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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Hellboy II: The Golden Army (review)

Darned to Heck

Now how does this happen? The first Hellboy movie was crazy mad insane, like you couldn’t even figure out what the frak was going on but it didn’t matter, it was that wildly entertaining in its all-out geek-out nuttiness. And now Hellboy II: The Golden Army is just kinda there, like it has accepted its insanity and douses itself with a big handful of lithium every six hours and is feeling much better now, honestly, and don’t forget to buy the Hellboy Happy Meal on your way home. I’m still thinking, four years later, about how wacky Hellboy was, and yet I can barely remember II, and I saw that mere days ago. I want to say that II is pure dumb popcorn fun while you’re watching it and instantly forgettable the moment the credits start to roll, but actually, I was forgetting it while I was still in the process of watching it.
That could be the problem: watching II is a process. It feels like it’s been tamed and corralled and commodified. Hellboy was rowdy and feral and dangerous, and already, in only its second outing, the franchise has been herded into the slaughterhouse and ground up into chuck chop and wrapped in sanitary plastic. I rode the Cyclone once at Coney Island, that rickety old roller coaster that bangs you around and doesn’t have any of those wimpy precautionary devices, like seatbacks that come up above your waist: I acquired a mild case of whiplash from the experience — Hellboy was like that. II is like modern roller coasters, with all their safety harnesses and head braces and seat belts — the damn things practically have air bags, and definitely have no even pretend-real sense of danger to them.

Not that II actually bad, per se, it’s just so… ordinary. Here is a movie about a huge red horned devil dude who loves cats and television and junk food — and he’s played by Ron Perlman, who’s all kinds of cool, not for the least reason being that he’s almost 60 years old and he totally pulls off an incredibly physical role like this huge red horned devil dude, and did I mention he’s snarky, too? — and they made him kinda boring. Here is master fantasist filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Mimic), who wrote and directed this and gives us an urban troll market — it’s hidden under the Brooklyn Bridge! — and warrior elves in the subway and it all feels like something that’s about to get slapped on a T-shirt and sold at Target for $19.95. Imagine trying to take what’s astonishing and dream-making and nightmare-inducing about Pan’s Labyrinth and boiling it down into something you could navigate in a video game — you can’t do it. But the Hellboy video game — for PSP and Xbox! — is coming soon.

Del Toro teases us right as the film opens, with a child’s reverie of puppet warfare, a fantasy brought on by tele-visions of Howdy Doody meeting bedtime stories about an ancient war between elves and humans and a long-forgotten truce and a dormant army of golden robots… and the child who dreams this is actually Hellboy as a kid, and you think right there: This is gonna be as outrageous and audacious as that first movie. But all daring is tossed aside when we join Hellboy today, and are treated to a checklist of comic-book-action clichés: the bickering with the girlfriend (Selma Blair: In Good Company, The Sweetest Thing), who’s really hot: no, seriously, she can light herself on fire; the comical despair of the nonsuperpowered boss who can’t control Hellboy (Jeffrey Tambor: Slipstream, The SpongeBob SquarePants Movie); the sidekicky sidekickery of Hellboy’s fish-man pal (Doug Jones: Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, Pan’s Labyrinth), who for some reason halfway through the film abandons the breathing apparatus that lets him walk around in the air yet still keeps walking around in the air without suffocating. They’re battling an evil elf prince (Luke Goss), who wants war with the humans because we paved paradise and put up a parking lot, and if he has to raise the Golden Army to do it, then by all the ancient gods, he will, just try and stop him.

Oh, and that’s another thing that left me feeling unsatisfied. All this stuff about the Golden Army and how unstoppable it would be were it to awakend, combined with all the evil prince’s schtick about how humans must be wiped from the face of the planet? It appears to be promising us a good ol’ rampage of the entire Earth, and instead, we get something disappointingly local and very anticlimactic. How could it be that the truly gross and horrific little tooth fairies from early in the film are actually scarier than the creatures that get their names in the title? That really feels like a cheat.

