HellBoy II: The Golden Army (2008) Movie Review

scene from Hellboy 2 Golden Army

Title: Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Year: 2008
Genre: Action, Adventure, Fantasy
Play time: 2h
Director: Guillermo del Toro
Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones

“Aw, that’s cute” are generally words you don’t want to hear if you’re a character in anything resembling a monster movie — and especially not if you’re in one directed by Guillermo del Toro who, to quote Roger Ebert, is obsessed with “sickening things that bite you and aren’t even designed to let go.” In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, that ill-advised line is directed toward grey little pixie-like creatures, who are indeed adorable — until they open their cute little mouths and eat your bones. Who’s cute now, bitches?

del Toro’s Imagination Comes in Play in HellBoy II: The Golden Army

Good gracious, del Toro loves this stuff, and I don’t blame him. I love it too. Hellboy II is filled with all manner of creatures great and small, many of them unlike anything you’ve seen before or are likely to see again. It’s hard to deny the deranged, brilliant imagination at work here, and the temptation to rave about the film for that reason is strong. I don’t hesitate recommending it to those who’ve enjoyed del Toro’s previous work, but I remain unconvinced about this popular franchise. Like the first Hellboy, The Golden Army is an uneasy mix of humor and fantasy, hyperactive and overstuffed, with a story that never quite coalesces into something truly compelling.

HellBoy II: The Golden Army is Better Than Hellboy

It is, a hasten to add, nonetheless a vast improvement on its predecessor. There are two main reasons for this. The first is that del Toro has more or less segregated the series’ competing tones into separate segments of the film. The scenes that take place at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD), where Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and other human-friendly demons hold court, remain flippant and goofy, almost daring you to take this stuff seriously. When, however, the movie shifts focus to the putative villains — an exiled race of mythical creatures whose leader (Luke Goss) is about to break their age-old truce with mankind by awakening the indestructible Golden Army — the film stops winking and turns moody, scary, dark. And that gives it a focus that the first Hellboy lacked. We’re actually permitted to contemplate this world, where disgruntled elfin royalty threaten human existence, not without cause.

The other reason the second film works better than the first is that it finds a dynamite, grandiose, fearsome villain. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) may be one of the least outlandish and physically impressive of Hellboy II’s creations, but he’s clearly the most memorable. Articulate and contemplative, with a lilting, tremulous voice and a pasty-white face that credibly conveys his ancient age, he has more presence than any of this summer’s big-budget baddies (at least until Heath Ledger’s Joker comes along); it helps that he will bust out some sick swordfighting chops at the drop of a hat. Luke Goss, who played a villain of similarly Shakespearean dimensions in del Toro’s Blade II gives a performance that’s pretty much as good as it gets in comic book films. He’s really outstanding.

HellBoy 2: The Golden Army Could have Been a Great Movie!

It’s disappointing, then, that with all these compelling elements to latch onto, the movie still nearly kills itself trying to squeeze in two separate love stories, a healthy dose of BPRD internal politics, and several comic set pieces. I know that del Toro can sometimes appear restless, but though his fondness for spectacular digressions helped Pan’s Labyrinth, it hurts Hellboy II. The film throws dozens of balls into the air, but only manages to juggle a couple through to the end credits. The last act has some pretty brutal plot holes that could easily have been filled had the movie calmed down a little.

I wanted to like the movie more; there’s plenty here for a cinephile to dig. But ultimately it’s underwhelming — and, with the exception of a couple uncanny images, forgettable. I hate to suggest anything that might check del Toro’s remarkable imagination, but focus, damn you! Hellboy II could have been a great film.

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