The Good: Visually imaginative, Moments of character
The Bad: Predictable (obvious) plot, Mediocre acting, Pacing issues
The Basics: Hellboy 2: The Golden Army capitalizes on writer/director Guillermo Del Toro's visual style and love of fairy tales, but gives the viewer little new.
It is a rare thing that I see a movie and review it positively, yet do not look it up well in advance of the release of a sequel. Sometimes when that happens, I check out my original review just to prepare myself for the experience of seeing the new movie. Because I never go back and re-rate my reviews, I am sometimes surprised by what I find when I read my older reviews. This is exactly what I felt going into Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, which I prepared for by re-reading my review on Hellboy (reviewed here!). I remember very little about Hellboy save that the villain became progressively larger and my ultimate feeling was ambivalence.
Still, as I participated in Summer Blockbuster Season (2008), Hellboy 2: The Golden Army sure seemed like a movie I needed to see. After a summer of disappointments and few surprises, I was ready for something good that I would enjoy and might actually surprise me in a good way. Unfortunately, this is not the case with Hellboy 2: The Golden Army, which is sadly average at its best.
As a child, young Hellboy was told the story of a war between the elves and men and the fantastic army of robots that was built for the elves to crush the men. His father read the story of the truce between the two sides and the Elven prince who went into exile rather than accept the peace. There is a crown, split into three parts, which controls the Golden Army and it has been lost to history. As the Bureau of Paranormal Research And Defense struggles to maintain anonymity with Hellboy's antics drawing attention to them, a new director is brought in to establish control.
Around the time the ectoplasmic suit Krauss arrives, there is a brutal attack of tooth fairies that cleans out an auction of prominent citizens in Manhattan at which a portion of the lost crown was being auctioned. Hellboy, Liz, and Abe Sapien find themselves at the mercy of the elf prince. While Hellboy takes on the elf's henchman Mr. Wink and an elemental, Abe discovers the elf princess and pursues her and the last piece of the crown Prince Nuada needs to gain control of the Golden Army. Wounded by a magical spear, Hellboy and Abe must figure out how to prevent the Golden Army from laying waste to humanity and save the life of Princess Nuala, who is mystically tied to her twin brother.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a visually imaginative film by Guillermo Del Toro, perhaps best known for directing Pan's Labyrinth. The problematic aspect of Hellboy 2 is that it looks a lot like Pan's Labyrinth in the lighting and creature design. There are imaginative beings and the scenes in the Troll Market are fun to watch just for the visual spectacle of the creature design. Del Toro has an imagination and it is one that translates well to film, at least for the sense of visual majesty that a good special effects department can execute.
The problem is that Hellboy 2: The Golden Army is a kid's story in many ways set in a fantastic world, remarkably similar to that of Pan's Labyrinth. There is a similar sense of style and story simplicity that carries through both films. The premise of the entire movie is established in the opening story that Hellboy is told as a child and from the moment that prologue ends, the movie is remarkably uncomplicated and terribly predictable.
In other words, this is not a movie where the plot is going to light the world on fire and it certainly is not one that is going to challenge the viewers. The plot is one virtually everyone has seen before, certainly anyone who saw Hellboy has seen a movie with more or less the same plot as this film.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army almost works best when it is not trying to be serious . . . except at the end when Krauss has a throwaway line that panders to the PG-13 audience's mentality. But in one of the earliest sequences, when Director Manning is walking through the Bureau with Sapien and there is background comedy going on, it is amusing enough.
The problem, essentially, is that when the movie is not trying desperately to be funny and get out the catch phrase punchline that kids might quote or attempting to be visually spectacular in a way that surprises or intrigues the audience, the movie falls flat on the character front. Hellboy is irritable and irritated, Liz has become something of a nag and Abe Sapien is just lonely until both Krauss and Nuala come into his life.
Abe's character makes a great deal of sense then, in that he becomes motivated by love, desire and the strong - understandable - urge to be lonely no longer. He makes decisions that are questionable but comprehensible based on those factors and it works. There is a simplicity to his relationship with Nuala and their mutual ability to read thoughts makes for an intensity that makes more sense than the usual love story in a film. The viewer can easily get the levels that Sapien and Princess Nuala are communicating on in the simple scenes where they put their hands together.
The problem comes in the form of Hellboy and his character. Prince Nuada opens Hellboy up to the idea that humans will never accept or like him. While fighting the elemental creature Nuada unleashes, the elf prince and Hellboy have a great conversation where Hellboy is compelled to acknowledge that unique creatures - when destroyed - diminish the whole. That understanding this vital theme does not lead him to change his perspective or modify his actions becomes incredibly disappointing. Equally disappointing is that many of the moments that could be the best character bits end up as obvious plot points.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army does not change, challenge or modify the Hellboy character. Instead, he does what he does, more or less as he did them before, until the movie ends and he still does more or less what he wants. This is not a film about growth or change, but it has all of the important elements of a movie that could be a great character study where that sort of change does happen.
In fact, it seems like this movie is mostly about setting up the third installment as opposed to actually being substantial in its own right. As important, Liz makes the key decision that sets up future installments in possibly the last decent scene in the film. One might think this enhances her character, but instead this just seems - again - like a plot point as opposed to a character decision.
Hellboy 2: The Golden Army might well be a decent flick for those looking for a popcorn movie. I wanted excitement, adventure and something that challenged me and was different from what I have seen before. Instead, this was a very typical fairy tale turned action film with increasingly complex villains who Hellboy and his peers must defeat in order to save the world. Or sell movie tickets. Sadly, this might have been the most expensive movie ticket I ever paid for and it is not worth it. I suppose this movie might work if one has a craving for popcorn during the times the film would be shown as a matinee. But full price . . . nah.
This movie is more like watching a video game for all its substance and predictability. It is stylish, but not substantial and it adds up to an ultimately forgettable film. At least when the third film is released, I won't feel bad about not remembering much about this one.
On DVD, HellBoy 2 features a ton of extras that more or less justify the film's existence (though they do not excuse the imaginative flaws). There are deleted scenes with commentary that add more to the relationships between the primary characters. It's a shame they were not re-integrated back into the movie. There is a commentary track as well as a two-hour featurette on the making of The Golden Army on the second disc. Unfortunately, between the two bits there is a lot of overlap and there is a repetitive quality to them. There is also an extensive look at the special effects and that is pretty cool, but not enough to recommend the movie for a permanent collection.
For other works with Jeffrey Tambor, please check out my reviews of:
The Hangover, Part II
How The Grinch Stole Christmas
For other film reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!
© 2011, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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