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Awesome: 25.86%
Worth A Look62.07%
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6 reviews, 22 user ratings

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Hellboy II: The Golden Army
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by Peter Sobczynski

"It's Hellboy Time Man!"
4 stars

If “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” does only one thing, it reconfirms writer-director Guillermo del Toro’s standing as one of the most gifted and truly visionary fantasy filmmakers in the entire history of the medium. From start to finish, he presents us with one visually stunning sequence after another in which he leads us into elaborately designed and executed worlds populated with a rich variety of bizarre and fascinating worlds that capture our attention whether they are central to the plot or throwaway bits tucked away in the corners for only the keenest of eyes to spot. If “Hellboy II” does two things, however, it reconfirms the notion that del Toro is a filmmaker who is much more interesting when he is serving his own unique and original creations, as he did most famously with the awe-inspiring “Pan’s Labyrinth” as well as with such lesser-known gems as “Cronos” and “The Devil’s Backbone,” than he is when he is working from material inspired by someone else’s work, as he showed in “Blade 2” and the original “Hellboy.” Those films were filled with amazing sights and sounds but they lacked the heart and personality that allowed his original creations to transcend the boundaries of standard genre filmmaking and transform into something that even the snakiest snob could easily refer to as art. In “Hellboy II,” the latest film based on the acclaimed comic book character created by Mike Mignola, del Toro has made an astounding bit of eye candy that nevertheless comes up a little short in other areas and while that doesn’t completely ruin the film, viewers going in hoping for another emotional masterpiece on the level of “Pan’s Labyrinth” may come away from it slightly disappointed.

Like the first film, “Hellboy II” starts off with a prologue featuring our hero--a red-skinned demon who was created as the result of a brief collaboration between Satan and the Nazis and adopted by the U.S. Army when he was discovered in 1944, if I recall, and whose astonishing strength and generally foul temper almost, but not quite, hide his essentially sweet nature--as a young helllad in 1955 who, like any other young boy from that era, is obsessed with Howdy Doody, isn’t big on brushing his teeth and who plans to stay up all night on Christmas Eve in order to catch a glimpse of that other great crimson-clad fantasy figure. To get him to finally go to sleep, his adopted father, Professor Broon (John Hurt), reads him a bedtime story, though it will probably comes as no surprise to discover that his selection is not “A Visit from St Nicholas.” Instead, he tells a tale (which we see visualized in puppet form through Hellboy’s eyes) about an ancient time in which humans and mystical creatures lived aide by side until the humans decided that they wanted more power and began slaughtering the otherworldly beings until their king had a fearsome army of mechanical soldiers, known as the Golden Army, created in order to fight back. This army proved so destructive that the king vowed never to use it again and struck a truce with the humans--we would get the cities, they would get the forests and the crown that controlled the power of the Golden Army would be split into three pieces--two going to the king and one going to the humans-- and cause the army to remain dormant until the day that the crown is reassembled. The only person objecting to this truce is Prince Nuada (Luka Goss), the king’s hot-headed son who goes into exile vowing to one day reassemble the crown and destroy mankind once and for all. When mankind’s share of the crown turns up at a Manhattan auction house, Nuada, aided by his fearsome minions, retrieves it in the messiest manner possible before returning home to claim the other two pieces from his father and awaken the army and wreak further havoc on us all.

This sounds like a job for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, the quasi-clandestine government agency that Hellboy (Ron Perlman) works for alongside a number of other oddballs (in the best sense of the term) under the supervision of constantly exasperated flunky Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), whose central tasks consist of futilely trying to convince Hellboy to keep a low profile while out in the streets on assignment (not the easiest thing in the world when you have red skin, horns, a tail and you continue to dare to smoke in public in Manhattan) and trying to convince eyewitnesses that the inexplicable sights that they have just seen are merely the result of an ordinary gas leak. However, the personal dilemmas involving Hellboy and his co-workers are so overwhelming that it almost comes as a relief to them when they are forced to put them aside in order to battle bizarre and deadly creatures. For example, Hellboy and longtime crush Liz (Selma Blair), who can conjure up enormous infernos with just a thought, have finally become an official couple and are currently in a bit of a rough patch in which she seems to be upset at everything he does. What our hero doesn’t know, but which we find out early on in the proceedings, is that as a result of helping to turn Hellboy into a Hellman, Liz is now pregnant and doesn’t know how to break the news to him. Another romantic conflict comes when Piscean colleague Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, now being allowed to use his own voice instead of being redubbed by David Hyde Pierce as he was in the previous installment) helps to rescue Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), the physically and psychically-linked twin sister of Nuada and the possessor of the crucial third piece of the crown, from Nuada’s cronies and finds himself falling head over flippers for her. On a non-romantic level, tension arises at the BPRD with the arrival of a new supervisor in the form of Johann Krauss, who turns out to be an ectoplasm mist housed in the body of an old-school robot and bearing the kind of German accent (provided by “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane) of a kind not heard in a movie since Madeline Kahn appeared in “Blazing Saddles.”

