Reel Society

Reviews for the latest movies in theaters and on DVD.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army

Review by Patrick Hodges

Given how the general public’s acknowledgement and admiration for director Guillermo Del Toro’s work has grown in leaps and bounds since the original Hellboy film in 2004.  Apart from the quite-sizable cult following that Hellboy developed on DVD and cable TV in the years following its only-slightly-noteworthy run in theaters, Del Toro became known as one of the most imaginative and creative directors in the world after the Spanish-language critical darling Pan’s Labyrinth hit theaters in 2007.

He has been pegged to take the reins from Peter Jackson in the two-part adaptation to J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings precursor The Hobbit.  But in the meantime, he re-teamed with graphic novelist Mike Mignola to develop a second chapter in the Hellboy saga.

If you’re not familiar with the character, Hellboy (played with a true sardonic wit by Ron Perlman) is the son of Satan, and he looks the part:  red skin, sawed-off horns on his head, and yellow eyes.  But, believe it or not, he’s a good guy:  he loves cats, television, and his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz (though not necessarily in that order), who seems to be tiring of the fact that he won’t change his slovenly ways for her.

However, when Prince Nuada, an ancient underworld king, decides to break a centuries-old truce and raise an unstoppable army to wage war on humankind, Hellboy and the rest of his team (which also includes a fish-like bipedal empathy named Abe and a sentient gas-being called Johann) must spring into action.

All you really need to know about this film is, if you liked the first one, you’ll most likely enjoy this one as well.  If you didn’t, well, you may want to check it out anyway just to plumb the depths of Del Toro’s rather unique imagination.  Because it is that imagination, considerably more than the aforementioned characters or the plot, that seemed to take center stage in this film.

If you saw Pan’s Labyrinth, then you’ll know that Del Toro’s penchant for strange-looking creatures knows no bounds.  And the scene that takes place in the well-hidden “Troll Market” showcases some of the motliest collection of creatures seen since the legendary cantina scene in the original Star Wars film.  However, breathtaking though it was, it really detracted from the rest of the story.  It was kind of like Del Toro wanted the world to appreciate his talent as a director and a visionary than to create a truly engaging story.

The effects were decent, the dialogue was crisp and witty (just as I expected) and the fight scenes were well-choreographed.  But as a whole, Hellboy II: The Golden Army’s ratio of style to substance was weighted far too much to the side of the former than it needed to be.  If there is to be a Hellboy 3 (and they definitely left that possibility open), I hope that he creates a film that is less sizzle, more steak.

3 1/2  / 5 stars


Review by Rebecca Roth

Guillermo del Toro has grown in talent and maturity, but most importantly in budget, since Hellboy (2004). His latest outing, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is more of the same, but it raises the bar from the original – in a knock-down, drag-out feast for both the eyes and the whimsy.

The movie tells the story of an exiled prince of elves who returns to take his revenge on the world of men, your basic “humans are greedy bastards who oppress everyone else” storyline. Unfortunately, there is nothing particularly remarkable in the story or even the scripting of this film that makes it a smashing success, so it is heavily weighted on the action, delivery, and graphics of the film.

To say the least Ron Perlman does an exemplary job of making Hellboy - a gruff, disorderly, and generally abrasive character, seem vulnerable and likeable. His perpetual sarcasm and dry wit is refreshing to see from the “hero”, though I can’t help but feel the movie scene is being glutted with this anti-hero model (Iron Man, Hancock, even The Dark Knight). Hellboy isn’t necessarily a team player and is endlessly trying to resolve things on his own, always protecting others, even when he doesn’t do it in most helpful manner. The character is a bit of an enigma, which Perlman really brings to life, self-conscious about being different, yet a hopeless showoff, desperate for approval.

The other leading characters returning for the second film have all developed drastically in this 2nd film, with one notable and saddening exception – Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor). Though he spends a great deal more time on the screen, what I believe is intended to be a meek and somewhat mistreated character, just ends up seeming whiny.

At the opposite end of the spectrum is the pyrokinetic Liz Sherman (Selma Blair); it would appear that the girl who seemed in the first film to be so fragile she might blow away in a strong wind, is now a force to be reckoned with.  I love this new Liz, but the movie simply leaves an unexplained void for the audience in not telling what exactly happened to bring her to where she is now, so the change is a bit abrupt and for those who have seen the first film.

In yet another great character development, we are shown Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) has a soft side! This stereotypical geek, is led to stretch his somewhat awkward emotional legs upon meeting the elven Princess Nuala, culminating in a touching (and a bit ear-splitting) scene involving Barry Manilow’s  Can’t Smile Without You. Doug Jones has made a career out of playing out-of-this-world characters (we will likely next see him as the Silver Surfer in the movie of the same name), also appears as the Angel of Death (a nearly identical character to the horrifying “Pale Man” that he played in Pan’s Labyrinth – all of which make evident that he has an amazing talent for communicating through his mannerisms to the audience even though the majority of his parts are heavily costumed to the point you never see his face.

The newcomers are likewise ideal additions. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) is the epitome of the evil fairy tale character and his twin, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) clearly his antithesis, is timid, kind and noble. The real standout here is the new member of the BPRD – a sentient gaseous creature named Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth McFarlane of Family Guy and American Dad), who shows up in order to be a strong-handed leader for the group (which Hellboy doesn’t take too well), and a hilarious power struggle ensues.

As far as the aforementioned stunning visuals and big budget, well, you just have to see it to understand! The heavily buzzed “troll market” scene brings me back to the well known Star Wars cantina scene, it draws us into a reality of numerous species co-existing and interacting seamlessly; it is simply awe-inspiring the creativity one must have to come up with the things on display there.  Despite some great CGI, the actual “Golden Army” doesn’t get much more visually stimulating than the scenes shown in the previews, but when all said and done, they are meticulously detailed and beautiful.

Recurring themes we see in Guillermo del Toro’s work is the hidden, but ever nearby, supernatural world and its fragility. Unlike many other filmmakers, he is able to make the struggling relationship between man and nature a subtle undertone that is believable and not at odds with the comic quality of the film, to me his ability to so masterfully weave a message into such a film is a triumph in and of itself beyond this being a generally enjoyable movie to watch.  The mind of Guillermo del Toro is clearly genius, and I applaud what he has done with the Hellboy franchise, and in fact hope to see another bigger, badder Hellboy sequel in upcoming years.

4 / 5 stars


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