The first Hellboy film, directed by Guillermo del Toro and based on the popular comic book character created by Mike Mignola, was a pleasant cinematic surprise. Hellboy had an incredible visual style, impressive effects, fast pace, undeniable energy and a great performance by Ron Perlman buried underneath a ton of prosthetic makeup, so much so that it was easy to miss the fact the film was rather light on story. The first viewing of the film was filled with a sense of "this is awesome" coolness that upon repeated viewings eventually gave way to the realization of "there ain't much story here"--ultimately it was little more than an extended chase punctuated with a few fights. With the inevitable sequel, Hellboy II: The Golden Army, del Toro returns with his first follow film since the brilliant Pan's Labyrinth, and delivers a film that is a shaky mix of comic book fanboy fun and awkward disappointment over a movie that never quite delivers all that it promises.
Ron Perlman returns as Hellboy, the hard drinking, tough-as-nails spawn of the Devil, who has committed his life to protecting mankind from the supernatural forces of evil. Having already introduced Hellboy and the rest of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense--Hellboy's girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), the aquatic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and the uptight Tom Manning (Jeffery Tambor)--the film wastes very little time with character introductions, and instead jumps right into the plot. The short version: Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), the exiled son of King Balor (Roy Dotrice), ruler of the enchanted world of mythical creatures that exists unseen by human eyes, has returned to lead war against humanity. Thousands of years earlier, King Balor authorized the building of the Golden Army, an unstoppable force of mechanical soldiers that nearly wiped humans off the face of the Earth. But before that happened, Balor entered into a truce with the humans. Now, many millenniums later, Nuada, seeing that humans have ravaged the planet and paid no respect to nature, wants to reactivate the Golden Army to rid the planet of mankind. Of course, it is up to Hellboy and the rest of the B.P.R.D. to help him, along with new member Johann Krauss (voice of Seth MacFarlane) a mysterious gaseous cloud that lives in a mechanical suit.
While Hellboy is fully dedicated to helping save the human race, he doesn't want to do it in secrecy. This leads to a continual battle between him and Manning, who works diligently to keep the B.P.R.D. a secret. But when the Bureau is called in to investigate the scene of a crime committed by Nuada, Hellboy is finally exposed to the public, who react mostly in disgust to his odd appearance. This only further sours his surly disposition, and adds more complications to his life as Liz and he suffer through relationship problems. Meanwhile, Abe falls for Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), the sister of Nuada, who is linked to her brother psychically and physically.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is not a bad film, but it is not as good as the first film. Or, perhaps more appropriately, for anyone who has seen the first film already, HB2:TGA fails to deliver the same sense of initial wonder. It suffers, among other things from coming on the heels of both the first film, as well as del Toro's Pan Labyrinth, both of which represent the director's better work. This film, while possessing all of the visual wonder and incredible sense of energetic action that defines most of del Toro's work, also suffers from the same pitfalls many of his movies fall victim to. Specifically, del Toro sometimes has problems with story. With a strong sense of style and clear vision of what he wants to show in terms of visuals and action, del Toro often falls into the trap of not giving as much attention to story as he should (the two real exceptions being Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone).
Hellboy II is a good example of a film that falls apart as far as the story is concerned. The movie does very little to further develop the existing characters, which is inexcusable, especially given the fact that Hellboy has been prophesized to be the one who brings about the eventual destruction of mankind. This little fact is bandied about with little consequence, and at no point does the film ever leave the audience guessing as to whether or not the hell-spawned superhero will save the day. It doesn't help that the film's nefarious villain is so well-intentioned in his hatred of the human race that he borders on being sympathetic, actually making Nuada more complex than the film's protagonist.
Other problems plague the film too, including poorly developed subplots, and a moment or two where the sense of time is thrown off, raising questions that are never answered. In a comedic moment, Hellboy destroys the helmet that serves as the head for Krauss, but a scene or two later, it is completely repaired with no explanation. Likewise, the breathing apparatus Abe Sapien uses to walk around on land that is described as looking like a toilet seat early in the movie is completely discarded by the second half of the film, and we are left to wonder how he is suddenly able to move around outside the water with nothing to help him keep breathing.
If Hellboy was a very good film--though short on substantial story--then Hellboy II: The Golden Army is just an okay film that happens to have really great special effects. And ultimately, for better or worse, that is the only real reason to see HB2:TGA, because it is a film that never truly lives up to its potential as a compelling story, but far exceeds its promise of being a visually stunning bit of eye candy.
David Walker is the creator of BadAzz MoFo, a nationally published film critic, and the Writer/Director of Black Santa's Revenge with Ken Foree now on DVD [Buy it now]