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Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

By Willie Krischke – originally published July 12, 2008

Guillermo Del Toro has a distinctive, captivating visual style that is reason enough to go see his movies. In this way, he reminds me of Jim Henson’s more “serious” endeavors, movies like “Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal.” They were so visually inventive, so different from anything anyone else was doing that things like pacing and plot didn’t really matter. “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” feels like that. Some summer movies get by without these basic elements by being non-stop roller coaster rides; Del Toro’s films, like Henson’s, are tours through a creepy-fascinating wax museum chock-full of things straight out of both dreams and nightmares.

“Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is much more distinctively Del-Torian than the original: the director is coming into his own after the success of “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and visually “Golden Army” has more in common with that movie than its prequel. While “Hellboy” was forced to concern itself with an origin story, and felt weighed down by notions of where Red came from and what he might be capable of, this one can dispense with all that meandering and just get right to the action. Or the comedy, as it turns out.

This time around, an elf prince with a deep hatred for mankind (seems he has a thing against parking lots and strip malls) and some serious martial arts skills decides it’s time to stop hiding in the woods and move to the city. He looks like a cross between Jet Li and Legolas, and is really good at making his numerous shiny blades go swish and swoosh. He’s got some great friends, too: first he sets loose a swarm of the meanest tooth fairies you’ve ever seen, then “grows” a tree god in the middle of New York City. His ultimate Evil Plan to Save the World (every supervillain has one) is to activate an ancient, indestructible “golden” army, who will do his bidding. However, he’s missing a piece he needs to activate the Golden Army (Hitchcock would call this item a “MacGuffin;”) this piece is in the hands of his peacenik sister. Hellboy and the rest run into her in the Troll Village (a Del-Torian version of Mos Eisley, and easily the most fascinating scene in the movie) and end up protecting her, sort of. Naturally, chaos ensues. And lots of fight scenes.

Del Toro clearly loves the “Hellboy” characters, and the strongest scenes in the movie are the character-driven ones. Red’s domestic disputes with Liz, as well Abe’s lovesick attempts to woo foxy elfin Princess Nuala, are so sharp and funny, it’s almost a shame the movie ever has to venture outside the complex and onto the battlefield. Once there, Del Toro’s visual creativeness does not disappoint, but…well, grace and athleticism have never been hallmarks of Hellboy’s fighting style. Watching two CGI creatures hit each other as hard as they can until one of them gives in just doesn’t hold my attention.

On top of that, “Golden Army’s” plot just doesn’t make much sense. Without giving too much away, let me say that it hinges on two characters who feel each other’s pain, and really should culminate in these two engaging in a bizarre, sadomasochistic duel. But it doesn’t. Instead, we get some other big fights, and an ending that was guessable from the beginning (and might be guessable from this review. If so, I apologize, but I don’t feel too bad about giving away an ending that was so blatantly predictable. I did pretty well on “Dark Knight,” didn’t I? You didn’t see THAT coming, did you?)

In a summer chock full of comic book movies (I promise this is the last one I’ll review for a while), “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” kind of gets lost in the shuffle. Del Toro cements his reputation for striking creatures and great sets, but while “Pan’s Labyrinth” was a revelation, “The Golden Army’s” not much more than a spectacle. Like Jim Henson before him, Del Toro has an incredible gift, but unless he’s careful and remembers to subordinate his remarkable visual creativity to resonant, well-developed stories and characters, he may find himself demoted to teaching children their numbers and letters on PBS. Fancy that.


  • If you’re a “Hellboy” comic book fan. Del Toro clearly is.
  • If you’re a Guillermo Del Toro fan.
  • if you just can’t get enough superhero movies this summer.

Not Recommended

  • If you’re trying to decide which superhero movie to watch this summer. There are plenty better.
  • If you really couldn’t care less about CGI creatures and how cool, or uncool, they look. This movie will hold little interest for you.
  • If you hate it when you can guess the end of a movie from the beginning. Or from the review.
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