Originally Written and Posted at Epinions.com on 7/13/08 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions.
Directed by Guillermo del Toro and screenplay by del Toro based on a story by del Toro and Hellboy creator Mike Mignola, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the story about an exiled prince who returns in hopes to revive an indestructible army to rid humanity forever. Hellboy and his team is asked to stop the prince while dealing with new challenges that would have Hellboy question about humanity. The film is a more ambitious story than its predecessor as features elements of mythology and folklore to add more complexity to the story as Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, and an appearance from John Hurt return to play their roles from the previous film. Also starring Luke Goss, Anna Walton, John Alexander, Brian Steele, and the voice of Seth MacFarlane as Johann Krause. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is an exciting and visually-marvelous film from Guillermo del Toro.
After leaving in exile following a peace treaty between humans mythical creatures that included elves, trolls, and goblins, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) decides to return after many years where humans had overtaken the magical world. With help from troll cohort Wink (Brian Steele), they break into an auction house to kill people with a swarm of killer tooth fairies. The incident gets the attention of FBI head Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) as he needs Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) to investigate. The timing couldn't have been worse due to Hellboy and Liz's relationship problems while Manning is trying to keep Hellboy a secret to the public. After a battle with tooth fairies, Liz's pyrokinetic powers would help rid of the tooth fairies while Hellboy is official exposed to the public much to Manning's dismay. After this incident in which Hellboy enjoys the public attention, Manning brings in German agent Johann Krauss (John Alexander & James Dodd), a psychic with an ectoplasmic soul contained in a suit, take lead the team.
Prince Nuada makes his return to the old kingdom to meet his father King Balor (Roy Doctrice) and twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) in wanting the two remaining crown pieces to revive the Golden Army. King Balor and Nuala refuses as Balor reluctantly has Nuada executed only for things to go wrong with Nuala fleeing. After observing the dead body of a tooth fairy, Krauss leads Hellboy and Abe to the secret troll market under the Brooklyn Bridge where they would encounter mythical creatures as Hellboy would fight Wink while Abe finds Nuala whom he falls for. After retrieving Nuala as she tells them about the crown piece she's holding, Hellboy remembers the story of the Golden Army that Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) had told him when he was a kid (Montse Ribe). Yet, Nuada would have Hellboy fight off the Element creature as Hellboy would succeed in saving people but a misunderstanding would have him wondering if he would ever be accepted by humanity. With Nuala staying at the BPRD headquarters, Abe and Nuala bond over books as he later asks Hellboy for advice on love. Yet, Nuada and Nuala's psychic connections would have him break into the BPRD headquarters that left Hellboy wounded and Nuala captured.
Needing to get the piece of spear out of Hellboy, Liz and Abe decided to go the old palace where the Golden Army lives as Krauss decides to help them. After meeting a goblin who takes them to the Angel of Death (Doug Jones), the figure would help Hellboy though warns Liz about the role he's destined to play. Still, Hellboy and the team decides to confront Nuada and the Golden Army in hopes to save the world once again.
What makes The Golden Army superior than its predecessor isn't just a bigger, more ambitious story. It also explores the character of Hellboy who tries to be accepted by everyone only forced to grow up as Liz makes an announcement that would change their lives. Screenwriter Guillermo del Toro creates a story where Hellboy and his team fight a prince whose ignorance blinds him as he's convinced that humanity will destroy the world. Though Hellboy might agree with Prince Nuada's statements, he is someone who lives with humans as he knows that there's good in them despite their flaws. What del Toro does is create a unique story that is mystical and also delve into reality. At the same time, another aspect that makes The Golden Army superior than its predecessor is that del Toro allows a few supporting characters to get more screen time and development.
The direction of del Toro is truly superb as he creates new worlds that Hellboy and his team explore. The film also exemplifies del Toro's love for fantasy and mythology as he brings a more broader scope to the film. Though some of the look of the creatures and worlds that del Toro bring might be considered leftovers from his 2006 film Pan's Labyrinth, the world he creates including the Troll Market under the Brooklyn Bridge is truly fascinating while holding true to mythology and children's fantasy. Notably in the film's opening prologue where Professor Bruttenholm tells the young Hellboy about the story of the Golden Army in a rich animated sequence that is truly unforgettable. The success of del Toro's direction is bringing in a balance of drama, action, adventure, and humor. The humor is very witty and sarcastic as there's a great comical moment that involves Hellboy and Abe drinking beers about their love life while listening and singing to Barry Manilow's Can't Smile Without You.
What the film does make clear is that del Toro is becoming more confident and ambitious in his vision while being grounded in just telling a story and developing great characters. He's a director that can do both in directing actors into what they should do while balancing out with visual effects and such. Notably the film's opening scene of the Golden Army story that is a mix of puppetry and animation as del Toro's use of style works. The result is a film that's more solid and full of visual splendors as Guillermo del Toro makes Hellboy a hero we all can love and relate to.
Cinematographer Guillermo Navarro does a fantastic job with his lighting style of flashy, yellow-sepia awash colors along with blue while getting to add more color for some of the film's exterior scenes. Notably the scenes in Northern Ireland as Navarro captures a wide scope to the exterior look while a lot of the film is shot in its interiors with the exception of New York City and Brooklyn. Navarro's work is definitely top-notch though it doesn't top the brilliant, Oscar-winning work he did in Pan's Labyrinth. Editor Bernat Vilaplana does a fine job with the film's editing and transitional cuts while also employing great, stylized transitions and split-shots to emphasize the film's roots in comic book form.
