Hellboy II: The Golden Army’s plot is a mash-up of a sitcom, The Lord of the Rings and Men in Black, all of which mix haphazardly to turn what could have been a jarring mix of comedy, fantasy and superhero shenanigans, into a pretty decent summer action movie that manages to keep us engrossed in between the special effects. If you think you’ve had your fill of tormented superheroes (until The Dark Knight, of course) in this hero-infested movie season, you may want to think again.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army‘s plot is a mash-up of a sitcom, The Lord of the Rings and Men in Black, all of which mix haphazardly to turn what could have been a jarring mix of comedy, fantasy and superhero shenanigans, into a pretty decent summer action movie that manages to keep us engrossed in between the special effects.
If you think you’ve had your fill of tormented superheroes (until The Dark Knight, of course) in this hero-infested movie season, you may want to think again.
Hellboy II writer and director Guillermo del Toro, last seen impressing literally everyone with last year’s Pan’s Labyrinth, manages to improve on 2004’s surprisingly entertaining Hellboy, with a character-based action movie filled with a lovable demon hero, a love-starved fish creature and enough one-of-a-kind critters to fill 10 Tatooine cantinas.
By the time the titular demon, expertly played by Ron Perlman, and his fishy co-worker Abe Sapien (body by Doug Jones, voice by David Hyde Pierce) drunkenly warble a Barry Manilow tune together, you know you are in a different realm than the brain-dead Hulk or cry-baby Spiderman universes.
Hellboy II continues the adventures of a group of misfits from the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense: the surly Hellboy, who was rescued from Nazis by the U.S. government as a baby, his fiery human girlfriend Liz Sherman (the always unsmiling Selma Blair) and Abe, a sort-of merman, fish thing.
After the confusing but fun Hellboy, its sequel enhances (and perhaps ignores) the existing mythology of its universe by giving us a Tolkien-esque legend of Elves, Orcs and the “unstoppable” Golden Army, whose purpose is to destroy the human race.
This fantasy plot is merely a way to keep the action coming, so I won’t bother you with too much of the Dungeons and Dragons backstory.
Just know that the surface plot (an angry elf prince calls upon the long-forgotten Golden Army to end the human race, because of their disregard for how they treat the earth, and Hellboy and crew are so not down with that) exists only to further the more interesting story–the relationships between the heroes and their desire to be accepted by the world they’re working to protect.
It also, of course, gives del Toro a chance to present his now expected parade of odd, imaginative and sometimes nightmarish creatures.
As the heroes venture into a hidden world (the entrance of which is conveniently hidden below the Brooklyn Bridge) and creatures are unleashed by the villain, del Toro gives us hundreds of individual monsters of all shapes and sizes: the piranha-like “tooth fairies” who travel in the thousands and feast on human bones and teeth, a towering plant creature and many other creations that populate the background of the film.
Apart from the impressively subdued visual effects (the computer effects never stand up and scream “Look at me!”), what make Hellboy II distinctive are the exchanges between the characters.
When Abe finds what could be his first none-fish love, Liz ponders leaving her boyfriend and the demon-man interacts with frightened humans, you really start to feel for these characters. It’s not too hard to imagine that the series could continue to go on for years following the relationships of instantly likable protagonists.
Hellboy II is just a tad more interesting than Hellboy, and nowhere near as brilliant as Pan’s Labyrinth, but it shows that del Toro is on his way to becoming a master of presenting special-effects extravaganzas with a touching emotional core.
And like all good sci-fi films, Hellboy II is greater than the sum of its parts. The jokes, the monsters and the story all add up to give us something usually lost in the Hollywood shuffle–an honest feeling of wonder and excitement.
Hellboy II: The Golden ArmyIn theaters now***1/2
Related article: Guillermo Del Toro Cheat Sheet