R3view: Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Hellboy II poster

Director: Guillermo del Toro (Mimic, Hellboy I, Blade II, Pan’s Labyrinth)
Screenplay: Guillermo del Toro
Based on a Comic Book by: Mike Mignola
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Mike Richardson, Joe Roth
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, John Alexander, James Dodd, Seth MacFarlane (voice)
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Running time: 110 min


Guillermo Del Toro has always been somewhat of a delight around here. So we walk into Hellboy II: The Golden Army with much excitement and anticipation. Nearly the entire Row Three crew weighed in on this one. And you might just be surprised who the single nay-sayer is.

Synopsis: (IMDb) The mythical world starts a rebellion against humanity in order to rule the Earth, so as Hellboy and his team returns they must save the world from the rebellious creatures. Now, as the creatures who inhabit the spiritual realm gear-up for an all out attack on the human plane, the only one capable of saving the Earth is a tough talking hell-spawn rejected by both worlds.

Read all of our reviews below…


Kurt:

“Protecting our world from things that go bump in the night” is a line used to describe Hellboy and the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense (PBRD) that keep the occult and cthulu at bay for the world to simply cease to remember. Guillermo del Toro knows a thing or two about envisioning real horror (usually of the Catholic flavoured kind) up on screen, particularly in his Spanish language films, but also in the underrated bugs-in-the-sewers film Mimic. It is curious then that the Hellboy franchise (thus far at two entries, although I expect a few more to come along) favours more of a fantasy bent. Hellboy II is not particularly scary or tense, but rather like J. R. R. Tolkien‘s Lord of the Rings (or Steve Barron‘s Merlin), woven through with camaraderie and a melancholy for something the world is losing piece by piece. The reading in the middle of the film of Lord Tennyson‘s poem, In Memorium coupled with the auctioning away of Pagan artifacts at a Soothbys-esque auction and a few of the choices Big Red is forced to make (or witness) cements this concept harder than Hellboys rock-fist. This is a curious amalgamation for the goofy smart aleck-ness of Ron Perlman‘s (the actor is spot on as always) take on Hellboy and his relationship with the ‘Men In Black‘ for which he grudgingly co-exists. The humour, twin love stories, large action beats and domestic matters are blended like free-form jazz (highlights are a duel between Hellboy and Prince Nuada (Blade II‘s Luke Goss all simmering intensity). Considering the time and money spent on the film, it is rare to have this fast-and-loose vibe going for it: I was not complaining too much (see below). And Del Toro does not aim to make film scary (like the superior Pan’s Labyrinth) but he amps the wonder-factor of the film by the sheer volume of interesting denizens of the underworld. His troll market under the Brooklyn Bridge is the 21st century equivalent of George Lucas‘s space-port ‘hive of scum an villainy’ and bless him for realizing it in such a tactile manner on screen, a brilliant blending of CGI and make-up effects. But back to the point at hand. The mourning of the loss of wonder, inevitably subsumed by modernity, science (and perhaps even Christianity, just as it drove out the druids and other pagan oddities as it took over the western world) and forgotten or sneered at by the human urban denizens (well that is until thousands of freaky spider-like insects start eating them alive) by the very filmmaker that is best at putting the on screen we have today is more than a bit unsettling. If the modern blockbuster slowly is eroding its audience of any sense of wonder than the BPRD equivalent looking out for us is likely Guillermo Del Toro, Brad Bird, Julie Taymour and Tarsem Singh whist Steven Spielberg (a combination of John Hurt and Jeffrey Tambor‘s father figures).

One wonders if the big red-headed Mexican director would have been the more correct choice for doing Lord of the Rings (as much as I love Peter Jackson‘s trilogy, I am willing to bet that Del Toro‘s would have been better, somehow) rather than his upcoming gig of the less serious and grand The Hobbit. That of course is a whole different conversation.