I wasn’t the hugest fan of the original “Hellboy” film from 2004--it suffered from the standard problem facing most superhero origin movies in that it spent so much time setting up the characters and explaining their various powers and backstories that by the time the story proper finally kicked in, the film was nearly over--but I did admire both the visual style that del Toro brought to the proceedings (which managed to bring credible life to Mignola’s fantastical creations) and the hilarious and spot-on central performance from Ron Perlman in the title role, a part that he was truly born to play. This time around, del Toro is no longer a slave to all the exposition that he was forced to wade through the first time around (which means that if you never saw the first film, you might want to brush up on it before checking this one out) and is free to take the characters anywhere that he wants to take him. However, his imagination in regards to storytelling seems curiously limited this time around--instead of the head-spinning and thought-provoking narratives that he brought to “The Devil’s Backbone” and “Pan’s Labyrinth,” in which the real-life horrors of the Spanish Civil War served as effective backdrops for his own terrifying creations, he has presented us here with the kind of middle-of-the-road consequence-free fantasy narrative that any number of filmmakers could have churned out at the drop of a hat. It doesn’t necessarily make for a bad film--though I must admit that the chief villain is fairly uninteresting (the most frightening thing about him is his unsettling resemblance to one of the White Chicks from that hideous Wayans Brothers movie from a couple of years ago) and the final clash between Hellboy and the Golden Army is likewise a bit of a disappointment--but coming on the heels of a truly great work like “Pan’s Labyrinth,” you get the feeling at times that del Toro is simply treading water with a safe payday gig while saving his real creative energies for his next original project.

As proof of this, I would submit the inescapable fact that while the action sequences are as lavishly staged and executed as one could possibly hope for, it quickly becomes evident that del Toro is far more interested in the more lyrical and character-driven moments than in endless orgies of destruction. The film is filled with nifty little touches throughout, that will stick in my mind long after the battles will have faded from view, such as the especially haunting and poetic demise of a giant forest god that Hellboy battles in the streets of New York. I also loved our glimpses of the hidden-in-plain-sight Troll Market, a place so lavishly designed and rich with character and mood that I would have been perfectly happy if del Toro had simply decided to abandon the story altogether and just spend the rest of the running time exploring the place in detail (and I get the feeling that if del Toro had his druthers, he would have preferred that as well). He also has a lot of fun with the characters as well and invests them with such good humor and quirky personality traits (two elements that tend to be in short supply in superhero movies not starring Robert Downey Jr) that as I was watching the film, it began to dawn on me that an ambitious and enterprising soul could spin them off into a very funny sitcom if they were so inclined. (Again, I mean this as a compliment--think of it as a paranormal “30 Rock” or a slightly less frightening version of “The Office.”) In fact, the single best scene in the entire film is a quieter and more personality-based bit of business--the singular sight of Hellboy and Abe, both suffering from romantic problems, commiserate with each other while bonding over beer and Barry Manilow. If we didn’t know and care about these characters, this sequence would just come off as a bad joke but because we have been given the chance to know them (thanks to the beautiful performances from Perlman and Jones), it becomes one of those standout moments that people will be fondly recalling for years to come.

As you might have noticed, there have been a lot of big-screen adaptations of comic book characters that have come along this summer and compared to that bunch, “Hellboy II” is slightly above average--it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the absolutely amazing “The Dark Knight,” it never reaches the insulting depths of “The Incredible Hulk” and it is a little bit better than “Iron Man” (which didn’t have that much else to distinguish itself other than that great Robert Downey Jr. performance). It is fun and entertaining and visually dazzling but as it was going on, I couldn’t help but wish that Guillermo del Toro had been able to take the lavish budget and the quirky cast that he assembled and deployed them in the service of something new and original from his unique imagination than in providing us with a second glimpse of something that he has already shown us before. Then again, his filmography seems to be following a pattern in which he alternates increasingly amazing original works with less personal projects that nevertheless contain enough intriguing elements to make them worth checking out. Based on that, his next original film, whatever that may be and whenever it may come (at least not until he finishes his upcoming two-film adaptation of “The Hobbit“), cannot possibly arrive soon enough.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=17014&reviewer=389
originally posted: 07/11/08 00:22:04
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User Comments

8/25/20 morris campbell trash just like the original 1 stars
9/05/09 CTT A perfect action film 5 stars
2/03/09 the dork knight better action sequences, but I liked the first one more. 4 stars
12/27/08 terry wonderful except for barry manilows song and bad handling of all the bad romance 5 stars
11/27/08 Yvette I thought it was great. Lot of action!! 4 stars
10/31/08 Lee written, directed, and edited by a child. Turning off your brain is not enough to enjoy 1 stars
9/13/08 Random The final act was a let down. But HB2 was great until the Golden Army [got] showed up. 4 stars
9/02/08 Shaun Wallner Bloody Awesome!!! 5 stars
8/24/08 Samantha Pruitt visually stunning, the "emotional" parts are kind of lame! 4 stars
8/05/08 E K Zimmerman Exceptional - the best superhero movie since the first one. 5 stars
7/27/08 g. very well done. 4 stars
7/20/08 Al Guy Good, but too much comedy. 3 stars
7/17/08 Vickie Couturier No way,no how,saw this with my daughter ewwwwwwwwwwwww 1 stars
7/14/08 KingNeutron Slow start and the hand2hand combat is the best part -- 3.5 *s 3 stars
7/14/08 caiphn Visually amazing, great creatures and whatnot. Some of the silliest dialogue ever. 3 stars
7/14/08 Karen Great movie! 5 stars
7/13/08 Quigley A visually stunning, extremely well-made comic book adaptation. Not enough story, though. 5 stars
7/13/08 George Barksdale A SciFi movie I like to watch, lots of action and funny in spots to break the excitement. 4 stars
7/13/08 AJ Muller Simply spectacular. Very funny and moving, with great action. Loved it. 5 stars
7/12/08 Alex Spivey this was amazing 5 stars
7/11/08 SeanS Surprisingly hilarious, gorgeously detailed, and a whole lot of fun. 5 stars
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  11-Jul-2008 (PG-13)
  DVD: 18-Nov-2008


  DVD: 18-Nov-2008

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