Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Movie Information

The Story: Hellboy and company are called into action to thwart an attempt to awaken a mythical army of robotic warriors that would destroy all human life. The Lowdown: Spellbinding visuals, breathtaking feats of imagination and fully rounded characters make this comic-book film a must-see.
Score:

Genre: Comic-Book Fantasy/Horror Adventure
Director: Guillermo del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth)
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor
Rated: PG-13

At long last! A big summer movie that I actually want to see again has arrived with Guillermo del Toro’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army—hands down the best big release I’ve seen all summer. It may not be in quite the same league as del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), but it’s clearly the product of the same imagination. It’s also a huge advance over del Toro’s original Hellboy (2004). We’re almost in Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and Frankenstein (1931) territory here. Much like Bride, such backstory as is deemed necessary is tossed off in a story-telling prologue, while the overall film soars on del Toro’s untethered visual imagination and dark humor. (Is this perhaps why Hellboy II includes clips from Bride playing on the TV?)

For the uninitiated, Hellboy (Ron Perlman)—created by comic-book writer Mike Mignola, who worked with del Toro on the story—is a demonic holdover from a thwarted black-magic effort of the Nazis to win World War II. He is taken in as a bouncing baby Beelzebub by Prof. Bruttenholm (John Hurt) and raised as his son. Despite his Luciferian background—not to mention red skin, telltale tail and horns—Hellboy is a good guy. In fact, he’s a kind of good-natured romantic overgrown kid with a penchant for cats, cigars and vast quantities of beer. Hell, he’s such a good guy that he even has a more or less stable marriage with Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), a nice lady with a superhero tendency to burst into flame on occasion. He even has a good friend, the über-smart fish man Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, getting to use his own voice this time).

The downside is that Hellboy is a little on the bumptious side—something that causes no end of misery for the bureaucratic Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor, EuroTrip), who oversees the supersecret government organization known as the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. It’s not just that Hellboy doesn’t like being a secret, but he’s a rather conspicuous sort of secret. Fighting the forces of evil and remaining unseen by the public is a tricky business—and it’s that much trickier when you’d like nothing so much as to fit in and be a part of that public. (To this end, Hellboy keeps his horns filed down, but it doesn’t really help.)

In this new adventure, the world is threatened by the plans of the elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss, Blade II) to bring together three parts of a crown that will allow him to unleash the Golden Army, an unstoppable, self-repairing horde of “steampunkish” robots. Doing so will break an ancient truce with humankind, but Nuada is not without a certain justification in that humanity is well on its way to destroying the earth. Total destruction of the human race might seem a little drastic—especially coming from a guy who looks like an Edgar Winter impersonator—but it’s nice to find an enemy with something more on his mind than world domination and a penchant for Michael Bay mayhem.

Unfortunately for the prince, his sister, Princess Nuala (British TV actress Anna Walton), isn’t in his corner, especially after he kills their father (British TV veteran Roy Dotrice) to get control of the old boy’s piece of the magical crown. Nuala not only aligns herself with the enemy, she becomes romantically involved with Abe, complicating matters for everyone.

The bulk of the story concerns the battle for control of the crown that provides control of the Golden Army, but this is nothing more than a workable plot to encase the characters and del Toro’s boundless imagination for creatures and worlds that are simultaneously horrific and beautiful. There’s certainly magic here—not in the least because of the strong sense of reality afforded by going heavy on the floor effects, animatronic and puppet creations, and light on the CGI—but it goes far beyond mere breathtaking fantasy imagery.

There’s an almost tangible sense of humanity—especially in the film’s decidedly other-than-human (at least on the outside) characters. Del Toro has tapped into the inner pain of the fanboy mind-set in a way that’s a shade different from the usual outsider mind-set. There’s something deeper at work in this film than that, something even beyond the gay subtext of the first two X-Men movies. It’s inherent in the Hellboy character and his burning—and hopeless—desire to fit in. But with the depiction of Hellboy and Abe as wholly susceptible to the drippiest of Barry Manilow love songs, “Can’t Smile Without You,” the mask of indifference to being outside the norm falls away, revealing the pain and humanity beneath—albeit in a charming, light-handed manner. Still, it comes across: We’re all saps under the skin.

Combine the characters, the depth of the characterizations, del Toro’s amazing visions and a delightfully quirky sense of humor, and there’s just not much not to love about Hellboy II. I’ll grant you that you’ll probably see the movie’s resolution long before it gets there, but it’s the sort of grandly tragic operatic resolution that works in spite of its predictability. It’s also the kind of ending—like much about the film—that I suspect will only improve on subsequent viewings. Here’s a comic-book movie with a heart, a soul, a brain and a personality of its own—as personal in its own way as del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth. Rated PG -13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress since December 2000. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

10 thoughts on “Hellboy II: The Golden Army

  1. This is the only film that I’ve seen twice this year and it is everything that every other summer blockbuster is trying to be. I laughed harder than any “comedy” released and the action is frequent and satisfying. I hope that del Toro can finish THE HOBBIT fast enough to more more HELLBOYS. Perlman is almost 60!

  2. Ken Hanke

    I laughed harder than any “comedy” released and the action is frequent and satisfying.

    And the movie has — for want of a better word — a soul.

    I hope that del Toro can finish THE HOBBIT fast enough to more more HELLBOYS. Perlman is almost 60!

    And without Perlman, there is no series according to del Toro, but all in all, what I still want to see isn’t more Hellboy, it’s del Toro’s take on H.P. Lovecraft.

  3. “And the movie has—for want of a better word—a soul.”

    Absolutely. del Toro makes it a point to make his monsters more human than most humans onscreen.

    “And without Perlman, there is no series according to del Toro, but all in all, what I still want to see isn’t more Hellboy, it’s del Toro’s take on H.P. Lovecraft.”

    Me too. I think that he can do the material justice. In the meantime I think that many of the creatures in HELLBOY 2 were Lovecraft inspired.

  4. Brad Brock

    Ken-
    You hit the nail on the head with your wish to see Del Toro tackle Lovecraft! It seems his ability to create fantastic creatures could capture Lovecraft’s worlds. Is it just me, or is Ron Perlman from the same genetic pool as Tom Waits? They’ve always reminded me of each other….
    Now, it’s time to dig through my books, so I can reread some Lovecraft….

  5. Ken Hanke

    You hit the nail on the head with your wish to see Del Toro tackle Lovecraft! It seems his ability to create fantastic creatures could capture Lovecraft’s worlds.

    It actually was in the planning stages, but seems to have become derailed owing to The Hobbit movies.

  6. Sean Williams

    I hear del Toro’s Lovecraft adaptation will involve a cowboy with a homoerotic fixation on the Dread Lord Cthulhu.

    It’ll be called At the Brokeback Mountains of Madness.

  7. Wow, a gay joke about Brokeback Mountain. I didn’t see that one coming. How did you put those two together? Get this guy a spot with one of Asheville’s Comedy Troupes!

  8. Ken Hanke

    It’ll be called At the Brokeback Mountains of Madness.

    It would have the advantage of worrying all the right people.

  9. FreakingNews

    I found this movie idiotic. It would be what in Europe would be described as the “typical American targeted movie” As long as there is farting and burping it would be considered funny. I am completely disappointed at Del Toro

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