HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
2008, PG-13, 110 mins.
2008, PG-13, 110 mins.
Hellboy: Ron Perlman / Liz Sherman: Selma Blair / Abe
Sapien/Chamberlain/Angel of Death: Doug Jones / Johann Krauss
(voice): Seth MacFarlane / Krauss: John Alexander/James Dodd / Princess
Nuala: Anna Walton / Prince Nuada: Luke Gross / Tom Manning: Jeffrey
think that the most sincere thing I will say about HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN
ARMY is that…well...I went into it with the most open of minds.
Leaving the theatre, I was nevertheless left in a state of chronic
bewilderment. The HELLBOY
universe, as far as comic books go, is one of the oddest and most abnormal
I’ve ever encountered, and I’ve seen some weird films.
I think that, when all is said and done, I don’t find myself lamenting
about the fact that the HELLBOY films are strange; that alone is not my soul
objection. Rather, 2004’s
HELLBOY and now this sequel just don’t seem to know how to harness
and mold their strangeness into one cohesive and satisfying package.
cruised through the original Dark Horse comics by Mike Mignola, whose
gothic style and startlingly simplistic play with bold lines and deep shadow
always made his work stand proudly apart.
The HELLBOY comics, with their supernatural themes and dark moods,
are so harmoniously tailored for Mignola’s obvious skills that they were
simple pleasures to just flip through and drink in the eye candy.
that’s the most apt way of describing the feeling of sitting through both the first
HELLBOY film and now its follow-up. They
are absolute masterpieces of bravura costume design, cutting edge live action and CGI
creature effects, and luscious art direction.
Both films were co-written and directed by Oscar winning Mexican
filmmaker, Guillermo de Toro, who can easily be characterized as an
innovative cinematic craftsman who seems completely unhinged by any mortal
limits of wacky imagination. His films, from the two HELLBOYS to his most critically
lauded effort, 2006’s beautifully sumptuous, but dramatically
problematic, PAN’S LABYRINTH, were unapologetic parades of astonishing
creative energy. De Toro,
much like George Lucas and Peter Jackson, is a real master of transporting
viewers with visual enthusiasm: His
films have so much eye-popping detail to take in (seeing them once almost
is not enough). He blends the fantastical and the frightening - usually in
equal dosages - and his films are unqualified feats of majestic and affluent
imagery. From a pure
auditory-visual perspective, HELLBOY II is a major achievement in the
realm of spectacular, escapist fantasy.
matter how investment I had in the images that graced the screen in
HELLBOY II, I found myself oddly pulling away from its underlining story
and its tonal approach to the material.
Yes, the film is magnificent to look at, and de Toro certainly does
great justice to the look and feel of Mignola’s original comic pages,
but the HELLBOY films are ones that seem bereft of compelling stories and,
most importantly, a cohesively established mood throughout.
De Toro and company seem in love with envisioning the world of a
secret FBI agent that happens to be a demon, but HELLBOY II and its
antecedent don’t seem to know whether to play things for satiric laughs,
genre mocking parody, high octane action, or gothic horror.
There is a bizarre, almost frustrating, disharmony to these films,
which prohibits them from being wholly satisfying.
Oftentimes, de Toro throws so much at the screen that you suspect he does
not no when enough is enough.
Oftentimes, de Toro throws so much at the screen that you suspect he does not no when enough is enough.
II picks up with where the first one left off.
The film once again continues the story of its title character (an odd name,
considering that he is several decades away from being a boy) and his very
odd group of patriotic beings that work for a super top-secret underground
governmental agency. Despite
his otherwise fierce combative nature and his fiery toughness, "Big Red" is
actually just a big, muscle pound teddy bear.
He likes kittens, old movies, Cuban cigars, and certainly has a
soft spot for his girlfriend and fellow agent member, Liz (Selma Blair), a
human that has special abilities of her own: she can turn herself on fire
(question: why do her clothes not instantly burn to a crisp whenever she
activates her talents?). Much
of the film (perhaps a bit too much) is padded down with their fairly
pedestrian, paint-by-numbers relationship spats.
However, their fights are quite large in scale, seeing as she can reduce rooms
to ash and that he is essentially impervious to everything.
and Liz’s colleagues include Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a big walking fish
that is a cool and effective foil
to Hellboy, and newcomer Johann Kraus (voiced by FAMILY GUY creator, Seth
MacFarlane), who is essentially one big gas cloud housed inside a
mechanical suit. Their outfit
is overseen by the rigidly by-the-books chief, Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor,
a very funny screen comedian, terribly underused here).
