Directors: Phil Weinstein, Tad Stones
Cast: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Peri Gilpin, Dee Bradley Baker, Phil Lamarr
Watch Hellboy Animated – Sword of Storms online in the UK: Amazon Prime / Prime Video (Buy/Rent)
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Co-directed by Phil Weinstein and Tad Stones, Hellboy: Sword of Storms is the first of two Hellboy Animated movies that were made by Starz Media, Revolution Studios and Film Roman, with the approval of creator Mike Mignola and director Guillermo del Toro, who made the 2004 live-action Hellboy movie. To that end, Sword of Storms can be seen as a sequel of sorts to the first film, especially since co-stars Ron Perlman and Selma Blair provide the voices for their characters.
The story comes from Mignola and Tad Stones (who wrote the screenplay with Matt Wayne) and sees Hellboy (Ron Perlman) transported to an alternate dimension that’s reminiscent of ancient Japan, where he comes into contact with an artefact known as the Sword of Storms. It transpires that the sword is possessed by two Japanese demons, Thunder and Lightning, who have taken control of the body of a Japanese professor and intend to destroy the world with an invasion of dragon-like creatures.
While Hellboy battles a series of Yokai (Japanese monsters and spirits) in this dimension, Professor Kate Corrigan (Peri Gilpin) attempts to unravel the history of the Sword of Storms in present-day Japan. Meanwhile, Hellboy’s BPRD colleagues Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, who played but didn’t voice the character in the live-action Hellboy) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) have their hands full when they’re called upon to battle a sea-dragon as the creature invasion begins.
Sword of Storms’ biggest asset is the voice cast. Perlman had already proved himself the definitive Hellboy, so it’s immensely pleasing to have him voicing the character here, and he perfectly captures the same gruff, world-weary attitude he brought to his live-action performance. Similarly, Peri Gilpin’s distinctive voice is a perfect fit for Kate Corrigan (a character from the comics), to the point where you feel sad that she never got to play her in a live-action film.
That said, while it’s nice that Jones gets to voice Abe after playing the physical character, his voice work is a little disappointing, which perhaps explains why David Hyde-Pierce returned to voice the role in the second animated movie. On a similar note, Selma Blair puts in the bare minimum of effort to her vocal performance, with the result that you can’t really tell it’s her doing it, which defeats the purpose somewhat.
The film’s other strong point is its inventive coterie of monsters, beginning with a fun introduction for Hellboy when he’s first seen riding a giant zombie bat before punching it in the face. The other creatures in the film are commendably (and appropriately) faithful to Japanese folklore, if you like that sort of thing – notable beasties include a giant spider and a large frog with a cup of water on his head, something that wouldn’t be out of place in a Miyazaki film. (In a lovely little nod to the source material, a fight with fiery flying heads is directly lifted from the short comics story Heads, from the graphic novel compilation The Chained Coffin and Other Stories.)
Sadly, the rest of the film isn’t entirely without flaws. For one thing, the story and dialogue are both a little dull, with the fight scenes lacking invention and frequently feeling repetitive. Moreover, the film never quite establishes a sufficient sense of peril, despite the apparent threat of world invasion. The non-specific location of the sea-dragon fight is partly to blame for that. It also doesn’t help that Thunder and Lightning lack personality and even the possessed professor, while visually interesting (he looks like a Peter Lorre version of Mister Hyde) is disappointingly dull in the dialogue department.
As for the animation itself, the backgrounds are impressive, giving a detailed look and feel to the Japanese realm sequences, but the character work on the supporting cast lacks Mignola’s distinctive touch, with Liz in particular looking like she just stepped out of a Kim Possible cartoon.
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