When I finished watching Hellboy II: The Golden Army, I felt something was wrong. I sat there searching my head for what didn’t work about the movie and couldn’t put my finger on it. I thought about it all the way home and couldn’t figure out why I didn’t really connect with the sequel to a movie I loved by one of my favorite filmmakers working today.
Looking back, I think my problem with the film was a complicated one. Leading up to the opening weekend of Hellboy II, I watched a few of Del Toro’s classic flicks, from the disappointing Mimic to the wonderful Pan’s Labyrinth. I think that is why I could not enjoy Hellboy II as much as the people I was watching it with. I raised my expectations too high for a movie about a Big Red Demon to ever hope to reach.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army began in a very similar fashion to Pan’s Labyrinth. It starts with a flashback to Hellboy’s childhood as Professor Bruttenholm tells a bedtime story about the infamous Golden Army. The Golden Army, a group of indestructible robotic monsters, was built to lead the mythical creatures to a devastating victory over humans many years ago. After witnessing the bloody aftermath of the battle, King Balor shut the monsters down and took the crown that controlled them, splitting it into three parts, sending one to the humans and keeping the other two in his possession.
Unfortunately, once this very interesting opening concludes, the movie never really delivers on the story promised.
There are a number of various storylines Del Toro attempts to follow and what results is a jumbled movie that never plants its foot to focus on any to satisfaction. Hellboy’s character arc finds him searching for what is more important in his life, his love for Liz Sherman or his need for public acceptance. What makes this storyline so disappointing is Liz, just as with the first movie, is a paper thin character. She has a very interesting secret she is hiding, but she is still the most boring character in the film. Pairing up with the spectacular Hellboy makes this an even more glaring problem.
The true highlight of the film is the increased screen time of Abe Sapien. Doug Jones, who portrayed Sapien in the first movie, was given the honor of actually voicing him this time around. David Hyde Pierce (Niles from Frasier) voiced him in the first movie but Jones, following his great physical performance in not only Hellboy, but also in the second Fantastic Four film (The Silver Surfer) and Pan’s Labyrinth (Fauno and The Pale Man), was finally thrown a bone by his beloved director. He took that bone and ran. It was a fantastic performance and almost stole the film.
Sapien is given a love interest in Princess Nuala, the daughter of the king from the opening narration. This poses a problem because it is Nuala’s twin brother, Prince Nuada, who returns from exile intent on reviving the Golden Army and declaring war on the human race.
It is the motivation of Prince Nuada which helps the story rise above the plot of the first movie.
The humans have done everything possible to destroy the world they have been given. Nuada sees the devastation that we have inflicted on our planet and decides it is time for the creatures of the underworld to rise up and reclaim what was once theirs. The mythical creatures are not evil, only different, and while Nuada and his henchman Wink are very much evil, they fight for their cause, which is righteous to them. There is a point in the movie where Nuada tells Hellboy the humans will turn on him and this prediction becomes reality. This is a movie where there are two sides to the demons, good and evil, but there is really only one side to the humans, and that is a persona of greed and control. Nuada is the bad guy, but it is we who are the ultimate evil.
One character that has been given lots of praise in this sequel is the new character of Johann Kraus, but with the exception of one scene where he confronts Hellboy in a locker room, he is more annoying than interesting. He is truly a laughable character and can’t be taken seriously. I can’t see any redeeming qualities with this Robbie the Robot wanna-be.
That is the one true flaw in Hellboy II. It is a fantastical adventure story with one of the most unique “heroes” out there today. But at its heart, Del Toro has created a comedy. Between the conflict of superiority between Hellboy and Johann and the odd couple pairing of Abe Sapien and Hellboy, as they get drunk on Tecate and moon over their girls, there is almost more to laugh at than to be thrilled by. Don’t get me started on the use of the Barry Manilow song “I Can’t Smile Without You.” Played twice, it first brought one of the biggest laughs of the movie and then the second time caused the biggest eye roll scene of the movie. It is obvious Del Toro was having a blast making this film, but the comedy just seemed out of place and forced at times.
I am being unfairly harsh on the movie. I mentioned up top about my inflated expectations. Hellboy II is nowhere near as good as Pan’s Labyrinth (which is an unfair comparison) but also doesn’t reach the level of the first movie either. What it has going for it is playing fast and loose, not needing to worry about character introductions outside the opening sequence, and just flying all over the radar. The CGI is amazing and the creatures in this movie dwarf anything we saw in the original movie. The tooth fairies were genius, the Angel of Death was reminiscent of Pan’s Labyrinth and Troll Alley was like a scene straight out of the Star Wars cantina sequence mixed with a little of Diagon Alley from the Harry Potter series. The creatures are brilliant and I am very excited to see what Del Toro will do with the Hobbit after seeing this movie.
Both Ron Perlman and Doug Jones were on the top of their game and the movie is fun enough to make anyone watching it smile. Luke Goss is also perfect in his role as Prince Nuada and the fight scenes are a sight to behold. I suppose Del Toro needed something like this to rejuvenate himself after the grueling shoot of Pan’s Labyrinth, but I feel it was a pretty big step down for the filmmaker. It is big, dumb fun but never reaches the level of the superhero movies that came before (Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk) and will probably be lost in the shuffle when the next one hits (The Dark Knight). It is a fun summer movie, but with the bar that both Del Toro set as well as that of the superhero genre in general, it was a letdown.
I was hoping for so much more.