by Allan Sugarbaker
Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Dark Horse Entertainment
Opening July 11, 2008
It must've been a hard sell, originally. "He's a demon raised among
humans, and he fights alongside other outcasts against evil forces from
beyond. Oh, and his name's Hellboy." But thousands of comic book fans
knew him for the gem he was, and now that the movie-going public is
aware of the irritable, cigar-puffing demon-turned-hero, a sequel was
inevitable. After all, with Hellboy creator Mike Mignola co-writing the
story yet again, director Guillermo del Toro had a wealth of ideas in
easy reach. Comic books have been a gold mine lately at the box office -
each rollercoaster of a movie gaining momentum from the last. The
question is, will Hellboy II be worth the ride?
I'll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum herein, but if you want to
preserve most of the surprises, just skip down to my
thoughts and rating at the end.
When we last left our demonic hero...
Folks that missed the original film
needn't worry: Hellboy II establishes the main characters within
the first few scenes, jumping into their somewhat troubled lives
midstream. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still struggling with being a demon
in a man's world, while Liz (Selma Blair) is still struggling to
maintain a relationship with a demon. Love and relationships serve to
ground in reality this otherwise highly mystical and occasionally
Lovecraftian adventure - though not in a sappy, rose petals and bath
salts way. While Liz and Red (HB's nickname) try to work things out,
their fish-like cohort Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, voiced by David Hyde
Pierce) just wants everyone to get along, though he begins to pursue
interests of his own.
The villains - in this case, the ancient and forgotten kingdom of the
elves - are introduced early as well. The mythological framework the
plot hangs from is related to us through the eyes of young Hellboy
(Hellkid?), who gets the oddest bedtime stories. Vengeful elven Prince
Nuada (Luke Goss) is sure to evoke comparison to gamer favorite Drizzt,
with his spinning dual-sword scene - and that's before he even meets the
good guys. It's made perfectly clear that the two tracks of story - good
and evil - will collide magnificently.
The ongoing subplot of Hellboy craving acceptance by the world at large
seems dominant at first, and this need drives many of the character's
decisions, almost to an annoying degree. This obvious subplot can't be
ignored, but could easily be taken too far, and risk becoming another
Xmen "Muties go home!" movie in all but name. But the movie backs
off from this tangent just in time, getting back to its true strengths:
big fights, strange creatures, and comedy.
That's right - Hellboy does comedy. Continuing to keep the wild plot
grounded in understandable reality, the relationship challenges each
character faces result in - well, they result in a drunken Barry Manilow
sing-along, for one. These comedic time-outs may be jarring to some
viewers, but taken in stride, they add flavor to the smoky, brooding
The whirlwind tour
Several impressive scenes wisk the audience from
one exotic locale to another and back again. There's BPRD Headquarters
(that's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, remember?) with it's
Men in Black vibe as agents wrestle critters in the background.
There's the hidden Troll Market, showing off dozens of creature designs
from Wayne Barlowe and other visionaries. The vast hidden ruin of
Bethmoora, where the indestructible Golden Army supposedly sleeps, is no
These lush, CG enhanced settings have so much activity, in layer upon
layer of mystic weirdness, there's no chance of absorbing it all in one
viewing. From nasty little fairy things that are all teeth and claws, to
talking tumors, to a lumbering rhino-like henchman with a mechanical
artifact for a hand, Hellboy II keeps the sci-fi eye candy
coming. Just plan on following along with our hero as Hellboy applies
his blunt-force-trauma approach to anyone that disagrees with him. If
these scenes draw you in - particularly the Troll Market - plan on
getting in line again for another round.
Thanks to the reactive, pulse-pounding score from inimitable composer
Danny Elfman, transitions between one scene and the next are smoothed,
and evoke a similar feel to the fondly remembered Star Wars
transitions aided by John Williams.
Hellboy II has all the right ingredients - none of them new,
particularly, but they're blended in a unique way. You have the
anti-hero, the outcast crew of powerful cohorts, big action scenes with
swords, magic, and explosions - and a Barry Manilow sing-along. Sure,
you'll see a few twists and turns coming along the way - redshirts will
die, showdowns will be had, and the like. But that scene right out of
Cloverfield that all the commercials hyped is only the halfway
point of the film. My point is, Hellboy II isn't the same
predictable movie you've figured out the ending of by watching the
It's nice to have a few unexpected loops on the ride now and then.
Links for those so inclined: