Should I Watch..? 'Hellboy II: The Golden Army'
What's the big deal?
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an action horror superhero film released in 2008 and is based on the character of the same name created by Mike Mignola. It is a sequel to the 2004 film Hellboy and sees the Devil's favourite son battle a crazed elven prince wanting to disrupt millennia of peace to reclaim the planet from humanity. The film stars Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Luke Goss and Anna Walton while director Guillermo del Toro also returns to direct this picture. Despite earning positive reviews from critics and going on to earn over $160 million worldwide, the film would be overshadowed by another superhero film The Dark Knight and the film quickly disappeared from cinemas. Together with the film's cult appeal, demand was high for a third film but after many years in development hell and studios unwillingly to invest the necessary budget, del Toro announced the cancelation of the third film in 2017. A rebooted Hellboy is due for release in 2019, the first without Perlman or del Toro's involvement.
What's it about?
In 1955, a young Hellboy is told a story by his father of an ancient conflict between humans and elves. With humans gaining the upper hand, the one-handed King Balor is offered a magical and unstoppable golden army constructed by goblin smiths that would wipe out mankind. Agreeing to its construction, Balor is distraught when witnessing the carnage wrought by his mechanical allies and seeks a truce with humans. He splits up the crown that controls the Golden Army and makes peace with man although Balor's son Prince Nuada disagrees and goes into exile.
Back in the present day, Nuada returns and is determined to eliminate mankind once and for all. Stealing one piece of the crown from an auction room, Nuada's fantastical forces creates an incident for the Bureau for Paranormal Research & Defence (BPRD) to investigate. Hellboy, together with his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz, humanoid fish Abe and gaseous new member Johann Krauss, set off to stop Nuada from reviving the Golden Army and discover an usual ally in the form of Nuada's twin sister, Nuala...
Abe Sapien / Angel Of Death
John Alexander & James Dodd
Prince Nuada Silverlance
Professor Trevor Bruttenholm
Guillermo del Toro
Guillermo del Toro*
Release Date (UK)
20th August, 2008
Action, Fantasy, Horror, Superhero
Academy Award Nominations
What's to like?
Few people would accuse Hellboy II: The Golden Army of being a traditional superhero film - because it isn't. What the film depicts is a fantastical journey into the mind and imagination of its creative lead, del Toro, who has crafted a superbly alternative action film that's big on ideas and spectacle. The film isn't as dark as the first one, instead providing the authentic and nightmarish side of fairy tales and folklore as opposed to occultist Nazis. Del Toro, the visionary director behind Pan's Labyrinth and The Shape Of Water, instinctively knows how to create moments and scenes that stay with you and he does so again here, from the insatiable tooth fairies to the demonic and otherworldly Angel Of Death. Possibly the film's standout moment is a sequence shot at a secret underground market for a variety of beasts and creatures that teems with so much activity and atmosphere, it reminds you of the cantina scene in the original Star Wars.
Helping once again to bring this paranormal world to life is Perlman as Hellboy, who once again proves to be more than just an angry guy with a stone fist. Supported brilliantly by a hard-working Jones (who plays a total of three characters in the film), the banter between our heroes and their unconventional approach to solving problems gives the film a solid comic standing which provides some genuine laughs. It's an easy film to enjoy once you're on board with all the bizarre characters on screen but when you are, prepare to enjoy a visual spectacular and something that feels unique compared to the increasingly formulaic films Marvel continues to release at a frantic pace.
- The suit worn by Steele as the monstrous Mr Wink weighed 130 lbs and came with ten-inch stilts, increasing Steele's height to 7'3". During the shoot, Steele lost over 12lbs in sweat. The character was named after a one-eyed dog belonging to Selma Blair.
- The film marks the feature-film debut of Seth MacFarlane, the creator of TV series Family Guy. MacFarlane based his voice for Krauss on Jeremy Irons' performance in Die Hard With A Vengeance.
- The film uses a lot of connections to Gaelic folklore and myth: Nuada was the name of the first king of the mythical people of Tuatha De Danann, the Golden Army is located in located not far from the Giant's Causeway and the dialogue spoken by King Balor is Gaelic.
- The beer favoured by Hellboy is Tecate, a popular brand in Mexico and a subtle nod to del Toro's nationality.
What's not to like?
As entertaining as this was, I did feel there were one or two things that needed improving. Blair's performance didn't feel as special as it did in the first film which reduced her role in the film despite the character's progression. I felt more could have been made of her as well as Tambor's increasingly tetchy head of the BPRD, comic gold waiting to be mined. While the effects and makeup in places were extraordinary, it felt underwhelming when used on a larger scale. Take the sequence when the plant god is running amok in the city streets. It didn't seem believable to me - granted, the entire film should come with an enormous pinch of salt but it just didn't thrill me in the way I was hoping although it still offered a beautiful and surprisingly touching parting gift.
Narratively, I also didn't feel the film was as strong as the first film. Goss plays a fairly uninspired villain compared to the memorable masked Nazi assassin Kroenen that appeared in Hellboy that at least he delivers a certain softly-spoken menace. But my biggest problem is that the film feels too much like the middle part of a trilogy, a trilogy it was never destined to be. While the film's story is concluded, the character arcs indicate that there are more stories to be told but alas, we'll never get to see them. Whatever the hurdles were to the third film getting made (studio reluctance, Mignola's opposition, scheduling conflicts, etc), I would have loved to have seen the conclusion to the series. Both films are different enough and wildly entertaining in a unique way, something increasingly rare these days and for once, I'd have liked to see artistic endeavour trump box office earnings. Del Toro proves he is a director of vast capabilities and it saddens me that nobody would give him the opportunity to further his vision.
Should I watch it?
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a real treat, a big-budget action film but with enough creative differences to really stand out from the crowd. With a more inventive story, this could have been a cast-iron classic but instead it settles for being entertaining and mind-blowing - which is alright by me! A shame that the third film will never be seen but at least this proves a good way for the character to begin a sabbatical.
Great For: incredible visuals, surprising audiences, Barry Manilow's street cred, fans of the first film
Not So Great For: very young viewers, studio bossing hoping for vast returns
What else should I watch?
The reason I enjoy the Hellboy films more than the tidal surge of superheroism that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe is their stubborn refusal to play things safe. The 12A certificate might mirror the likes of Iron Man or Avengers Assemble but del Toro ensures that this film is more adult in tone than their comic-book counterparts without resorting to violence, gore, swearing or sex. By contrast, the MCU feels a little safe and more family-friendly. Not that there's anything wrong with that approach - accountants would certainly back me up on that one - but they can still throw you a curveball that does play with expectations. I loved Guardians Of The Galaxy because it also felt different as well as being a hugely enjoyable space opera in the grandest traditions.
Of course, not all superheroes have a sideline in comedy - in fact, some are resolutely miserable. The Dark Knight trilogy may be a realistic and dark approach to the Batman but I don't recall a single laugh in it anywhere, save for Heath Ledger's reaction to a misfiring pyrotechnic in The Dark Knight itself. Even del Toro delivered a dark and bloody fantasy in the form of Blade II, taking over direction from Stephen Norrington and delivering probably the best film in the series.
© 2019 Benjamin Cox