Guillermo Del Toro and Mike Mignola’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army is all about mythic vision, epic weird, and yes, romance. It’s sort of like a creature-feature love song. Great fun, interesting storyline, and a feast for your oculars. But one thing it isn’t is a superhero movie.
The film brings us another chapter in the story of Hellboy, “the son of the fallen one” rescued from an interdimensional rift by American soldiers at the close of World War II. Hellboy grows up to become a field agent for the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD) — which is sort of a magic-based Men In Black outfit. Hellboy, based on the Dark Horse Comics, has always been about mystic monster bashing with a pulp and silver age comics feel. In The Golden Army, Del Toro and Mignola introduce the ancient powers of faerie and mythology into the mix. These ancient races have faded into the shadows with the growth of human power. But they still have their doomsday device, an unstoppable magic-powered army of automatons, locked somewhere in the earth. When the renegade prince decides its time to raise this army and give humanity the heave-ho, it’s up to Hellboy and Co. to stop him.
It’s a fairly standard apocalyptic endgame. What you get with Del Toro, though, is vision and scope. He has an appreciation for the historical fantastic, and an eye for the weird. In that context, Hellboy is perfect for him. Everyone will point to the Troll Market sequence as the fantasy answer to the Mos Eisley Cantina — and they would be correct. There’s more wonder packed into those scenes than a bucket of your standard sci-fi/fantasy flicks. You can sense the director’s empathy and identification for the misfit, the outcast — those who don’t quite fit. And that’s what Hellboy and his BPRD pals represent.
And yet the story doesn’t flow flawlessly. There are some pacing issues. The movie’s humor is good at points and strained at points. Some of the set pieces seem a little inflated. And it’s not so much about the title character, as it is the whole BPRD crew, the faerie kingdom and what they represent, and, yes, love. This is a romance with strange looking characters. Whether it’s Abe Sapien (the blue amphibian guy) and the faerie princess or Hellboy and Liz, the memorable moments are all about those tender feelings.
Mrs. Beemsville and I enjoyed this, were entertained by it… But at the same time I was somewhat annoyed. Not much here about the meat of Hellboy’s character, which has always been a highlight of the comic books. Not much about his grim destiny, whether he buys into it, it how he chooses to act. Too bad, because Ron Perlman could pull it off — 20 pounds of makeup and all. Del Toro has already stated that if they do another of these films, it will be back to the comic’s pulp-style roots. I hope so.
While I enjoyed Hellboy II and was glad it did well its first weekend, I’d like to see a different story. A dark superhero story. As stated above, this was not one of those stories. It was a romance, as evidenced by the fact that at two key points the main characters make what are essentially selfish choices of the heart (nothing more romantic than that) rather than logical self-sacrificing choices for the good of all. And that’s not what superheroes do.
A lot of really cool, creepy creatures, though…