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Guillermo del Toro's Hellboy II Not Quite Golden

  • Christian Hamaker Contributing Writer
  • Updated Nov 14, 2008
Guillermo del Toro's <i>Hellboy II</i> Not Quite Golden

DVD Release Date:  November 11, 2008
Theatrical Release Date:  July 11, 2008
Rating:  PG-13 (for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language)
Genre:  Action
Run Time:  110 min.
Director:  Guillermo del Toro
Actors:  Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt, James Dodd

Hellboy II:  The Golden Army reunites Pan’s Labyrinth director Guillermo del Toro with star Ron Perlman in a follow-up to the 2004 film that first brought the red-horned comic-book creation to the big screen.

For the uninitiated, Hellboy (Perlman) is a demon brought to earth by Nazi occultists. His horns are shaved off but his tail remains, and one of his hands, much larger than the other, is made of stone. He now works for the U.S. government in its Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) with girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair), who is a pyrokinetic. Team member Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is a dignified amphibian—he walks upright and speaks eloquently, but his head is fish-like.

Got all that?

Obviously, the leader of the BPRD, Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), has an interest in keeping his team members out of the spotlight, but Hellboy has an affinity for the press. His mugging for the camera and the photos of him that appear in the newspaper are giving Manning heartburn. “He’s acting out,” Manning is told about Hellboy, who also is having problems with Liz. She’s withholding important information from him about their future.

In a disciplinary move, Manning assigns the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss (James Dodd in a suit, but with the voice of Seth MacFarlane) to supervise Hellboy as the BPRD tracks down Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), leader of another realm, who has decided to violate an ancient treaty between his people and humankind. Defying the wishes of his father, the prince hopes to call upon a Golden Army of exotic fighting creatures to join him in defeating the humans. It’s up to the BPRD team to thwart the prince and his plans.

Hellboy was created in the early 1990s, and he reflects a postmodern take on superheroes and the supernatural. As presented in this film, Hellboy is sweet and innocent as a young boy, but cynical and wisecracking as a grown-up crime-fighting government agent. He delights in being a thorn in his boss’ side, and he chafes at the supervision of his new partner. Hellboy’s relationship problems aren’t much different from anyone else’s, but those personal problems are increasingly affecting his ability to work with Liz, who worries about his suitability as a life partner.

The film works best when it focuses on Hellboy’s relationships—with his girlfriend, but also with his partner, Abe, who falls hard for Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). The cross-species romance between Abe and the princess is touching, although it briefly provides the source for a joke that equates the controversy over their relationship with the current cultural struggle over same-sex relationships among humans.

Many Christians will find distasteful the idea that a demon should serve as an instrument of good. The film makes no theological case but shows Hellboy working against dark forces that are intent on destroying the human race. A fertility goddess and a forest god make appearances, and one of them is presented sympathetically—as a tragic figure. The filmmakers make no judgments about these gods, while the demonic nature of Hellboy has been reimagined as something that can be harnessed for the good of the country. It’s all quite strange.

The film is often humorous, and its creatures are imaginative. However, fans of director del Toro’s other films will detect a certain sameness to some of the creatures shown here. Hellboy II also lags a little as it winds its way to a conclusion, with special effects taking prominence over story and character development. When it comes to summer movies, that’s no great sin—audiences that want to be “wowed” by the film’s visuals will be satisfied, and the story always can be developed in the inevitable Hellboy III. Nevertheless, in terms of telling an involving story, Hellboy II:  The Golden Army is a disappointing comedown from del Toro’s captivating Pan’s Labyrinth, which was among the best films of 2006.

The director recently signed on to remake The Hobbit and a planned sequel. He certainly has the imaginative force to bring J.R.R. Tolkien’s tale to life, but we can only hope he brings more craft to the storytelling in those films, without leaving behind the striking visuals that have become his hallmark.

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  • Drugs/Alcohol:  Beer drinking and drunkenness.
  • Smoking:  Cuban cigars are offered as a form of payment, and are smoked.
  • Language/Profanity:  Lord’s name taken in vain; a few instances of foul language.
  • Sex/Nudity:  None.
  • Violence/Other:  The prince strikes a man with a sword and kills him; security guards are thrown through a door; a face-sucking creature latches onto a man; winged creatures attack and are squashed; gunfire; sword fighting and stabbing; a creature in the form of a woman prepares to eat a cat; punching/fighting/slapping; a creature is sucked through a spiked press; helicopter and cars are destroyed; a forest god creates carnage; a human cheek is slit; a self-inflicted stab wound.