Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Mexican director Guillermo del Toro has been a keen student of fantasy.  Carefully nurturing tales as vast as Blade 2 to his recent Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro has shown an elusive talent for successfully combining action with fantastical mythology.  Bringing the visual excitement of comic books to screens, his uninhibited imagination have made his films required viewing. Picking up from 2004’s Hellboy, the sequel finds his gift for creative ideas is still potent. 
Due to a pact made centuries ago between humans and creatures, both species have lived in harmony. Splitting up a magical crown controlling an invincible golden army, the King of the Elves bequeathed peace on earth.  Opposed to this stance was his son Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) who determines to rule the planet with this fabled army.  Placed in charge to stop him are the covert agents of the paranormal, including demonic Hellboy (Ron Perlman).  Battling against an assortment of colourful trolls and goblins, the cigar chomping Hellboy attempts to fight the tide against a potential supernatural armageddon.
Hellboy 2 is a fine example of fantasy craftsmanship.  Revelling in a world full of weird monsters, del Toro creates a visually sumptuous fairy tale mirroring the surrealist dreamscapes of painter Salvador Dali.  Unlike some directors who just use monsters for grotesque scenery, del Toro ensures they serve an important relevancy.  The well written screenplay builds upon each scene in a thoughtful way making the most absurd events seem plausible.  Whilst there is a constant dark dramatis overall, there are moments of genuine levity enabling the heroes to appear more human than the people they protect.  Most of the credit goes to the actors, who under mountains of make-up, make their characters come alive with charm and pathos.
Although big on expanse the film wisely uses a small group of actors to tell its tale.  This allows for more personal moments between characters which forms a solid emotional nucleus to events.  Ron Perlman gives an excellent performance with his roguish Hellboy showing a lot of heart beneath his giant physique.  A long way from his days with 80s boy band Bros, Luke Goss projects true menace as the wicked Prince.  The CGI and cinematography are fantastic with every frame capturing the feel of Hellboy’s comic book origins.  The story is generally better than the first as its otherworldly elements are more suited than the first’s human adversaries.  The soundtrack effectively adds to the mayhem, with even the use of a dodgy Barry Manilow song working to show that monsters from hell can indulge in kitsch!
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a well developed and lovingly rendered action fantasy.  Reminiscent of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy, it’s no surprise that del Toro’s next project is directing The Hobbit prequels.  Given the evidence of this film and previous works, it seems that Middle Earth will be in the very safe hands of an astute and talented film-maker.
Rating out of 10:  8

The Edge of Love

Writers can sometimes be genuine enigmas.  Hiding behind words their inner thoughts can be difficult to gauge amidst their dulcet prose.  Perhaps this is why movies about them have been somewhat hit and miss as the screenplay is forced to project a mind-set it knows nothing about.  The Edge of Love delves into a supposed interlude in Welsh poet’s Dylan Thomas’ life where in a time of war his volatile love life exploded with emotional ferocity.
Singer Vera Phillips (Keira Knightley) performs each night in a London underground station during the early days of World War 2.  Entering a bar after one show, she is surprised to meet former flame Dylan Thomas (Matthew Rhys).  Enraptured with each other once again, even his wife Caitlin (Sienna Miller) cannot dim their desires.  Into this mix arrives soldier William Killick (Cillian Murphy) who falls for Vera and marries her.  When William is sent to war, Vera’s newly formed friendship with Caitlin is threatened by Thomas’s presence bringing a surprising change for both women.
Director John Maybury delivers a somewhat un-involving love story exploring the adage that fact is the natural enemy of belief. Less a story about Dylan Thomas, who comes across as being a selfishly unpleasant man, the film seems more interested in its female dynamics.  Not only do they share Dylan’s love, but also the same personalities which help them see through the many tribulations to come.  The setting of the Blitz brings an element of danger to the group, as William’s arrival back home signals a climax to their pressure cooker existence.  Thomas’s refusal to let go of the shadows of past loves shows someone unwilling to acknowledge time has moved on to the detriment of his family.
The cavalier attitude Thomas shows in his relationships appears to reflect the film overall.  Whilst moments are certainly intriguing, the movie doesn’t quite gel.  The character of Dylan Thomas is the main problem as the screenplay never fully connects with the demons obviously driving him.  This in turn leads to the question as to why the women would fall for someone like him as both ladies are very confident in their own skin.  The actors involved are very good, it’s just that once again it seems the fictionalisation of a real person’s life doesn’t fully grab their true personality.  The soundtrack and terrific cinematography give the film a glossy lushness, with some startling imagery papering some of the holes in the script.
Far from perfect, The Edge of Love at least provides an interesting look at how war can change the status quo in relationships.  The great acting ensemble elevate proceedings with the characterisation giving the story some potent realism.  Whether Thomas was as hard as shown here, it perhaps proves a point that films can never compensate for an author’s words on the written page.
Rating out of 10:  6