Back in 2004, director Guillermo del Toro helmed the first Hellboy movie to a moderate level of acclaim and fanboy delight. But back then, he was just the sorta-known guy who made that movie where Mira Sorvino runs from giant bugs in sewers. Cut to 2008, and del Toro is once again behind the camera for the Hellboy sequel...having made the internationally lauded Pan’s Labyrinth and becoming an award-winning A-lister in the interim. Expectations are understandably high.
Unfortunately, Hellboy II: The Golden Army isn’t really up to par as far as the director’s more recent successes go. There is much style – buckets and buckets of it, in fact – but not a whole lot of substance to be had, with far too much time devoted to the freaky-deaky creatures (who all seem like Pan’s... leftovers) and not nearly enough given to an actual story.
For what it’s worth, the main thrust of the film concerns a seriously pissed off albino elf prince named Nuada (Luke Goss, formerly of glossy pop duo Bros... remember them?), who wants to destroy humanity because they’ve polluted the Earth. His equally pasty twin sister, Nuala (Anna Walton), wants none of this genocidal plot, so she flees and seeks refuge with our titular anti-hero (Ron Perlman) and his band of merry mutants at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense – Hellboy’s fiery girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), amphibian genius Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), frustrated head honcho Tom (Jeffrey Tambor) and new addition Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane)...who’s essentially a gaseous being encased in a space suit.
Short story shorter: Hellboy and the gang have to thwart Nuada before he unleashes a massive army of gigantic, indestructible robots to kill all humans. And that’s pretty much it as far as key plot points go. There are subplots about Abe being smitten with Nuala, and Liz keeping an important secret...but, unfortunately, neither is given much screen time or weight.
What does get a disproportionate amount of screen time are the special effects. Way too much of a good thing, in my opinion. Time and time again in the film, the action seems to slow down or stop in order to serve some CGI work. We get it – del Toro has a vivid imagination, filled with all manner of bizarre beings and dreamy vistas (paging Tim Burton, Tim Burton to the imaginarium phone)...but the movie could have been about 15-20 minutes shorter if some of those creative visions had been trimmed just a tad. The troll market sequence, for example, goes on far too long, and the information gleaned therein could very easily have been delivered in about two minutes. The film also cheats audiences out of time with the characters they love – Hellboy et al. – in favor of drawn-out fight sequences and extraneous supporting players (the weird grim-reaper guy, the legless troll on wheels, the tooth fairies, the freak with the talking tumor, the list goes on). Hellboy, Liz and Abe are a great little trio, but their joint action is woefully limited this go-round.
One of the major problems with the story itself is that Prince Nuada’s mission is kind of a noble one. I mean, basically he’s right – humans are crapping all over the planet and ruining it for the natural world (which, in the case of the film, includes all magical and mystical beings). We’re bulldozing forests and building condos on a daily basis. When the enormous forest elemental meets its fate, the outcome is tragic and beautiful, so how can audiences not suddenly be on the prince’s side? Nuada, for all his melodrama and grandstanding and carnivorous henchmen, actually has a valid point. So, his entire raison d’être actually makes sense...the whole “destruction of humankind” thing notwithstanding. As a result, he’s not so much a villain as a really, really hardcore environmentalist, and it’s hard to fault him for his cause.
Hellboy II isn’t a bad movie, not by a long shot. It’s entertaining and has some brilliant little moments...it’s just not as great as it could be. By the time the closing credits begin to roll, the cinematic door is left wiiiiide open for a another film in the Hellboy franchise, so hopefully for del Toro and company, the third time will prove to be a charming return to form.