Sunday, July 3, 2011

Compound Geekery Film Fest! "Hellboy: Sword of Storms"

Animation again!

This one probably gets overshadowed by the two live-action Hellboy movies but that's a shame because Hellboy: Sword of Storms is really GOOD!

Let's jump right in, shall we?

The Plot: Hellboy is sent to Japan with B.P.R.D. (that's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense) agent Kate Corrigan to investigate when strange events appear to surround a Japanese professor of folklore. The two get much more than they bargain for when the folklorist proves to be possessed by the demons Thunder and Lightning. As if that were not enough, Hellboy finds himself the bearer of the enchanted sword which can free Thunder and Lightning from their imprisonment. And this would be a bad thing as not only are Thunder and Lightning ticked off enough to want to bring some serious destruction on the Earth they also will awaken their "brothers" -- seven dragons sleeping across the globe.

Hellboy finds himself transported into a mystical realm populated with beings from Japanese mythology and folklore (and most of them hostile) while Kate and another B.P.R.D. agent try to track down the possessed folklorist. Now Hellboy must find a way back to reality without freeing the demons but if he fails... all hell is gonna break loose.

My Take: This 2006 direct-to-DVD offering is, quite simply, awesome. While it followed up the modest success of the first Hellboy live action movie it is NOT a continuation of the live-action movie's continuity. Writer/artist/Hellboy creator Mike Mignola once said that there are basically three continuities -- the continuity of the comic book series, the continuity of the live action movie and the continuity of the animated movies. There are things that all three share in common but they do not overlap. And, me, personally, I don't have a problem with this. I read the comic book series' and I own the animated movies and I've seen and own the live action movies as well. All of them bring something different to the plate.

Between the live action movies and the animated ones, though, I have to say that the animated Hellboy movies are *closest* to the comic books.

But focusing on THIS movie... One thing that Sword of Storms has going for it is that Hellboy creator (and writer and artist) Mike Mignola wrote the story for the film along with Tad Stones who has an extensive history of executive producing a lot of popular animated TV shows -- including many from Walt Disney. Stones, along with Matt Wayne then adapted the story into a screenplay. This kind of collaboration has left the film feeling like a cohesive whole as well as being really true to the characters.

As I mentioned, this film pulls more from the comics than from the live action movies although the voice cast is nearly the same as the movie cast -- Ron Perlman is Hellboy and Selma Blair voices Liz Sherman but, in a departure from the first film, actor Doug Jones -- who played Abe Sapien in the first film only physically while the voice was provided by actor David Hyde Pierce -- now is given the chance o voice Abe Sapien. The movie cast is also joined by Peri Gillpen who gives voice to Kate Corrigan. All of the actors, despite most being more used to being in front of a camera than a microphone, do an excellent job with the script -- although it should be said that Selma Blair's performance is perhaps a bit *too* low key but not enough to be distracting.

The story is not only deeply interesting, everything in it works and works well. The Japanese setting and use of Japanese figures from mythology and folklore make this film stand above the usual supernatural fare of vampires, werewolves and zombies (although there is an opening gambit with some zombies... but at least they're ancient Mayan zombies enslaved to a bat-god so that makes them a little different. And how often do you get to type the phrase "ancient Mayan zombies enslaved to a bat-god"?). The animators also do a good job with this -- keeping their own, stylistic look for the film while at the same time adding traditional Japanese art influences. The script also really allows for some nice characterizations -- something that often gets overlooked in animation for favor of slam-bang action. Here little touches and simple lines of dialogue tell the audience of how the B.P.R.D. as a whole is more like a family (and for those familiar with the movies, don't expect to see Hellboy and Liz's romance reflected here. The animation is a different world with Liz, Abe and Hellboy being more like two older brothers to Liz) and how, in many ways, the extraordinary is so much a part of their daily life that it becomes the ordinary. Take, for example, the scene in B.P.R.D. headquarters when it is revealed that they can't find Hellboy's tracking signal anywhere on Earth. Abe and Liz shrug it off as "Again?" and other agents start reeling off lists of times Hellboy has disappeared off the planet on one mission or another. It's a hilarious scene made all the more so by how blase everyone involved is about the situation. All this is not to say that there isn't any slam-bang action because there is plenty of that as well. Hellboy fights his way past various threats in his usual wisecracking, bashing style. The film runs an hour and twenty minutes but feels full and satisfying for that.

As a warning the film has a PG-13 rating and there is a bit of blood and a couple of mild swear words but, honestly, there's actually less swearing and less blood here than the previously reviewed Justice League: New Frontier.

If you love supernatural action-adventure stories with both humor and heart then there is no way you can go wrong with Hellboy: Sword of Storms. Trust me and check this one out.

P.S., if anyone is a fan of or familiar with the Hellboy comics Sword of Storms also manages to seemlessly incorporate the fan-favorite Hellboy short comic "Heads" into the overall movie story. The animators do an astoundingly good job at translating the story from the page to the screen and it's delight to get to see an actual adaptation of one of the comic book stories.

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