His soul purpose is to ensure that this very supernatural group is
not made public and to keep Hellboy and company under wraps, which is made
difficult considering that Red has
a penchant for breaking rules with his smart-ass demeanor and his
rule-breaking philosophy of life.
there is a story to HELLBOY II, albeit a shaky and somewhat disengaging
one. We learn (during a
flashback montage) that there has
always been an ancient battle between humans and mythical creatures on
Earth. At one point in the
past a special crown was created that gave any wearer of royal blood
control of an unstoppable mechanical army, The Golden Army, or “70 times
70” army (why not just call them the 4900 army?).
It appears that this 4900 army nearly decimated all humankind, so
much so that the King of the Elves, Balor, decided to set up a truce:
humans get the cities and the creatures get the forests.
The King’s son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) does not share his
dad’s worldview. At one
point it’s revealed that the crown of control was broken into three
pieces and that all would need to be put together to reclaim the Golden
Army. Being the fanatical
type, the Prince brutally kills his father in his attempts to find all of
the pieces. Unfortunately for
him, the Prince’s sister, Nuala (Anna Walton) steadfastly opposes her
brother and teams up with Hellboy’s misfits to stop her maniacal sibling
once and for all.
best thing about HELLBOY II, as stated, is its aesthetic sheen.
Several scenes involving trolls, gnomes, angels, elves, hundred
foot tall plant creatures, a massive, underground hellish caverns and lost
cities, are impressive in scope and detail.
The creature shop assisting de Toro includes the geniuses at
Spectral Motion and Filmefex contributed to makeup and prosthetics.
What’s on display here is an incredible marriage of the real and
synthetic: Many directors are
slavish to lazy CGI to augment scenes, but del Torro is too cunning and
adept to fall victem to computer technology.
The film does rely on CGI make-believe, but there are moments in
the film where the monsters are a wonderful hybrid between makeup, props,
and pixel-effects. This gives
HELLBOY II a very atypical organic feel to the proceedings:
del Toro’s creatures breathe with more life and substance
because of these choices.
film has one great scene – which is a clear and obvious echo and homage
to the famous cantina sequence in the first STAR WARS – where Hellboy
and his crazy entourage enter a Troll Market, and enormous merchant city
hidden under, of all places, the Brooklyn Bridge.
Like the exotic aliens that permeated the space bar in Lucas’
world, del Toro’s merchant center here is a tour de force of unhinged
originality and eye-popping wonderment. Detail pours out of every inch of the frame during this
montage: I love it when fantasy films like this are so generous with
portraying their worlds.
only wish that something more memorable happened in del Toro’s
fascinating film universe. The
story to HELLBOY II lacks engagement: there are too many bombastic action
sequences, too many repetitive fight montages (all drenched with yet another
tedious, overkilled music score by Danny Elfman).
The villain here in the form of the prince never germinates with any
reasonable menace or gusto. Hellboy
himself is an interesting and unforgettable creation, but is dramatically limiting. Sans
one crucial moment in the film, Hellboy is so indestructible so often that
you never gain a sense of tension of impending danger to the story.
Ron Pearlman is such a unhinged hoot here, once again playing
Hellboy as a laconically goofy, acid tongued, and tough as nails demonic
hero, but I just wish that he was given more to do here than just punch,
kick, shoot at monsters and argue with his girlfriend.
just as was the case with HELLBOY I, this film’s tone is woefully all
over the map. The underlining
premise to HELLBOY is fairly preposterous and silly, and the film does
generate small chuckles and sly moments of merriment at the expense of the
heroes’ abnormalities (one scene, which involves Abe and Hellboy engaging
in a drunken karaoke of a Barry Manilow jingle, is spirited), and the film
has its heart in the right place with its forthright idiocy.
However, too much of HELLBOY takes itself too seriously and too
much of it plays things for broad laughs worthy of a spoof. As I watched HELLBOY I and II I was reminded of the first MEN
IN BLACK film, which also had a story involving secret agents battling
against otherworldly enemies. That
film played ostensibly for laughs, and I think that if the HELLBOY series
was able to decide on one correct note to play on, then the whole package
would be that much more inviting.
Not to worry, though. Del Toro is simply too visionary and has a painterly vision of such confidence, authority, and panache to make a bad film. HELLBOY II is certainly a wholehearted success as a kinetic and flamboyantly ingenious visual odyssey. The film is like a Heironymus Bosch painting crossed with something out of Mad Magazine. I applaud de Toro as a filmmaker who hurtles himself into sequences of such haunting and spell binding beauty, but it’s a decided shame that the vitality of the HELLBOY world is marred by limp storytelling and a case of multiple personality disorder. All of this builds to the unavoidable: HELLBOY II is a bold and stunning achievement and, paradoxically, a letdown all the same.