The biggest problem with Guillermo Del Toro’s first “Hellboy” movie, which chronicles the world-saving adventures of a blood-red, de-horned demon behemoth played by Ron Perlman who protects the world he is destined to destroy, was that for all of the craziness surrounding the character and the director’s imagination, there was too much convention, typified by Rupert Evans’ dull FBI agent and the lifeless love triangle involving the human flamethrower Liz (Selma Blair).
Thankfully “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” the sequel that came four years later, jettisons anything resembling conventional or rudimentary. In fact, this film makes it’s already lively predecessor look like “My Dinner with Andre.” This sequel is bigger in scope, funnier, weirder and just more audacious in its execution when compared to other comic book movies. More often than not this feels less like a movie and more like a 120-minute excursion into Guillermo Del Toro’s extraordinarily vivid imagination.
“The Golden Army” finds the FBI-commissioned team dedicated to fighting the paranormal, still consisting of Hellboy, the intelligent fish-man psychic Abe Sapien (once again played by Doug Jones, who also replaces David Hyde Pierce on vocal duties) and the fire-wielding, emotionally troubled Liz (Selma Blair, more comfortable but still an uneven performance), finding it more difficult to keep their identities a secret. This problem comes to a head after an attack on a New York museum that results in mass destruction and the reveal of Hellboy and company to the world. But the compromise of their team’s identity is nothing compared to the plans of one Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) the elvish Albino offspring of Marilyn Manson, who is looking for the missing pieces that make up a crown that will summon the Golden Army, mechanical beasts that will take back the world for mystical creatures, who aren’t pleased about being banished to forests. Oh, and the also have to contend with their new handler, Johann Krauss, who suffers from the unfortunate afflictions of being turned into vapor and being voiced by Seth MacFarlane.
Although Nuada is a more interesting villain than Rasputin was in the first movie, his plan is mere structure for Del Toro, cinematographer Guillermo Navarro and his design team to unleash every insane visual idea they’ve ever had. We get more of a look at the beasts that invade our world, and they are a wonder to behold. There is no CGI here, practical costumes and effects bring these sometimes funny sometimes horrifying but always fascinating monsters to life. The scene in an underground “troll market” is packed to the breaking point with these beasts. In fact, the entire movie is packed to the breaking point with everything that Del Toro, who wrote the script with Mike Mignola (who created the original comic book) wanted to throw into the original but was sidetracked by the utterly pointless John Meyers subplot (he was sent to Antarctica in this one, thank God for small favors). This film is definitely lighter in tone, but it’s the greater piece of cinematic execution. The characters are given more to do (Perlman is still a natural as the titular character), we learn more about the world they do battle with, and we get more set pieces, which are executed with almost balletic precision. The epic final confrontation between Hellboy’s team and the Golden Army is truly spectacular, with swords, robots, and gunfire all thrown into a phantasmagorical maelstrom; that same energy that powered the first movie feels like its been pumped with steroids.
This movie feels more like a fusion of Mignola’s original and Del Toro’s obsessions than the first movie, diving into the deep end with a set-piece involving a massive tree-demon thing that chases Hellboy through New York City while he carries a baby, and a hilarious scene where Abe and Hellboy drown their sorrows in booze and Barry Manilow, and then must do battle with Nuada in their own home.
“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” doesn’t have the emotional or allegorical heft of his greatest works like “The Devil’s Backbone” or “Pan’s Labyrinth”, but in a way this film is his “Goodfellas”: an ecstatic showpiece for all of his skills and obsessions; it’s the rare sequel that isn’t designed for inflated box office grosses: it was created to inflate the idiosyncrasies of its creators and its hero.