

[EDIT: And (spoiler alert still standing) how did I forget to mention that the very explicit homage to American Werewolf in London is followed directly by a tribute to Q, The Winged Serpent? It was one of the sweetest moments in the whole script]


Johnny B said...

Biggest problem I had with the first Hellboy movie was the idiotic idea to have HB develop that puppy-love crush on Liz Sherman, a situation which does not exist in the comics. I still can't believe Mignola let that slide.

Unfortunately, looks like the sequel isn't going to let it be forgotten, either.

Not promising, for me at least.

Brendon said...

This is no puppy-love situation.

I believe Mignola let it go because, actually, its not a bad thing. Not the same as the comics, sure, but I don't know why you'd think the idea is idiotic.

Like most things in 2, as compared to 1, the Hellboy-Liz relationship is more interesting this time around.

Harmen said...

Hmmm, i actually found that the love relationship in the first HB fleshed out the character of Hellboy more. It also helped to bring the theme of the film up front. If that's going to be continued in part 2 than i'm in.

Oh and besides, if you watch the Hellboy extras on the DVD, Mignola states that he thought that the love relationship was a briljant idea.

quelonio said...

I wonder if someone will use spare mechanical parts of the Golden Army to rebuild Kroenen.
Perhaps resembling the Black Flame?

That would be pretty awesome.

Mr. Name said...

I liked the Liz/HB love story in the first movie. A big theme of that film was that who you are isn't determined by the size of your horns, but rather by the way you interact with the world around you. So having a very natural, believable love story in the movie really helped emphasize the inherent humanity of Hellboy.

This next movie is sounding awesome.