MPAA: rated PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb
  • Brett

    Well, I’m disappointed to say the least. I’ve a soft spot for the first instalment.

    MaryAnn, here’s a quick question. You ever notice how so many of Del Toro’s movies all involve some sort of dripping-blood-on-some-sort-of-sacrificial-altar-to-raise-oh-God-it’s-a-horrific-monster-from-the-other-side sequence? Kinda like Kubrick and the CRM-114 connection only, y’know, lamer. I can’t vouch for Blade II — the Wikipedia plot entry also makes nay sense — and it’s been a long time since I’ve seen Cronos. But heaps of the others. Hellboy? Raising Rasputin, check. Pan’s Labyrinth? Bleeding all over the portal to the netherworld, check.

    It’s like he was watching Blade in preparation for making its sequel and thought to himself, “Hey, neat-o. If only I could get Stephen Dorff and a CGI man-splosion in every film as well.”

  • Brett

    Devil’s Backbone? Again, I’ve forgotten. Time has erased, fortunately in some cases, the recall of so many $1.95 rentals . . .

  • @Brett
    Mr. Del Toro has stated that he won’t take a movie project without monsters in it. No costume dramas unless there are vampires, no light comedies without slime creatures, and no romantic dramas without a slavering hell-beast.

    That having been said, he does make sure that the monsters are smart, deadly and fascinating to watch. He’s the Spike Lee of monster movies.

  • Rare disagreement

    Usually I’m 1:1 with you, but after reading your review I think we saw different movies. Hellboy II is incredibly entertaining. The core conflict was compelling: Hellboy is a hated-by-humans creature of myth tasked with stopping a human-hating creature of myth. The prince himself was very cool, all style and deadly competence. And the astounding creatures gave Hellboy II a sense of the fantastic that was simply absent from the first movie.

    Easily in the top 3 movies that I’ve seen this year; the group I was with compared it favorably to Iron Man.

  • MaryAnn

    “All style” certainly is a good description of the film.

  • JoshB

    I’m also a little puzzled by your review. Not to say that the movie was perfect, but I certainly felt it had a unique personality, and was a lot of fun. The core characters were just likeable, even bordering on charming. And, though I hate to jump on the bandwagon here, there was oodles of visual imagination. The robots weren’t scary it’s true, but I LOVED the design, with the exoskeletal armor and the internal clockwork gears incandescent with the fire that drives them. Too cool.

    Admittedly, the main conflict left me pretty cold. There was never a millisecond where I worried for the fate of humanity or Hellboy and his friends. The villain was a wasted opportunity too. Early on Nuada seemed to have more thoughts in his head than “KILL, CRUSH, DESTROY.” He had a philosophy that drove his actions, so I was disappointed when the movie progressed and he just became Cool Ninja Elf guy.

  • Shane

    I agree with you completely, MaryAnn. This was easily one of my most-anticipated summer movies, and I’m already having trouble remembering anything about it the day after watching. I feel like del Toro had all these great ideas for creatures, and then fashioned a weak story around them. There are just so many monsters all the time, that none really have time to register. Plus the plot is so thin, with characters who should know better constantly doing ridiculous things, that the whole film comes off more like a monster demo reel than an honest-to-god movie.

  • I just watched it, only moments ago, and I gotta say I was very underwhelmed… there was so much going on; what’s surprising is that nothing happened. A couple interesting character moments aside, this film just sorta fell on its face.

    Here’s hoping the strong hand of Peter Jackson can keep Del Toro on task for The Hobbit. For the first time since that announcement, I’m feeling some real apprehension.

  • David

    The acting was quite awful, and the dialogue cliched and lame. As a huge fan of Del Toro, I was sorely disappointed. Worried about The Hobbit, too.

