Hellboy II: The Golden Army (9/10)

One of the most astonishing things about Guillermo del Toro’s first major film since Pan’s Labyrinth a few years ago, Hellboy II, is that amidst all the supernatural demons walking about the plot, in the middle of all this fantasy and very weird, very unlikely things happening, the main characters shine through like the sun on a particularly bright day. Much moreso than Hellboy I, and even a lot more so than some superhero flicks, Hellboy II manages to be, more than anything, a character drama, where the main story and impetus comes from the characters and not as much the action happening around them.

This is not to say the main plot thread is uninteresting – Hellboy II revolves around the attempts of an ancient prince, Prince Nuada, to bring a long-dead mechanical golden army to life so that he can rule humanity. When the government gets a whiff of this, they contact the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, for which Hellboy and his aquatic best friend Abe and pyromaniac girlfriend Liz work as supernatural agents. Hellboy himself was found during World War II during an experiment wherein beings from the divine realm crossed over into our world.

So off Hellboy, Abe, and Liz go on an adventure to try to stop Prince Nuada from bringing back the golden army from its slumber, and it’s an adventure that will dazzle your eyes with how intensely beautiful it is. Hellboy II is, from all the trailers, a special effects action movie, but CGI monstrosities are not the only beast creepy-crawling over this bad boy.

Beautifully constructed, hand-crafted demons, angels, trolls, and beasts lurk about everywhere, and in one particular “Troll Market” sequence, we are reminded of the time when Luke and Obi-Wan met Han Solo and Chewbacca in the Mos Eisley cantina, only instead of aliens partying it up, these are fantastic and beautiful creatures – some of the puppet work in this film is gorgeous and revolutionary, absolutely Oscar-worthy. The sets are staged and filmed to perfection, and the action set pieces are grand and del Toro handles them with a smooth and confident hand – a clear improvement over the film’s predecessor, as some of the action in the original, especially the catastrophically bad ending, was poorly set and even more poorly executed.

The script is better this time around too – we don’t waste time with characters who are too difficult to care about, like the slightly neurotic FBI agent assigned to work with Hellboy in the original (which to me sounded like del Toro was worried about people identifying with this big giant red demon). Every actor slips back into their roles as easily as if they had filmed the first one yesterday, and you almost don’t really need to see the first to appreciate how effortlessly these actors combined with these characters woo the camera and audience.

Ron Perlman plays Hellboy, and he’s the best of this odd bunch. Hellboy is slightly more vulnerable than in the last picture, and it works. Selma Blair as Liz is a thousand times more improved, as her relationship with Hellboy deepens and you can tell Blair has a more sure footing on who her character is. Abe Sapien, played once more by Doug Jones (though David Hyde Pierce as the voice of Abe is sadly gone), is given A LOT more by the script to shoulder, and he succeeds brilliantly. Seth MacFarlane as the voice of ectoplasmic smoke that walks around inside a suit and goes by the name of Dr. Krauss is actually a lot more entertaining that it sounds, and MacFarlane’s fake accent and hard sarcastic voice do wonders.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is a wonder – more than anything a visual feast. Del Toro clearly has a lot of love for what he’s pulled off here (he turned down very lucrative directing opportunities while working on this film, including the Harry Potter movies, all just so he could devote the proper amount of love and care to Hellboy II). And the result is a film quite unlike any supehero movie you’ve ever seen before, including the original – it’s grand, silly, terrifying, and quite often hilarious – a cacophonic beast composed of many different parts that compose a beautiful overall picture. He’s even made some daring directing choices here and there, and churned out a superhero flick that tops both the gritty Hulk and the sleek Iron Man. Now we just gotta wait for the inevitable Hellboy III, which, if the leap in quality between Hellboy I and II is any indication, will be a very fine film indeed.

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One Response to “Hellboy II: The Golden Army (9/10)”

  1. Hellboy 2 was fun; for sure that director has an amazing imagination, reminded me a lot of his work in Pan’s Labyrinth

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