REVIEW: Hellboy II: The Golden Army [2008]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 120 minutes | Release Date: July 11th, 2008 (USA)
Studio: Universal Pictures
Director(s): Guillermo del Toro
Writer(s): Guillermo del Toro / Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola (story) / Mike Mignola (comic)

“Which Holocaust shall be chosen?”

Guillermo del Toro goes behind the camera again to continue the saga of everyone’s favorite demon on Earth who works for the government to fight evil in Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Having already worked on a sequel in his career (Blade II), I had high hopes for this one to improve upon a solid first installment. Being that he was the second director in as many films for that vampire series, he was able to come in with a fresh eye. Here, however, he may be too close to the material and thus subject to the sophomore curse of trying to be bigger and better yet only stuffing more fluff than anything of increasing value. By no means is the movie unentertaining or unenjoyable, though. On the contrary it is a good action flick. My problems lie with the fact that del Toro decided to leave behind the simplicity of tone and plot that worked so well in the first. Instead he has brought to screen a bloated, highly comedic, and much lighter entry to the series. The transitions between laughs and borderline melodramatic moments are too abrupt and confusing without any time to recover from one before going to the other. With a few cringe-inducing scenes evened out by some stellar effects, creatures, and choreographed fights, Hellboy II ends up being a mixed bag whose whole isn’t consistent enough to allow us to forget those times when it does derail.

While not as bad as Spider-man 3, I can’t help but think of comparing the two. The overly hammy nature of the two are somewhat similar with a scene here containing Abe and Hellboy singing Barry Manilow while drinking Tecate recalling a horrid emo Peter Parker jazzing it up downtown in Spidey. What worked in the first film was the subtle infusion of wit to counteract the dark nature of the actual storyline. In the sequel, the comedy actually takes center stage during the first two-thirds of the duration. Ron Perlman plays it up wonderfully, but it just became overkill for me. Trying to fit in as many one-liners as possible, the jabs started to take away from the story being told. Every time something important seems to be explained, it gets turned on its head with a laugh. Cute at first, it becomes annoyingly counterproductive as things move along.

I understand the fact that this is Hellboy trying to come out to the world, trying to become a celebrity and get the credit he feels he deserves. With that aspect he of course needs to play to the camera and the rockstar sensibility it brings. In my opinion they just took it too far, especially the Jeffrey Tambor role as this government agency’s leader Manning. He has been turned into a whiner and loses any respect he had from the first movie. I truly believe this is due to the fact that the filmmakers have decided to inject as much as they can into the film. There is just too much Tambor, watering down what worked about his character to make him into a prop Hellboy can play with. This is not the only piece of the puzzle that has been given exponentially increased screentime either. The sheer number of creatures is mind-boggling. Between the scene in the Troll Market—very reminiscent of the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine in Star Wars: A New Hope—and just the random baddies throughout, we are assaulted by monsters and costumes at every turn. Don’t get me wrong, the effects work is impeccable and some of the chases top-notch. It is just overkill once again. The elves are fantastically constructed, Johann Krauss’s ectoplasmic self is entertaining, and The Angel of Death is the coolest thing about the entire film. But did we need the tumor-man or cat-eating troll or even the forest God? Not really. The first two could have been anything and the giant God: is he a villain or an endangered species of worldly creation that could have been any big faceless monster and still have worked.

One thing that was grown well from the previous installment is the role of Abe Sapien, played once more by the great Doug Jones, (only this time he is allowed to use his own voice rather than a redub from David Hyde Pierce). One of the best characters from the first, his increased screentime is welcome despite the hitches into lovey-dovey drivel and the badly orchestrated “drunk” sequence. His extension might be at the demise of Selma Blair’s role, which has been pushed to the background for much of the film. And while she’s given a cool new fire “suit,” it loses the awesome blue inferno from part one.

What’s lacking in dramatic weight and darkness is compensated with amazing fight scenes. One thing this has going for it are moments of brilliance on the battlefields. Luke Goss steals the show with his acrobatics and really steps up in the final fight versus Hellboy. He shows what made him so perfect as the main villain in Blade II and why del Toro decided to bring him on board to recapture that magic. It is the hand-to-hand combat that dazzles and I wish there was more of it to showcase. Even when the titular Golden Army arrives, they fight in a human-like way with arms and legs stabbing with swords. Unfortunately we’re mostly treated with battles of destruction as roads and walls are blown apart by creatures and gunfire to remind us how much the American public loves explosions. I myself would rather partake in the amazing dance-like work of true professionals doing it all without computer help. Del Toro got a lot right here, but also fell victim to the Hollywood machine. He went a little bigger than necessary, watering down a final result that had the potential of being great.

[1] Ron Perlman as Hellboy in Universal Pictures’ Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[2] Luke Goss as Prince Nuada in Universal Pictures’ Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.
[3] Doug Jones as Abe Sapien and Jeffrey Tambor as Tom Manning in Universal Pictures’ Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) Copyright © Universal Pictures. All Rights Reserved.

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