Judge Maurice Cobbs has a big black right hand that he calls the "Pimp Hand of Doom." No wonder people look at him funny.
Fox: You carry the Sword of Storms, and it has tasted the blood of demons. That is all you need to know. For now.
Hellboy: Sure? 'Cause that's just so much to absorb all at once.
Having been a fan of the great Mike Mignola for quite some time, I was delighted—though apprehensive—when news broke of a live-action Hellboy movie. Even though noted director Guillermo Del Toro was attached to the project, I wondered if they'd be able to translate the quirky charm and esoteric weirdness of the comic to film. Well, it took Del Toro six years, during which time an explosion of comic books at the movies finally made the Hellboy movie possible. And as it happens, it was worth waiting for.
Del Toro soon announced that a sequel would follow, and the waiting began anew. But at least this time, there will be some feature-length animated stories on hand to make the waiting a bit more bearable. The first of these is Hellboy: Sword of Storms, and if it's anything to judge by, the waiting this time won't be so bad after all.
Facts of the Case
Sent to Japan with Professor Kate Corrigan (Peri Gilpin, Frasier) and a Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense team, Hellboy (Ron Perlman, City of Lost Children) investigates the disappearance of a Japanese professor who has become possessed by the two terrible Oriental spirits Thunder and Lightning, vengeful demons unwittingly unleashed from the mystical scroll that imprisoned them. While on the case, Hellboy discovers the legendary Sword of Storms and accidentally transports himself to a sinister spirit realm overrun by strange mystical creatures. While Hellboy battles to find a way back to the mortal realm while keeping the Sword of Storms out of the clutches of the demons who want to use its power to free themselves, BPRD agents Liz Sherman (Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer) have their hands full with terrible storms brewing around the globe, leaving Kate and BPRD psychic Russell Thorne to figure out how to get Hellboy back home.
"You just made the newbie face."—Abe Sapien
When is a sequel not quite a sequel? When it's Hellboy: Sword of Storms, the animated semi-sequel to Guillermo Del Toro's live-action film. The cast from that well-received 2003 comic-book flick has returned, which means more of Ron Perlman as Hellboy, more Selma Blair as Liz Sherman, and Doug Jones, who provided the physical performance for Abe Sapien in the live-action film (the voice there was provided by David Hyde-Pierce), gets to become the character even further—he'll be voicing the character in Del Toro's planned sequel, as well. Even Marco Beltrami's quirky film theme takes us through the opening titles. So far so good, right? But for all the casting consistency, this film obviously doesn't follow the movie's continuity; Professor Broome is still alive (though he isn't featured in this movie, Broome will play a major part in the second animated adventure Blood and Iron), Agent Myers has thankfully disappeared from the mix (he'll also be absent in the live-action sequel), and Mignola fans will cheer at the screen debut of the comics' Kate Corrigan. Though there are clear stylistic links with Del Toro's film, this animated adventure wastes little time establishing its own identity, while also keeping some hint of Mignola's quirky visuals. (Though not quite to the degree of the Amazing Screw-On Head; in fact, the animation here seems more in the vein of Batman: the Animated Series. But maybe that's just me.)
Crafted from an original story written in part by Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Sword of Storms only occasionally misfires; some of the later scenes featuring Liz and Abe seem rather tacked-on—which is not surprising, as they were, in fact, tacked on. Originally intended as a half-hour short, the film is easily strongest when dealing with the oddball supernatural menaces Hellboy faces in his journey through the mystic realm, including a sequence taken directly from the Hellboy stories, involving, ah, disembodied floating heads. That try to eat him. Yeesh. Of course, Ron Perlman is absolutely ideal once more as Hellboy, the good-guy demon with the sandpaper-dry sense of humor, and Doug Jones is pitch-perfect as Abe Sapien, but Selma Blair seems a bit lost in all this, and doesn't seem to connect with her character as well as she did in the live-action film. Of course, there's no shortage of the sort of assorted weirdness that Hellboy fans have come to crave—the movie throws us right into the action after a brief origin recap with Red, Abe and Liz going toe-to-toe with some pretty nasty South American mummies, and over the course of the hour and seventeen minutes we get everything from demonic possession to ghostly lovers to great big honkin' monsters; looks like Red has his work cut out for him in this one. You know the drill; it's the end of the world. Again.
Where the disc really shines, though, is in the special features department; these folks have stuffed as much as possible into this package. We start off with part one of a documentary featurette called "To Hell and Back: How Mike Mignola Created Hellboy" (presumably, part two will be featured on the upcoming DVD release Hellboy: Blood and Iron); it's an in-depth look at Hellboy and Mike Mignola, featuring interviews with Ron Perlman, Guillermo Del Toro, Scott Allie and Dave Stewart (the editor and colorist of the Hellboy comics), and the man Mignola himself, that looks at not only the inspirations for the character but also delves a bit into Mignola's long career in comics. "A New Breed: Creating the New Hellboy" takes us through the process of creating this animated incarnation of Hellboy, while "Conquering Hellboy" gives Ron Perlman and the rest of the cast a forum to talk about bringing their characters to life. "Hellboy Goes East" explores the myths and inspirations behind the various supernatural menaces in Sword of Storms, and "A View From the Top" showcases one of the more disturbing sequences from the feature—a sequence taken directly from the Hellboy comics. Finally, "Keepers of Hellboy" is the 2006 ComicCon panel discussion about—you guessed it—Hellboy. We're also treated to a revealing audio commentary by Mike Mignola and directors Tad Stones and Phil Weinstein. Plus, if you slip this baby into your DVD-ROM drive, you have access to even more Hellboy goodies. All in all, the folks behind this project deserve a big hand—a big red Right Hand of Doom, that is.
Is Hellboy: Sword of Storms the greatest thing to ever happen in modern animation? Nope. Is it a fun ride with a great cast and some seriously fun weirdness and butt-kicking? Oh, yeah. So what are we left with? Choices, is what. Pick your particular flavor of Hellboy: If you didn't care for the live-action version, maybe this one will catch your interest. It's certainly different enough in tone to stand on its own, but not so different from the film that they can't compliment each other. Conversely, if you wind up not caring for this animated incarnation, maybe you'll like the next one—or you can hold out for the live-action follow-up (whiling away the hours playing the upcoming Hellboy videogame, of course). If it helps, think of this animated adventure the way you might think of a graphic novel or one-shot comic—it's a quick bit of fun, but there's no reason to tie yourself to it. Indeed, since the tone is a bit lighter than the film—I almost hesitate to use the term "cartoony," but it actually applies here. It's definitely a bit more, shall we say, "kid-friendly" than the film—or the comics, for that matter, despite the very mildest use of profanity here and there, mostly for comic effect. Damn heads.
Trust me. There's no upside to cutting the undead any slack.
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