Movie review by Greg Carlson
Director Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” manages the trick of pleasing existing fans of Mike Mignola’s big red demon and winning new converts to the franchise. “Hellboy II” might be better than del Toro’s first outing with the character, although both movies share the same strengths (inspired creature design, a sense of humor, and the director’s affection for the material) and weaknesses (convoluted mythologies, haphazard plotting, and not enough development of the very colorful characters). In a season saturated with super-hero movies, “Hellboy II” falls somewhere in the middle; it’s neither as good as “Iron Man” nor as awful as “Hancock.”
With the exception of the young male demographic for which the movie was principally made, viewers of “Hellboy II” will lose patience with the scattershot storyline, which involves assembling pieces of an enchanted crown in order to control an army of hulking clockwork soldiers. As Hellboy stories go, this one isn’t as engaging as some of the more folkloric tales explored in the comics, but it does boast several thrilling sequences, including a visit to the wonderfully grotesque Troll Market, a battle between Hellboy and a tree-like forest god, and a showdown set in and around giant rotating gears. The whole movie is notably less indebted to H.P. Lovecraft than the first “Hellboy,” which is not necessarily a bad thing.
Hellboy’s previous movie companions see their roles expanded for the better. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is given both a love interest and a more pivotal place as confidante to Hellboy and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair). One memorably entertaining sequence sees a heartsick Hellboy and Abe slurping beer and singing along to Barry Manilow. Even though a major change in Hellboy’s relationship with Liz is disclosed up front, the thread is virtually ignored until the latter portion of the film. The revelation moves disappointingly toward standard issue soap opera territory, and suggests a variety of possibilities for the inevitable “Hellboy III.”
Unquestionably the linchpin in Hellboy’s leap from page to screen, Ron Perlman embodies the title character with tough guy panache. Perlman carries the mantle of Hellboy’s distinctive crimson physicality, including filed-down devil horns and the oversized, stony “Right Hand of Doom,” with comfort and ease, and one immediately sees the advantages of employing a real human actor as opposed to the lifelessness of computer-generated performers in movies like “The Incredible Hulk.” Perlman treats Hellboy with respect and plays him straight, a tactic that pays big dividends for the movie as a whole. While Red’s signature traits, including his fondness for candy bars and cigars, remain intact, he thankfully mutters “Oh crap” less often than last time.
Del Toro’s “more is more” attitude works visual miracles, even if the script isn’t A-game stuff. Even though plenty of computer enhancements are used to fuel the action, del Toro clearly seems to prefer the tactility of prosthetics, and the real-world quality consistently shows. The filmmaker will have plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff when he tackles “The Hobbit” for Peter Jackson and company. If that project is even a fraction as successful as “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy, it might provide del Toro with an opportunity to take even greater risks when he revisits “Hellboy” sometime in the future.
This review was also published in the High Plains Reader the week of 7/14/08.