In 2004, then-relative unknown director Guillermo Del Toro adapted the challenging comic book "Hellboy" into a mildly successful and extremely entertaining movie about a tough, red demon with a stone hand who likes cigar and kittens, is in love with a firestarter who looks a hell of a lot like Selma Blair and who protects humanity from monsters, immortal Nazis and so on and so forth. Hellboy is not the kind of character that one would think audiences could relate to, but relate they did, mainly with the help of Ron Perlman's performance. Hellboy II: The Golden Army picks up where the first one left off... sort of.
Hellboy II brings back Perlman, Blair and other members of the cast, and most importantly Del Toro, who has since proved his worth with the excellent and ultimately denied Pan's Labyrinth. With Del Toro's newfound imagination for the weird, Hellish creatures from Labyrinth, Hellboy II had the makings of being an incredible and improved sequel.
That is not the case.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is entertaining, pretty funny and has some good action scenes, but something is amiss, not quite right, a little off, a tad different. While a continuation in story, the movie feels more like a reboot with a different writer, different actors and different visuals, which is odd since the writer, director and actors are all the same. The improvements are not for the better. Hellboy himself seems more subdued, more lovely dubby, less sarcastic and less intimidating, and that's not a good thing. He walks around love stricken for most of the movie and hesitates when he must kill nasty creatures. The relationship between Blair and Hellboy is bitter at best; Del Toro skipped over the good times and went straight to the downhill part. We never got to see them as a loving couple, and thus we can't relate when they're somewhat beyond that. The chemistry between Blair and Perlman seems to have fizzled. Abe Sapien, too, is different, his character less odd and less intriguing. A romance that sparks between him and and an underworld princess is more distracting than anything else.
There's just something off about the movie, and the blame must fall on Del Toro. He tried to turn his action-comedy premise into a fantasy-action-comedy, and the result is inconsistent at best. Hellboy's foray into a troll market, which is like an extreme, monster-filled version of Harry Potter's Diagon Alley, is interesting but surprisingly too magical for Hellboy, at least based on my limited knowledge of the character from the first movie. The encounter with his personal "death" and the decision Blair's character must face is interesting as well and truly imaginative, but also seems out of place in a movie like Hellboy II.
Going into Hellboy II, I was looking forward to an amalgam of Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, but in hindsight, I just wanted Hellboy. I wanted the tough, sarcastic character to kick some ass and take on a truly intimidating villain, and that just didn't happen, at least not entirely. Again, Hellboy II is entertaining, but it shifts from comedy (including a singing sequence between Hellboy and Abe) to action to drama, but doesn't properly combine the three. Furthermore, the main villain, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) isn't nearly as intimidating as I was expecting. Though he wants to kill all of humanity, he isn't nearly as scary or dark as he needed to be. Compared to the ruthless villain of the first film, he is nothing.
All that being said, Hellboy II does generate a fair amount of laughs, and there are some very well done action sequences. When Del Toro does dive into action, the movie picks up tremendously; the last half hour are especially good. It's not a bad movie, and in many ways is still quite good, but it still feels more like Spider-Man 3 than Spider-Man 2. Del Toro needed to cut 20-30 minutes out of its running time, the almost-romance between Sapien and the princess and some of the more fantastical elements and focus on the film's strengths.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is entertaining, but lacks the cohesive chemistry the first film maintained. This sequel does not live up to its potential.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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