Guillermo del Toro’s return to the Hellboy universe in Hellboy II: The Golden Army is in many ways an easier film to enjoy than the 2004 original. Having become an international filmmaking sensation with the success of Pan’s Labyrinth, del Toro delivers a more well-rounded film that delivers more of the action and fantasy of the first while adding unexpected depths of romance and humor.
Rather than adapting a story from Mike Mignola’s comics, Hellboy II goes for an original story that begins with a flashback to the 1950s in which John Hurt returns to play Professor Bloom and tell young Hellboy a Christmas Eve story about the Golden Army fairies once made to conquer mankind that was never used and has lain dormant for centuries.
Turns out this tale is true, and the unhappy fairy Prince Nuada, played by Luke Goss, has decided the time is right to seek out the artifacts that are necessary to resurrect the Golden Army and conquer mankind. He begins to collect the artifacts, the last of which is held by his twin sister, Princess Nuala, played by Anna Walton, who is reluctant to join his cause.
Of course, this prompts the involvement of the Bureaus of Paranormal Research and Defense and Hellboy, who’s played once again with gruff charm by Ron Perlman. As you’d expect, the pursuit of these artifacts leads to fights with monsters and a cool visit to the Troll Market — a thrillingly oddball location full of oddball creatures created by CGI and puppeteers with enough skill to make Jim Henson envious.
But this movie’s heart lies in the characters and their unexpectedly charming and funny personal problems. Most dramatic is Hellboy’s relationship with Selma Blair’s pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, which starts the film in a state of arrested development and is unexpectedly complicated by a twist that carries through this film and into the next, should there be one.
Meanwhile, Abe Sapien — again played, and this time voiced, by Doug Jones — falls in love with the ethereal Nuala and, not knowing what to do, takes relationship advice from Hellboy. The resulting scene — involving a lot of beer and a CD of sappy ’70s love songs — is the one people will be talking about the most on the way home from the theater.
But stealing the show is Johann Krauss, the officious new agent sent to keep Hellboy out of trouble who literally is full of hot air. Played by John Alexander and James Dodd, and voiced by “Family Guy” creator Seth McFarlane, the bubble-helmeted Krauss’ rants are especially funny because he’s usually right.
In the midst of all this, the Golden Army plot gets a little lost. It of course returns at the end, with Hellboy facing down a horrifying Angel of Death before a grand final battle with Nuada. The visual effects of the Golden Army and their clockwork lair are impressive, but by this point the film has built up more interest in its characters than its plot. Nothing makes this point more perfectly than the climax of the film, with the resolution of the eventually underwhelming Golden Army plot being upstaged by the final scenes with the characters, setting the stage for a third Hellboy film.
Longtime fans of Hellboy may find all this deviates a bit too much from the relentlessly dark tone and character established in the comics and the first film, even as the film itself is more entertaining than the first one. The mix of elements makes Hellboy II: The Golden Army a bit of a mess in the end, but like the character himself it’s an overall lovable, fun and completely entertaining mess.Hellboy II: The Golden Army opens July 11th.