Hellboy II mildly suffers from similar uninspired plotting as the first one. The story serves to get the actors from on set-piece to the next, with character stuff plugging the gaps. You do not want to think about the logic of the FBI or the story too much, it’ll make your head hurt. But Del Toro has always functioned best with what is up on screen visually and emotional themes. Hellboy II more than makes up for its familiar and weak plotting with solid action set-pieces (the wire-fu choreography is up to spec with contemporary Chinese wuxia films), goofy charm and enough visual chops to keep the magic lantern running for damn near perpetuity. The visual delights are legion, from the CGI-puppetry of the prologue (see also the Danish film Strings), to the above mentioned troll market, to the magnificent realization of a forest god (shades of Hiyao Miyazaki‘s Mononke Hime finale) to the titular Golden Army which are a menacing marvel of complicated clockwork.

“See You Next Wednesday”



John:

It is quite possible to create magic when crafting a movie and Guillermo del Toro has proven in the past that he is a master when it comes to imaginative characters and settings. Pan’s Labyrinth is the quintessential fairy tale that had me mesmerized completely. Hellboy II: The Golden Army wants to do this also but it also strives to be mainstream and this is where the movie fails. Do not get me wrong, Hellboy II is a better than average blockbuster and del Toro is able to create a sense of wonder in many of the movie’s moments but it also falls back on an uninspired plot with characters that are either under developed or that just make strange decisions and cheesy humour.

Right off the bat I knew that I was going to be somewhat disappointed in HBII. I stayed away from re-watching just so I could go in without too high of expectations. Perhaps I was wrong to do so. If I had re-watched the original I would have lowered them actually. I was still coming off a high from Pan’s Labyrinth even though it has been a year and half. When the movie opens we get the history of the Golden Army in the form of John Hurt telling a bedtime story to Hellboy. The way the story is recreated using wooden art figures is truly beautiful to watch and the opening really pumped me up for the rest of the movie. Unfortunately we are taken to the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defense right after and we are presented with several sight gags while Hellboy and Tom Manning discuss the need for Hellboy to be hidden. The ongoing gags only take away from the discussion between the two characters and really should have been cut out.

A second problem that HBII suffers from is the way some of the characters act. A fair amount of the movie is made up of angst over being different from the normal people and not being accepted. In the battle when Prince Nuada releases the Elemental God against HB he stands high over Hellboy questioning him about the fact that no one accepts him and that in order to save those who hate him he has to destroy a one of a kind being. The character of Nuada at this point fell apart for me. If Nuada was truly worried about preserving this one of a kind being he should not have summoned it up into a battle. Even with this complaint though, the battle between Hellboy and the Elemental has one of the most dramatic and gorgeous conclusions of any battle in film.

Also introduced in HBII is the character of Johann Strauss. Strauss is the antithesis of the Hellboy in that he believes in the chain of command. A great effort is made to show just how he is the opposite and the character is quite interesting which makes it all the more frustrating when he makes acts as he does near the end of the HBII. More time should have been given to Strauss in order to justify his characters shift.

Overall, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a stunning movie that highlights del Toro’s wonderful imagination but it really is hurt by its need to fit into the standard blockbuster formula. With the financial success that HBII, it is pretty much a guaranteed thing that there will be a Hellboy III in our future as the story pretty much calls for it. I am looking forward to it but I believe it will suffer the same flaw. Del Toro needs more freedom for his creativity than what summer blockbusters will allow.



Jonathan:

First things first – is Guillermo del Toro the most imaginative living filmmaker on the planet? A darker, more twisted Jim Henson perhaps? As I saw each new creature that undoubtedly came straight from the depths of his sketchbook and his visionary mind (as all the previews enjoyed putting it), I couldn’t help but wonder this. I cannot even begin to fathom how one’s mind could think up such things, which really just kept me in awe.

With that said, Hellboy II: The Goldern Army is just plain awesome. It ups the ante from the first one quite a bit. The action scenes are more complex, the effects better, the monsters bigger, and the consequences more dire. While I can’t say that it’s a much better movie than the first one – a movie I’m very fond of – it is one that is surely on the same level.

Ron Perlman is a man I’ve always been fond of (I’m a huge devotee of The City of Lost Children) and just as with the first movie, he creates one of the most interesting, likable superheros out there. He’s both badass and a huge child and the film balances both sides of him perfectly. Honestly… move over Spider-Man, back off Wolverine, hey, even you get out of my way Tony Stark (forgive me RDJ), but I’ll take more Hellboy goodness (with Ron Perlman under the makeup, of course) any day.

