Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)
Saving the world is a hell of a job.
While director Guillermo del Toro’s fantastical Hellboy received rave reviews when released back in 2004, it didn’t necessarily set the box office on fire, as some found it difficult to identify with its bizarre protagonist and outlandish concept. Consequently fans were left wanting more but hopes of ever seeing a sequel seemed bleak. Once Revolution Studios, who produced the original film, fell apart, the heads at Sony put the rights for Hellboy up for sale, which Universal quickly snapped up and immediately began working on this follow up, Hellboy II: The Golden Army. A completely original story based on Irish folklore, penned by both Guillermo del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, building from their already established characters, this sequel is rather extraordinary as it’s rare that a second film in a series is able to surpass or equal its predecessor, particularly when the original was such a first-rate production.
The film opens on Christmas Eve in 1955, as an adolescent Hellboy (Montse Ribé) is preparing for bed and requests a bedtime story from his father, Professor Trevor Broom (John Hurt). The professor tells Hellboy the tale of an ancient war fuelled by man’s greed between humans and enchanted creatures which brought about the creation of an indestructible mechanical army built to wipe out the armies of man. The feud was resolved with a truce between both sides, leaving man with domain over the cities and magical creatures were left with the forests, while a magic crown, which controlled the army, was split into three parts and divided amongst elves and humans to ensure lasting peace. With the prologue itself being such a creative and visual marvel, del Toro tops the original’s exceptional introduction in every way and this delightful opening act sets the scene for the enthralling journey viewers are about to embark on.
The film then cuts to present day where the wisecracking Hellboy, (Ron Perlman) is still working for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence while irritating his overbearing boss Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) who laments Hellboy’s lack of discipline due to the fact that he keeps getting photographed by the public and put on YouTube. Hellboy’s partner, the fiery Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) on the other hand is finding Hellboy’s lack of domesticity problematic while dealing with a hidden dilemma of her own. Agent John Myers from the first film has been dispatched to Antarctica and is nowhere to been seen, apparently Rupert Evans who played Myers in the original Hellboy was unavailable for filming the sequel due to being cast in the stage version of ‘Kiss of the Spider Woman’ in London in 2007. We are also introduced to a new agent, Johann Krauss, a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit with psychic abilities, who inhabits a containment suit, whose officiousness often rubs Hellboy the wrong way. With an amusing German accent, Agent Krauss is impressively voiced by Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane with his enunciation being based on Jeremy Iron’s character from Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995).
After an unusual incident at a local museum, the B.P.R.D. are sent to investigate the site which leads them to the hidden world of mythical creatures where the elf Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is collecting parts of a magical crown that will enable him to awaken and control the indestructible mechanical golden army who have been in slumber for many years. With the army, Nuada plans to finish the war on man kind which ceased many years ago. Aware of the chaos Nuada’s scheme would ultimately unleash, his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) opposes his plan and teams up with Hellboy and his crew where, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) grows romantically attached to the team’s newest ally. Now, with Hell on earth ready to erupt, Hellboy must defeat the evil prince before the golden army are awoken and destroy humanity’s existence.
It’s obviously clear that director Guillermo Del Toro, Pacific Rim (2013), has a strong passion for the Hellboy films as he turned down the chance to direct Harry Potter and The Half Blood Prince (2006) and I Am Legend (2007) to bring this sequel to the big screen. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is clearly glistening with del Toro’s extraordinary imagination as he lets loose and truly earns the title ‘visionary.’ Filled with vivid sets, amazing creatures such as the ‘tooth-fairies’ and Angel of Death, to the strange yet beautiful freaks inhabiting the Troll Market, a sequence resembling the Star Wars Cantina scene, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is worth watching simply for the visuals alone as here computer effects and puppetry have been combined to create a one-of-a-kind treat for the eyes. The film is generally outstanding on a technical level with Danny Elfman, The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), composing, Guillermo Navarro, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), serving as cinematographer, top-notch editors and fantastic special effects wizards, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is superbly crafted. The script is entertaining, exciting and fun and explores themes of selfless sacrifice, the power of love, the alluring need for normality and hints broadly at a potential conflict for Hellboy to resolve if there is ever a third outing. The comedy within the screenplay is quite sharp, with the film’s best character moment occurring when a drunken Hellboy and Abe perform a Barry Manilow duet, however the story never loses its sense of urgency and delivers its emotions precisely on time.
Ron Perlman, Hellboy (2004), once again shines as the sarcastic, cigar-chomping title character of Hellboy, and while some may still struggle to connect with this peculiar concept and creature, Perlman plays the demon with enough humanity and gentleness, portraying the charisma and allure of a typical blue collar worker; it’s difficult to fault his performance. Selma Blair, Cruel Intentions (1999), is given more to do this time around with Liz’s role being expanded and although David Hyde Pierce voiced Abe Sapien in the original Hellboy film, Doug Jones, Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), voices and plays the the character this time around as Hyde Pierce refused a credit in the original picture as he believed it would undermine Doug’s great work. Not surprisingly, Doug Jones masterfully plays several make-up clad creatures in Hell Boy II: The Golden Army including the Angel of Death and my personal favourite monster, Chamberlain. Newcomers Seth MacFarlane, Family Guy (1999), and Anna Walton, Mutant Chronicles (2008) are fun in their spirited roles, and Luke Gross, Blade II (2002), is a worthy villain as his portrayal of the elf Prince Nuada is both fierce and menacing, though he brings some sensitivity and complexity to the character.
This sequel was clearly worth the wait for Hellboy fans as Guillermo del Toro’s stylish comic-book film gets full marks for flash and substance, yet it also allows its multilayered and unorthodox characters to grow and shine in amongst the magic. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an elegant, ravenous blend of humour, horror, and deadbolt action, a worthy successor to the original. Hopefully fans will someday get to see a third outing in the superb Hellboy franchise.
4.5 / 5 – Highly Recommended
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is released through Universal Pictures Australia