Review: ‘Hellboy II: The Golden Army’

The Hellboy sequel takes the ensemble cast in a new direction, but no matter how fantastic the foes are or how mystical the world becomes, what really matters is family and friends (even when you’re a freak).

Since we last left our heroes at the “non-existent” Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) have moved in together and are trying not to kill one another, while Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) has become the reluctant ear piece to the whining of BPRD bureaucrat Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) about Hellboy’s failure to follow the rules since the death of Professor Broom (John Hurt). A new threat has arisen from an exiled prince (Luke Goss) returning to lead a world of mystical creatures against the humans with an “indestructible” golden army, and only Big Red and his team (and a mysterious new guy in charge) can save us all… if they don’t kill each other first.

The blue-collar, cigar-chomping, monster-fighting, demon-of-destiny Hellboy knows he has a job to do, but the people who keep bringing up that whole “destruction of mankind” thing really piss him off. Director Guillermo del Toro was given more free reign this time around to depart from the exiting canon of creator Mike Mignola’s comic book version of “Hellboy” and take the story in his own direction (you’ll see). But what sets Hellboy apart from your typical super hero movie is the lack of internalized hype; rather than show these characters as iconic (like Batman about to base jump from a Chicago skyscraper), these are people with jobs who just want to go about their business when the day (or night) is a done: find love, settle down, raise brats, whatever.

Following his success with Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro’s imagination for monster creation was in overdrive for this film. Moving away from the Lovecraft-inspired critters of the original feature, the closest it could be compared with would be The Dark Crystal, with “golden army” warriors hulking like Garthim and the pale, wide-eyed elf-like royalty looking like Gelflings. The troll’s market scene looks like it could have been staged by Jim Henson himself, taken up a notch by del Toro’s more twisted, darker notions (Labyrinth, anyone?) Fans will enjoy the bits of humor del Toro has seeded Hellboy’s world with, but some of it might push those on the fence of believability off on the absurd side.

The villains in Hellboy’s world want to be bigger than life (often literally), like Luke Goss’s Prince Nuada. Introduced as a capable fighter ready to die for his cause, Nuada sees himself justified and takes himself way too seriously. As in life, this character-driven story comes down to choices: who lives, who dies, and consequences be damned. The Golden Army is an improved sequel over the original film, able to build upon the foundation of the first feature and finally put Hellboy in real mortal danger (something sorely missing from the original). Here’s hoping for a great box office turnout so we can see the trilogy play out; there’s still too many unanswered questions remaining to leave it here.

(a three skull recommendation out of four)

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