Fairies, Trolls, and Devils, Oh My!
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is directed by Guillermo Del Toro and stars Ron Perlman, who reprises his role as the titular Hellboy. Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, and John Hurt return to reprise their roles from the previous film. Newcomers to the cast include John Alexander, Luke Goss, and Anna Walton.
The fantasy genre has never ceased to find a way to be creative over the years with coming up with imaginative and cool-looking monsters, beasts, and fantastical creatures, as evident in the likes of the Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter universes that continue to amaze and be the source of passionate debates among their dedicated fans. But when it comes to superhero movies, fantasy is probably not the first word that comes to mind, although I am one to vouch for all superhero movies falling into either the fantasy or science fiction genres, because doesn't pretty much every single superhero movie contain elements that make up the fantasy and/or science fiction genres? And when you're dealing with a superhero like Hellboy, a demon-devil creature who works and fights against the many paranormal evil-doers that dare to wreak havoc on Planet Earth, how can the word fantasy not ever cross your mind?
The first Hellboy movie was something more closely resembling a gothic, brooding superhero flick that fit snugly with the general style of early 2000's superhero movies. So when its sequel, Hellboy II, rolled around in 2008, superhero movies had transitioned almost completely out of that darker phase, with Christopher Nolan being in the midst of his Dark Knight trilogy, and Marvel jump starting the MCU with the release of the first Iron Man movie while also planting the seeds for superhero movies to start becoming fun blockbusters. And while Hellboy II still retains a lot of the darker film-making aspects that were present in the first Hellboy, it's much more vivid with its fantasy-based atmosphere.
Hellboy II opens up during Christmas 1955, in which Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) tells a story to the young Hellboy. The story is of an ancient war that once took place between humanity and magical creatures. Humanity depletes the magical creatures' army which is spearheaded by the King Balor (Roy Dotrice). The King's blacksmiths offer to build for him a mechanical army that humanity would stand no chance against. With encouragement from his son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), Balor accepts, and the blacksmiths build what is called the Golden Army. The Golden Army overwhelms humanity in battle, an outcome that is met with regret from Balor. Balor decides to form a truce with the humans, the two sides agreeing to keep themselves distant from one another. Balor splits the crown to command the Golden Army into three pieces, one piece given to the humans, and the other two kept by Balor. Nuada, however, is disgusted by this truce, and decides to leave into exile.
Nuada returns in the present day, seeking out the three pieces of the crown in hopes of finding the Golden Army and resurrecting it from its ancient slumber. One of the three pieces is held by his sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), who manages to flee from his grasp and run into Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD. Now needing to protect Nuala from her brother, Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD, now including a new supervisor: the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss (John Alexander and James Dodd), find themselves in direct conflict with Nuada and his desire to control the Golden Army.
- It's an impressive accomplishment when a sequel is able to be just as good, if not better, than its predecessor(s), and this is completely true with Hellboy II. The movie finds various ways to keep its characters interesting, adding new wrinkles to spice up the plot, particularly in how the BPRD struggles with the fact that Hellboy now craves the public spotlight and doesn't shy away from the opportunity to get into direct contact with the media and any person who wants to take his picture. On top of that little nugget, Abe Sapien is given a subplot that I won't spoil, and doesn't just serve as Hellboy's sidekick. The movie's character development is nicely threaded among all of the entertaining action that goes on, keeping the movie highly engaging even when there's no punching or gun-slinging going on.
- Guillermo Del Toro lets his imagination run wild yet again, evident in the new lineup of fantasy creatures that Hellboy goes up against. One such creature I marveled at was the tooth fairy, and no, it's not the same tooth fairy that comes and takes a tooth from under your pillow. The tooth fairies in this movie are insect-like creatures that have a rather large set of teeth that they use to bite and kill, which I think is a neat emphasis on the word tooth in tooth fairy. Strangely enough, Prince Nuada is easily the least fantasy-like character in the entire movie, for he is mostly a martial arts expert whose motivations come from the fact that he believes humanity is fueled by greed and that greed is a bottomless pit that humans keep trying to fill, but never will. The only fantasy-like aspect to Nuada's character is that he has a direct connection to his sister Nuala. Basically, Nuada and Nuala know where the other is at all times, and that should one get a scratch or endure some form of physical pain, the other will endure that same pain. I find Nuada having mostly human traits to be a wise directing choice on the part of Del Toro, because Nuada hardly represents any sort of evil baddie who acquires massive and unstoppable powers in order to take over the world. But at the same time, he is smart enough and skilled enough to combat Hellboy and pose as a serious threat to Hellboy and the rest of the BPRD.
- I appreciate Hellboy II taking the effort to explore more of its characters and what they believe, but one problem the movie definitely has is that it struggles to maintain some its subplots and draw them out enough. One such subplot is the conflict between Johann Krauss and Hellboy, as the two quickly show that they are unable to get along. The movie reaches a point where Krauss is forced to question if going by the books is always the right answer - Krauss is a character who prefers to do things by the books - and he eventually decides to go against the BPRD's protocol in order to help Hellboy (I'm purposefully being vague here for the sake of spoilers). Afterwards, nothing else is mentioned in regards to Hellboy and Krauss becoming friends or if the two had officially settled their differences. Some of the other subplots are just lightly touched upon and don't have much meat to them, but weaker subplots shouldn't be too much of a concern when the main plot stays strong and the characters remain captivating throughout.
If I had to choose, I would pick Hellboy II as the better of the two Del Toro Hellboy movies, largely because this one has a greater sense of fun. That's not to say the first Hellboy wasn't fun, it's just that the departure from the darker and more gothic parts of the world of Hellboy and the stronger emphasis on the fantasy parts allows this sequel a greater opportunity to be fun. And with delightful characters, great action, and more of Del Toro's boundless imagination, Hellboy II is one of those rarer superhero sequels that succeeds on more levels than its predecessor. A Hellboy III movie would have seemed like a natural thing to do, but Del Toro stated back in February 2017 that Hellboy III was not happening, with plenty of stories out there about how no studio wanted to provide the funding for such a film, and that is largely why the film has never been made. I'm sure a Hellboy III would have been a hit, but, hey, not everything needs to be a trilogy, and sometimes, you need to quit while you're ahead.
Recommend? Yes. Watch the first Hellboy movie before you see this one, though.
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