Kevin's Review: Hellboy II: The Golden Army - Hell Yeah!
by Kevin Powers
July 10, 2008
Even though Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) have the complementary hot and hell dynamic going for them, I'm not sure anyone can pull off superhero bonding between a red-skinned, cat-loving demon and a snarky gal that can, literally, "get fired up." Not even Guillermo del Toro. Yet despite the prominence the gifted director gives the troubled storyline in Hellboy II: The Golden Army, the film still manages to be a hot one. The follow-up to the 2004 original, Hellboy II is not an exercise in unconventional relationships (ala Wall-E) so much as it is a wonderful two-hour excursion into the mind and imagination of del Toro. Never have I so readily pushed aside plot as I have with Hellboy II, given the extraordinary scale and creative creatures. Unlike The Incredible Hulk or Iron Man before it (and The Dark Knight on the horizon), Hellboy II doesn't take itself very seriously and instead comes across as one of the most fun, pure genre experiences out there.
It's impressive that we're even talking about a sequel. In 2004, Sony just about broke even with the original Hellboy. Studios don't exactly foam at the mouth to follow lackluster performance like this. Enter Pan's Labyrinth in 2006. The award-winning film gave del Toro enough commercial clout to run with the $85 million sequel, bringing "Red" back to the big screen. And we can be grateful. Hellboy II immerses us in a dizzying array of monsters and imaginations that amount to some of del Toro's best work yet. The details are so overwhelming, in fact, at one point I completely lost track of where I was in both plot and scene.
Granted, that could have been due to the plot being far less stimulating than del Toro's creatures. A good portion of Hellboy II follows the smoldering relationship of the cigar-chomping demon and the combustible Liz. This storyline wanders and tires, but given it's campy nature, it's pretty easy to laugh it off and just marvel at the rich world del Toro has brought to life. Helping to massage the corny moments is also some well-suited comedy, a trademark of the Hellboy experience. The central plot, however, is far more engrossing and truly where the director sets fire to his ideas.
Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is the elf prince of the "Sons of the Earth" who have long held a peaceful accord with the human race. Taking a cue from Magneto in the X-Men series (many similar inspirations are readily seen in Hellboy II), the Prince envisions a coming battle between the races and resents humans for ruling Earth while the elves and fellow creatures are relegated to the shadows of society. The truce between the races was defined ages ago when the elves fought back against the humans using the Golden Army, a mechanical force that devastatingly crushed the elves' opponents. Its power too great and its killing too callous, the army was retired and the device that controlled it, a golden crown, was broken into three pieces, two going to the elves and one to the humans. Prince Nuada seeks to collect the pieces and resurrect the Golden Army. Hellboy, accompanied by Liz, water-loving Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and a new "guy" Johann Kraus (he's actually a gaseous cloud contained in a suit, voiced by "Family Guy's" Seth MacFarlane), along with a full complement of human team members from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, stand in the Prince's way.
Del Toro's spectrum of exotic creatures that appear throughout the battle for the crown is quite simply amazing -- nefarious "tooth fairies" that feed on bone and teeth, an iron-fisted leviathan named Mr. Wink, an unassuming green bean that transforms into the most pissed off beanstalk you've ever seen, pale-faced elves with wood-like complexions, and so much more. These characters aren't just fun to look at, their battles are rendered with surprising deftness and action, especially when it comes the highly acrobatic Goss as the hell-bent Prince. It's a wonder how the director accomplished it all for only $85 million (fairly conservative for Hollywood). I guess del Toro's response is pretty telling: "[Hellboy II] was hard as fuck."
You can't go into Hellboy II wanting a deep or particularly dramatic experience. Even though the film leverages del Toro's work on Pan's Labyrinth (the film's tagline reads: "From the visionary director of…"), Hellboy II steers far away from a particularly compelling story, instead presenting an imaginative visual narrative that epitomizes the director's fun, freaky genius for monsters. You can't exactly expect Shakespeare from the creatures that go bump in the night.