  • Bill

    ‘Forgettable’ sums this one up. Despite being overly long, I didn’t feel like I was being given any time to invest in any of the handful of subplots – or the main plotline, for that matter. The multitude of potentially interesting character conflicts were never allowed to develop naturally. Each was driven by annoyingly explicit dialogue from one cliche waypoint to the next. The “humans turn on Hellboy” story was played out so briefly that when the final “he was only trying to help” lines were delivered, I was left whiplashed and wondering if I had missed something (which, admittedly, I might have). It was as if the moviemakers once again said “well, hell, we gotta stick this in here somewhere. Let’s just do it and get it over with.” All in all, too familiar and abbreviated to distinguish itself from a really long Saturday morning cartoon. I think it is only fair to all the not bad movies ever made to describe this one as a bad movie.

  • Allen Darrah

    As a huge Hellboy fanboy I don’t know if I could have been happier with Hellboy II. Every single shot of the flick could have been taken from the comic book, which from what I read pre-release was pretty much what they creator and director were going for. For those who aren’t avid fans of the comics and graphic novels I can honestly understand why this one might disappoint; the initial Hellboy movie, being based more on on a pulp theme (which I enjoyed immensely too, don’t get me wrong), this one was more based on the original creator’s mythological visions and ancient mythos in general. So ultimately I felt the first Hellboy movie was made to appeal to mass audiences so they could then turn around and make the movie they probably originally intended to make, which worked, cause then us fans got our turn with this one.

  • Wow, really? See, I was hugely underwhelmed by the first movie (started strong, plummeted in quality as it went on), whereas I thought this one had a lot more warmth and chemistry between the characters. It *was* a little empty for the first act, but once Hellboy had to put down that Miyazaki-meets-Lovecraft plant monster the movie found its bearing, helped immensely by Barry Manilow. Yes, Barry Manilow actually improved a movie.

    And I honestly can’t wrap my head around the idea that you think this movie is less crazy than the first one. The PLOT is a bit rote, yes, but can any movie featuring a telepathic romance between a fish-man and an elf princess be considered “tame?”

  • Bill

    “…can any movie featuring a telepathic romance between a fish-man and an elf princess be considered “tame?”” – Prankster

    I think so. You didn’t feel like you were watching an ABC sitcom where the characters were dressed up like an elf princess and a fish-man?

  • Nathan

    i went to a Hellboy movie and saw a pretty good Hellboy movie. i don’t know what everyone was expecting. i thought the story was better than that of The Incredible Hulk and the action sequences were better than those of Iron Man…

    there were, though, a few times when the dialogue fell flat, but i would blame that on all the dubbing and the actors not actually interacting as much as a poor script.

  • MaryAnn

    i don’t know what everyone was expecting.

    I was expecting something more like the first flick.

  • Hdj

    Just got back from Hellboy,and I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed. Ok maybe the golden army fight wasn’t tip top, but there was other things like the giant plant monster,those little bone eating bugs and just some other awesome nightmarish stuff. I think the reason why II is different from the first one is, the Hellboy comics ultimately turn in to a team book.
    Right now its in that transition of turning in to a B.P.R.D team series rather then having Hellboy stand alone.Like the other HB fans are saying its loyal to the graphic novels. I think Del Toro’s doing us a favor, but at the same time I found it to be a unique movie that its possible, I would of enjoyed it without Hellboy, and all Abe.
    I guess, to people who just liked the movie and not the books, I guess those changes might not be as favorable. I will say it was cutesy at times, and it doesn’t answer much most don’t know about the Hellboy mythology, but the action was there and Hellboy was just as funny with his lines.

  • “You didn’t feel like you were watching an ABC sitcom where the characters were dressed up like an elf princess and a fish-man?”

    Not really, though I can’t claim to have watched a lot of ABC sitcoms…

    I just don’t get MaryAnn’s criticism that this is somehow a more mainstream, less idiosyncratic film than the first. It had a more coherent storyline, and I guess by the third act we were into typical Indiana Jones territory in terms of the plot mechanics (no pun intended), but Del Toro’s willingness to throw you into the deep end of his imagination sets this apart from most Hollywood fantasy films. I mean, he doesn’t even give us Krauss’s origin story. He’s willing to let the fact that Hellboy’s boss is a dude made of smoke just sort of slide by, because the world of the movie is so bizarre it practically goes unnoticed.

