I didn’t think that the first Hellboy feature was all that great, but I was excited for Hellboy II – probably because it seemed to Guillermo Del Toro appeared, in all of the promo materials, to have taken a leaf from his Pan’s Labyrinth book. That’s not to say, in the final breakdown, that The Golden Army is anywhere near the level of Pan’s Labyrinth, but it’s a good enough time.
After Elven Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) crashes an auction to steal a third of the crown that controls the legendary Golden Army, the Bureau of Paranormal Research & Defence is put on the case. Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) have been having their differences of late and, with Hellboy acting even more brashly than usual, ectoplasmic entity Johann Krauss (Seth McFarlane[!]) accompanies them. Things get rather more complicated when Abe (Doug Jones) falls clumsily in love with Nuada’s twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), and bargains are struck and things are investigated, and on and on.
Honestly, the plot is less important than the set pieces – and what set pieces they are! Some feel like this film was cobbled together from the leftovers of Pan’s Labyrinth, but that’s probably nothing to be ashamed of. It’s certainly a much more visually interesting film than its predecessor, worth the price of admission simply for the scenery underground in Ireland – but it’s also not without its charms. Despite the near catatonic performance of Selma Blair as Liz, the interplay between the characters is fun and the theme song of the movie makes the whole thing work. The movie ends on my pet hate of a freeze frame, but it manages to get away with it because it reprises the theme in such a deliberately horrid way that you can’t help but smile and go along with it.
The early stages of the film feel largely the same as Hellboy, with the notable absence of John Hurt in modern times to ground Red, but things pick up when Nuada goes to see his father in the Elven High Court. Nuada has a point: the world of elves, goblins and abandoned folklore is approximately one billion times more interesting than that of the humans. At the best of times, in the Troll Market, I felt almost like I was watching a Star Wars movie from the days when Star Wars was both interesting and organic. Del Toro is a fan of make up and prostheses rather than CG smoke and mirrors, and that manifests itself effectively here. The elemental battle around the Brooklyn Bridge area is obviously not all real, but it’s a treat to look at nonetheless.
The love story is sweet, if unimposing, and there’s definitely a total lack of an epic or urgent feel to the movie despite it being about an indestructible army. Nuada himself is unimposing, but his understatedness is fairly effective at getting the point across. Most of the grand ideas on offer seem somehow undernourished, as if the movie is just progressing from one scene to another with the appearance of narrative sense, but with the bare minimum of satisfactory development.
Basically, my feelings are mixed: Hellboy II: The Golden Army is very nice to look at and enjoyable overall, but is also unimpressive. It certainly has multiple strengths, but it’s not a movie that I’ll think back on, or one that will haunt me, as did Pan’s Labyrinth. Del Toro is certainly a director worth watching and, if Hellboy III eventuates, I’ll definitely be there to check it out.