Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

I was never a big fan of Hellboy mainly because it was difficult to find. Here in the Bronx, any chances of ever reading it were futile. But I was a big fan of the original “Hellboy” movie as well as the two animated mid-quels that others found generally forgettable. The first film was Guillermo Del Toro playing Mike Mignola’s game, a veritable bevy of oddities and monsters confined to the modest budget of a studio who had very little faith on the power of this concept. “Hellboy II” however is Del Toro’s game, a movie that’s reliant on the imagination of Guillermo Del Toro who brought with him Oscar cred via the masterwork of “Pan’s Labyrinth.”

This long awaited sequel is one that many have anticipated, including yours truly, a sucker for superhero movies and occult fantasy flicks and Del Toro seems to have taken a stock of unused characters. From the grotesque Tooth Fairies who aren’t as cute as you remember (and will prove to horrify children), to a gigantic plant monster, Del Toro unfolds the “Hellboy” universe with amazing depth introducing some awfully ingenious monsters including the new member Johann Kraus (voiced with memorable zeal by Seth McFarlane) a wonderful new leader to the group who is an ectoplasmic soldier in a body suit. Though wisely underplayed, Kraus is a fresh element to the group of freaks who is strictly by the book while often revealing his potential to Professor Broom.

“Hellboy II” thankfully doesn’t seem that far deviated from its predecessor exploring the same basic dysfunction and discord among the BPRD as Hellboy is committed to his job as monster hunter, but wants to be more appreciated among the populace as everyone else around him stresses the reason for the Department’s secrecy among the masses. Del Toro takes the budget that’s been ballooned somewhat with high expectations and finally able to unleash the imagination of the special effects wizards implemented with a universe of underground monsters, demons, and fairies that excel at originality and pure wonderment. Del Toros is simply the right person to being the world of Hellboy to pass, and thankfully this isn’t a sequel that fails to deliver on its promises.

“Hellboy II” finds the group at the brink of an all out war, as the elfin prince Nuada claims his right as the king by murdering his father and seeks to unleash the Golden Army, a swarm of armored rattling soldiers that are nearly unstoppable. Luke Goss is particularly great as the prince Nuada whose mission for war isn’t as one-sided as the evil Grigori Rasputin, as Nuada seeks to sway the soldiers from the BPRD to his view of the world as an evil place filled with utterly hateful and violent humans, while Anna Walton is sympathetic as his kinder and more idealistic twin sister Nuala who seeks to actively stop her brother’s grand scheme but is torn by her allegiance to him as blood. The gang from the first are all here and accounted for with Ron Perlman as compelling as always as the grizzled often immature Hellboy who has to grow up by the demands Liz Sherman as his relationship with her blossoms.

The one and only Doug Jones is marvelous as Abe Sapien, a character given slightly more significance and importance in the sequel with a sub-plot that’s charming and very sad. “Hellboy II” makes good on all levels from dark comedy, pure terror, and nut busting action scenes, and I hope Del Toro continues tackling “Red.”  The problem with “Hellboy II” is that it’s a film in constant search of a tone and a focus. While “Hellboy” seemed to be very certain towards what it was aiming for with an admirable humility and underplayed style, “Hellboy II” is jumping from peg to peg from romance, to comedy, to utterly goofy imagery like a prepubescent Hellboy who looks like a kid except with the redness and horns. While baby Hellboy was absolutely adorable, Del Toro plays the cards too much with the prepubescent Hellboy who just looks… weird. And not the interesting weird, but the “are they serious?” weird.

I was surprised they went with such a goofy flashback. And there are such confusing questions left for us to ponder on. Did Hellboy ever come to grips with society not wanting the BPRD? Why didn’t Hellboy shave his horns down? Did he really agree with Nuada? Was Nuada trying to sway the BPRD to join him? If so, why did he seek to kill Hellboy? And if Liz is pregnant… did she and Hellboy do it? Finally when the second half pulls around, Del Toro finally knows how to tell the story reconciling all these loose plot elements and we get a clear grasp on the plot and character motivations. Overall, it’s not the spectacular sequel I was hoping for since it doesn’t gain its footing until the second half of the story, but it’s nonetheless a blast with Del Toro working on all gears of fantasy, horror, and raw unadulterated storytelling. I’m ready for a third film, only if Del Toro is on board.