    Also, while we’ve seen plenty of movies where the hero is a Freak Persecuted By Those Who He Protects(tm), this came closer than any of those other movies to making me believe that the heroes might actually blow off the normal human world and let them suffer. In fact, they kind of do do that in the Angel of Death scene, and then again at the end.

    I don’t know, this movie certainly has its flaws, but “forgettable” is definitely not the word I would use.

  • Bill

    “…heroes might actually blow off the normal human world and let them suffer.”

    I do think that the choice made in the almost-death scene was a welcome bit of juicy darkness. But the whole conflict between Hellboy and the human world seemed so false and contrived and, ultimately, silly. It never developed; it was just there then forgotten.

    “…more mainstream, less idiosyncratic film than the first.”

    While I don’t quite share all of MAJ’s enthusiasm for the crazy mad insanity of the first film, I (as one who had not read the comics) was able to revel in the novelty of the Hellboy character and universe. In II, we were introduced to more characters and universe, but this came at the expense of the focus that drove the first film. That’s terribly vague, but gotta get back to work!

  • Totally agree with you MaryAnn. I was so looking forward to this film and it was just “meh”. I was particularly impressed by the effects though. I found myself wondering for the first time in ages while watching a film “How did they DO that?” re the Golden Army. CGI? Models? I thought back to an early line in the film “He’s not a puppet, he’s real!”
    This film was not inspiring, and it wasn’t funny like the first one. And location-wise, wtf? The Giant’s Causeway is really cool. How come they didn’t actually SHOW it?
    I fear for the Hobbit.

  • MaryAnn

    Del Toro’s willingness to throw you into the deep end of his imagination sets this apart from most Hollywood fantasy films.

    I feel that Del Toro’s wild imagination — which I deeply admire — is only a sideshow here, while in the first movie, it was center stage.

  • I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree, because if anything I thought this movie went a little too heavy on the imaginative weirdness. The first movie is the one where it felt (to me) like they were trying to shoehorn Del Toro into a typical Hollywood blockbuster–the presence of Agent Myers being the main signifier (and the fact that he’s gleefully sent packing in the sequel providing something of a statement of intent).

  • Hdj

    Well I don’t agree at all with all this Muddling about fearing for the hobbit. If people saw Peter Jacksons work before he went and did LOTR’s , all you people of the Tolkien books before hand, would be shitting your pants. Lets see he did Dead Alive, one of the most ludicrous zombie movies ever, Bad taste a super cheap alien movie that Jackson made from scratch, oh yeah and Meet the Feebles a dirty muppet show.
    You cant say Del Toro’s any diffrent from Jacksons resume, because there not really visionary different.
    Ya’all just don’t see how good Hellboy 2 really was, and hey Mj if it was only a Sideshow, then how come its in first place? I reckon that if you was in first place, thats the closest to center stage you can get.
    And another thing, was I the only one who thought the troll Princess was hot?

  • Bill

    “And another thing, was I the only one who thought the troll Princess was hot?”


  • Hdj

    Well that don’t bother me one bit, the day we get invaded by aliens or some other warped world species, I’m not gunna limit my self to earth woman.
    I see a hot troll or elf , whatever alien, if shes a she , and shes hot, I dont care if shes red,green or pale like shes been left days in a crock of ammonia for days, I’m there

  • Bill

    Well said. Suppose that your hot she-alien had a twin brother and that the two were connected mentally in such a way that allowed each to feel the pleasures and pains of the other. This is potentially awkward and almost certainly illegal in Mississippi. Would you still pursue her? I wonder if Abe considered this.

