In Cartoon Network’s movie Hellboy: Sword of Storms, the red demon with a heart of gold is called to the land of the rising sun in an animated adventure that offers a satisfying, but not quite thrilling blend of action, paranormal eeriness and dry humor.
When Japanese Prof. Sakai reads an ancient scroll, he becomes possessed by the twin demons of Thunder and Lightning who want to use him to break free of their imprisonment in an enchanted sword so they can wake their brothers — the world’s dormant dragons. When Hellboy picks up a nifty sword where the prof was last seen, our hero is suddenly transported into a strange, dream-like world. There, he encounters all manner of weird Japanese ghosts and creatures that never seem to have his best interests at heart. Somehow, he must escape back to the real world without allowing the demons to take over but also coming to the aid of a lovelorn ghost lady.
What works for this latest adventure is that there aren’t any cutesy "East meets West" scenes where Hellboy struggles with chopsticks or forgets to bow. Instead, the movie shoves Hellboy straight into freaky encounters with flesh-eating floating heads, an arachnophilic lady and a strange river creature, just to name a few. Anyone who knows Japanese ghost stories and mythology will find many of these familiar, but that doesn’t make them any less disturbing or creepy.
While writers Matt Wayne and Tad Stones created some genuinely funny dialogue in the movie, most of the snappy, deadpan humor fans are expecting is missing. This is mainly because the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense teammates are separated for much of the story. While Hellboy is getting his freak on all by his lonesome, Liz and Abe are sidetracked by a plane crash and sea monster. Meanwhile, folklore expert Kate Corrigan and flaky psychic Russell Thorne are on the hunt for the missing professor.
Except for a lengthy exposition when Sakai reads the scroll, the pacing of the parallel stories is fairly brisk. The familiar characters help it along, especially since Ron Perlman and Selma Blair are reprising their roles (vocally) as Hellboy and Liz from the 2004 Guillermo del Toro feature film. Liz also gets the most character development, delving a bit into her frustration with her inability to control her powers. Instead of David Hyde Pierce, Doug Jones takes full voiceover duties for Abe Sapien this time around, while Peri Gilpin’s acting gives Kate a wry but competent attitude.
A good amount of fantasy violence satisfies the audience’s baser needs, but even though the movie is placed in the Saturday night Toonami slot, it’s still basic cable, so the action is mostly, but not entirely bloodless. There’s gunfire aplenty, lots of flaming destruction thanks to Liz, implied impalement and beheading and some good, old-fashioned pummeling.
Director Phil Weinstein does a decent job with Hellboy’s first foray into animation, keeping to Mike Mignola’s vision of a world where impossible things are reality. The overall animation look and character design is a lot looser and anime-friendly than in the comic, but thankfully isn’t sloppy like some of the other superhero projects cranked out to capitalize on the genre’s popularity.
Some real thought and love went into Sword of Storms, and it shows, which bodes well for the second animated film already in the works.