It’s not without flaws. It’s a little sillier than the first. Some of the reasoning behind some of the actions the characters make is questionable. Hell, sometimes it even feels as if del Toro is just showing off how creative and cool he is (which I didn’t mind one bit, let me add). Really though, in the end, I can look behind it all and see a fun, refreshing, unique tale of misfit superheros with one fantasticly badass hero. At the risk of sounding like every other critics gushing over this, the movie has magic.

I’m going to leave it at that. I’m running on two hours of sleep and when I’m tired I tend to gush.Just experience this one yourself and keep an open mind. Here’s to del Toro doing one more and being one of the few filmmakers that can create trilogy with all three great films.



Marina:

During a summer that has outnumbered the rest in sheer number of superheroes, it is hard to imagine anything could beat the critical darling that was Iron Man (our review). Sure it was fun, well reviewed with a charismatic lead but it lacked something Guillermo del Toro’s superhero has in spades: heart.

Though around these parts only generally considered mediocre, I thoroughly loved Hellboy. Seeing it again last week in “preparation”, I came to appreciate it even more for all its gloriously small moments that, at the hands of many a director, would have been seen as cheesy – namely the love story that surrounds the entire movie and is the cause of many a dramatic moment. With a bigger budget and more fervent expectation, I had expected that for his second turn at the superhero, del Toro would take the easy route and simply turn up the ampage and give us more of the same with a few extra fight sequences thrown in to keep the studio types happy. Thankfully, del Toro isn’t one to do anything half-assed and the outcome called Hellboy II: The Golden Army is nothing short of spectacular.

Yes, it’s bigger: the action sequences are larger and longer, the special effects are dazzling and the costumes are gorgeous but above all, the story is both more intimate and grander. This time around del Toro is even more concerned with the personal lives of the characters which he wonderfully marries into the main tension of the film and the result is an epic romance with Hellboy and crew stuck in the middle trying to keep both sides happy to save humanity. Fairly typical superhero stuff but what comes completely unexpected from del Toro is the amount of comedy throughout the film. If the character of Hellboy was as well known and loved as Spiderman, I could see this film compared to Spiderman 3 and particularly the much maligned Peter Parker dance scene – here we have a dance scene that runs for over an hour and I loved every single second of it.

At the moment, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is happily sitting at the top of my summer of superheroes and I doubt it will be kicked off, even by The Dark Knight. I expect to thoroughly enjoy Nolan’s vision, but I expect I won’t have nearly as much fun as I had watching this.



Andrew:

Minus 50 huge points right off the bat for no David Hyde Pierce. The second Abe Sapian spoke, Hellboy II was already in the minus category. I was let down immediately and it’s tough to get me back. And neat-o golden army wasn’t enough to get me back.

Having watched Hellboy I the night before as a refresher course, I can say pretty assuredly that this newest one does not exceed the first. Instead of dark and wicked, Del Toro decided to go for funny and silly. The humor was completely lost on me and didn’t work at all. It pissed me off even more when the audience is laughing hysterically at Hellboy and “Fishstick’s” ‘drunk and singing’ routine. My friend and I looked at each other and just shrugged. Perhaps if I was 12 years old. Was it absolutely necessary to show Bride of Frankenstein playing on the television? It reminded me of the ridiculousness of Hancock’s character carrying around his ticket stubs for Frankenstein.

The one thing going for Hellboy II is the usual cool characters Del Toro comes up with. Along with plenty of CGI, there is plenty of room yet in his book for puppets and make-up. All of the side characters were particularly interesting looking. The main villain turns out not to be quite as bad-ass as he first appears, but he does have some really great martial arts moves and his sword play is rad – even though I had to keep reminding myself that it is not Tom Cruise (Lestat) from Interview with the Vampire:


Tom Cruise and Luke Goss

Basically I was pretty bored throughout most of the picture. Bored enough that I don’t feel particularly compelled to write a review that isn’t boring as well. A few of Ron Perlman’s one-liners worked for me and the side characters all looked neat. Otherwise, no. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen giant robots smashing each other somewhere before in the past 12 months. I wish I could remember where…



Consensus:

Average score:

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Relevant Links:
IMDb profile
Official Site
Flixster Profile for Hellboy II

Andrew James
Podcaster. Tech junkie. Movie lover. Also games and guitar. I dig music.