Production designer Stephen Scott along with set decorator Elli Griff and supervising art director Peter Francis do great work on the film's set design for the decayed but urban look of the Troll Market, the ancient yet rich world of the mythological creatures, and the BPRD base that Hellboy lives in that includes a cameo from one of the set pieces of del Toro's 2001 film The Devil's Backbone. Costume designer Sammy Sheldon does a fascinating job with the look of Nuada and Nuala's clothing that is rich and colorful that is large contrast to the more urban look that Hellboy and Liz wears. Makeup designer Mike Elizalde does great work in the look of the several characters in the film including a pale-like look for Nuada and Nuala, the looks of the trolls and the characters that Doug Jones and Brian Steele plays.
Visual effects supervisor Mike Wassel does a great job in the look of CGI-created monsters like the Elemental and the tooth fairies while adding a great visual splendor to their looks as the monsters and trolls have an innocent look as well as something menacing. Longtime sound designer Martin Hernandez along with sound editor Scott Martin Gershin do great work in the film's sound work for the growls of the monsters, the atmosphere of the different locations the characters are in and the conflicts they get into. Music composer Danny Elfman creates a sweeping yet energetic film score to accompany the film's sense of action and humor while creating great theme pieces to accompany the characters and their situations, notably Johann Krauss. The film's soundtrack is a mix of melodic alternative music, rock, metal, and surprisingly, in cheesy form, Barry Manilow.
The casting by Zsolt Csutak and Jeremy Zimmerman, who plays the auctioneer at the auction, do an excellent job in assembling the film's cast that includes a cameo from talk show host Jimmy Kimmel and a fun performance from Montse Ribe as the young Hellboy. Brian Steele does great work in playing multiple roles as the troll monster Wink along with several creatures including a spice shop owner, and the man who would give Nuala the map. Roy Dotrice is good as the aging King Balor who tries to tell his son not to revive the Golden Army. John Alexander and James Dodd do great work in playing the glass-suit wearing Johan Krauss while Alexander also does work as the Goblin who created the Golden Army. Yet, it's Seth MacFarlane of Family Guy fame who brings a comical, know-it-all personality as the voice of Johann Krauss, who often dukes it out with Hellboy.
Though John Hurt only makes a brief appearance as Professor Trevor "Broom" Bruttenholm, Hurt's lone appearance is definitely memorable and full of class as he tells the young Hellboy the story of the Golden Army with such grace that it was good of del Toro to give him an appearance since his character is an important part to Hellboy's story. Jeffrey Tambor is good as Tom Manning, the FBI head who tries to deal with Hellboy's yearning for publicity while finding time to suck up to Johann Krauss over his by-the-book personality. Anna Walton is wonderful as Nuala, the princess who tries to hide the final piece of the crown as she also finds herself smitten with Abe Sapien as Walton's performance is truly mesmerizing. Though the character of Nuada is a bit one-dimensional, Luke Goss makes Nuada into a truly memorable villain who is just ignorant yet powerful as he tries to wipe out humanity while being a true badass who can match up against Hellboy.
Selma Blair is great as Liz Sherman, Hellboy's girlfriend who tries to deal with issues of their relationship while carrying a secret that will change their lives. Blair makes Liz into a more confident, more menacing figure than in the first film as she gains full control of her fire-starting powers while dealing with Hellboy's emotions of rejection as she makes an unexpected move into saving him. Doug Jones is superb in his work in playing three roles. While the roles of the Chamberlain and the Angel of Death are small, they're memorable for their look and presence yet it's Jones' work as Abe Sapien that is hypnotic to watch. Doing the voice of Sapien this time around, instead of David Hyde Pierce in the first film. Jones brings a new personality and innocence to the fish-like character as he deals with his first crush and love while his scenes with Perlman are wonderfully funny.
Ron Perlman is once again brilliant in his role as Hellboy by bringing that great mix of being a hero and a sarcastic figure. Yet, Perlman manages to explore the depths of Hellboy's character as he deals with rejection from humanity after a misunderstanding while pondering his role in that world. Perlman's approach to drama is subtle while getting to do more comic moments in scenes that involve Johann Krauss and Abe Sapien as Perlman's comedic timing is great. Especially since Perlman is allowed to bring a lot of charm and wit to the character of Hellboy while sharing the spotlight with his fellow actors.
Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a brilliant, visually-spectacular, and entertaining film from Guillermo del Toro that tops its predecessor. The film clearly shows del Toro's talent for creating entertaining stories with great visual splendor and heartfelt yet funny characters. With a great cast led by Ron Perlman, Doug Jones, and Selma Blair, the Hellboy sequel is clearly one of the year's best summer blockbusters as well as one of the smartest. In the end, for a hero that likes to smoke cigars, have some witty one-liners, and just likes to fight. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is the film to go see.
Guillermo del Toro Film: Cronos - Mimic/Mimic (Director's Cut) - The Devil's Backbone - Blade II - Hellboy - Pan's Labyrinth - Pacific Rim - Crimson Peak - The Shape of Water - The Auteurs #10: Guillermo del Toro
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