  • MaryAnn

    if it was only a Sideshow, then how come its in first place?

    You’re not really going there, are you, Hdj? If it’s popular it must be good?

  • Hdj

    Yeah add the psycho brother in the equation, consider me gone,because he could turn me in to chop suey. I don’t think Abe considered it, he was love struck.For me I’d just move on, plenty of other freakie chicks in this world.
    Mj ; I’ve given it some thought, and no I’m not going to say, good movies are popular movies. But In the case of Hellboy, I think it deserves a little more praise, because what wasn’t there from part one is filled in with new stuff. Look at Superman 2 for an example did it really touch on anything you got in part one, no,Insted of Lex we get Zod, they gota mix it up, thats how sequels are, your expected to jump right in to gear. And if Hellboy sticks around theres plenty of time for more squid monsters and Nazis .

  • Erus

    Well, I loved the movie. I am sorry that others were left unimpressed because this film really grabbed hold of the “little kid” inside of me (more than any other film has done recently) and I walked out feeling very much like a kid at Christmas who had just been reminded what it was like to visit the world of the imagination.

    I did think that the German Poltergeist character was misused and even a bit unnecessary, but it was a small thing for me and didn’t detract over much from the whole. I really loved the “earth god” creature, and was surprised initially because I wasn’t sure whose side I wanted to be on … Hellboy’s or the denizens of the fairy realms … and this conflict stayed with me well into the film … I loved it.



  • I’m kinda sorry Mr. Wink never got his own series.

    I wasn’t exactly disappointed but then I’ve seen Mimic which was a bit more predictable.

  • Hdj

    Erus that German Poltergeist was Johann Kraus, he’s a psychic, hes stuck between the dead and the living, hes made of ectoplasm that he can use to bring the dead temporary back to life to talk it them, hes a cool character , he looks a bit different in the comic but it works in the film.
    The BPRD has one more character that has yet to join the team, Roger the homunculus. Hes this hulk like zombie.
    I really didn’t care much for Mimic thats probably Del Toro’s worst film. Mr. Wink was huge, he was at Comic Con, along with that guy with the “Tumor” stuck to him, I didn’t stay long enough to get pics though, so I don’t know if it talked there, I doubt it , it did squirm around like a worm.

  • Eric

    I think this movie was more “comic-book-paced” than the first one, which definitely had more of a movie-pacing to it… which sort of explains where people are falling in their preference of one over the other.

    My disappointment with this movie was Abe. Abe was so much better in the first movie; everyone I saw this with agreed on this point (we had all just watched the first one a week ago in preparation). David Hyde Pierce’s voice acting was on the money for Abe in the first picture. Doug Jones also threw himself into the role a lot more in the first movie; this time around he seemed to dropped a lot of the great mannerisms he had employed the first time around. Maybe doing the voice himself (I presume he did this time, as no one else was credited for the voice work) he no longer felt he needed to emote as much through body language.

  • Hdj

    I thought Doug Jones did fine, they tried his voice in the cartoon when Pierce didn’t show up for the animation and they decided “well he’s in the suit why not just let him do both”.His body language was a bit goofy but , the movie needed more laughs, can’t just rely on Hellboy’s one liners. Everyones just really just pouring salt on this movies wounds, finding spots to stab it and turn the knife.
    I don’t think I’d pick the voice of Peter Griffin to play Johan Krauss , but when I saw it, it worked as did many many other things in the movie.

  • Mel

    I liked it, perhaps because I didn’t see either the first Hellboy movie or Pan’s Labyrinth (and from what I’ve heard, I’m not sure I’d like the former and I know the latter would give me nightmares and so chose not to see it). I liked that it was morally ambiguous and did not provide any answers, and that it stepped away from the fascism of superhero stories at the end.

  • D

    My favourite part was the one with the angel of death. I hope they bring her back for the third movie.

  • D

    By the way, i can’t open your dark knight review anymore, MaryAnn. I want to comment, but the page just doesn’t open.

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