After seeing the preview trailer for Hellboy II: The Golden Army, it easily became my most-anticipated movie in July (I know everyone else is waiting for the Bat). Once I saw that director Guillermo del Toro was going to throw even more of his fabulously dark fantasy creatures into this movie than his previous effort, Pan’s Labyrinth, I got very excited. In the first Hellboy, the lead big-red-devil-with-a-hand-of-stone spent his time either fighting slimey monsters or getting grumpy about his troubled love-sickness over flame-girl Liz. Those elements are still here in Golden Army, but instead of the Nazi-occult angle of the first one, this movie bases its supernatural premise on the idea of a hidden world of creatures such as goblins, trolls, and fairies secretly, and peacefully, coexisting with humans (at least it was peaceful for a millennium or so). However, before the word “fairies” has anyone inviting their 4-year-old daughters or nieces for a trip to the cinema, don’t forget that it’s a dark movie — these fairies are more piranha than butterfly. When Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are on assignment to stop Nuada, prince of the elves (think less Keebler or Santa’s elves and more Legolas from Lord of the Rings, only paler) who is bent upon vengeance on humankind for ruining the world. His plan is to stamp us all out with an invincible Golden Army. If you didn’t really enjoy fairy tales as a kid, you’ve probably stopped reading this review already. But if you like that kind of fantasy stuff, you will really enjoy this movie.
One of the odd things about the character of Hellboy is that even though he himself is a fantastical creature, he acts mostly like a blue collar guy. With Liz, he comes across like a quasi-chauvinistic “big lug”. Around his superiors, he actually seems kind of obnoxious. I hadn’t minded that in the comic books, but on screen it becomes much more obvious. Bottom line is that it makes for an ironic fish-out-of-water story since he acts more stereotypically human than many of those around him. For those reasons, I’ve not been too fond of Hellboy as a movie hero. I would have preferred Prince Nuada (except for his creepy skin). He’s strong, elegant, and cunning, with awesome fighting skills. That being said, I love a Hellboy story more for everything else: the steampunk-style technology, the quasi-mythical history, the wondrously strange team members (all of which del Toro really goes to town on). The team members are pretty cool, especially Abe Sapien (the literate fish-man who is Hellboy’s buddy and partner on missions) who gets a romantic subplot this time around. A new character is introduced to lead the team: Dr. Johann Krauss, an intelligent, by-the-book agent whose body is composed of ectoplasmic gas. Also, flame-girl Liz is now staying around, having coupled up with Hellboy. Better able to control her temper (and her fire powers), she’s also one of the B.P.R.D. agents. There’s a lot of good dialogue between these characters, especially a number of humourous moments (though I really wasn’t a fan of Hellboy and Abe getting drunk).
Aside from the main characters, the amazing creation here are the fantasy creatures. Visually, they are incredible: beautiful, bizarre, with a touch of creepy. There’s a number of scenes where the B.P.R.D. team heads to a Troll Market to find information. The crowds there are such an impressive variety of strange looking beings that it puts the Star Wars creature cantina to shame. My favourite was a priest or librarian of some kind whose head looked like a miniature cathedral with two eyes — I kid you not! At one point, Hellboy fights an elemental god who is a multi-storey-tall plant whose blood actually grows vegetation wherever it splashes. There are also many building and sets which look quite grand and awe-inspiring. I hope that this movie will be remembered in the art categories when Oscar time rolls around. Unlike a period film where designers have to make everything match a particular historical style, for this movie they also had the added challenge of imagining them all first from scratch.
Every time I see a movie where fantasy elements have come vividly to life, it gives me a lot of hope for my favourite genre. I wish that there would be more movies like this so that it won’t still seem like such a niche category. (Let’s face it, this movie was very geek-oriented. From looking around the theatre, I would have guessed that there was no more than 5% overlap between the Hellboy 2 audience and the Sex and the City audience.) Lord of the Rings was a watershed and I hope that del Toro’s work here, and with the future Hobbit movies that he’s planning to make, will really help boost the mainstreaming of fantasy films. For now, I am really pleased with this movie and I think it surpassed the first Hellboy movie on many levels. (5 out of 5)
What if I had made Hellboy II: The Golden Army?
As much as I loved the creature design, I hate the slightly undead look of the elves (Lord of the Rings meets Dawn of the Dead). I don’t mind the white skin, but I would have done away with the creepy yellowish eyes, and the natural scar lines on their faces. I also thought there was too much teen angst between the main characters (even though they’re not teens). I would have toned down the personal issues. Try hard as he could, I don’t think that del Toro was able to really integrate those elements seamlessly into the style of the main story. Finally, there’s one scene which didn’t make sense to me: when Prince Nuada was trying to capture a particular someone, he came very close to getting her, but then preferred to take the time to unleash a monster instead. I would have tried to figure out how to make that a more reasonable scene than it was. All that being said, Hellboy II: The Golden Army was an awesome movie and I was completely not disappointed.
I went to see this movie in the new AMC theatres at Yonge & Dundas. The digital projector in the theatre was noticeably good. Even the 20 minutes of trailers before the start of the movie were clearer than I’ve seen anywhere. I’m not usually a stickler for theatre technology, but this was really a note-worthy difference. Check it out if you’re in the area.