>> Hellboy II: The Golden Army (7/10)

Hellboy II

Hellboy II

I was susprisingly unaffected by Hellboy II:  The Golden Army.  Suprising, because of my love for monsters and comic book action, and also surprising due to my passing interest in the Hellboy comics themselves.  I remember this feeling from 2004, when the first Hellboy film came out–a film that was sporadically fun and odd, but with a plot that was vague, pitting interesting heroes against underdeveloped villains.  Sometimes it felt like the comic, but mostly it didn’t.  Hellboy II is better than its predecessor in ceratin aspects, namely a more concise plot, but still fumbles around with the property.

Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics read like an occult Indiana Jones, full of globe-trotting quests into the darkest, scariest corners of the world.  Guillermo Del Toro’s Hellboy movies are silly, oddball confections filled with karate fights and relationship woes.  I accept Del Toro’s Hellboy on its own terms, but forgive me if I like the comic book version better.  The frustration here is that Del Toro is actually the perfect director to bring Mignola’s universe to life, but he’s more interested in Summer Movie Sequelitis than in creating a film that reflects Mignola’s creepy adventures.  Hellboy II is all about bigger, badder, and louder–so loud that even the “quiet” moments are noisy.

In an awkward opening sequence in which John Hurt reads a story that is acted out with CGI wooden puppets to a distracting-looking young Hellboy, it is explained that many years ago elves conspired with goblins to create an unstoppable clockwork Golden Army to defeat the humans.  The slaughter at the hands of these robotic brutes was so horrifying that the king of the elves decided that the crown that controlled the Golden Army should be split up amongst the races, never to be used again.  Cut to modern day and Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the elves is seeking the crown so that humans can be driven back once more, and the supernatural and fantastic creatures can once again live in the open on Earth.

Standing in Prince Nuada’s way is the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Development, consisting of Ron Perlman’s ape-like Hellboy, Doug Jones as the amphibious Abe Sapien, Selma Blair as pyrokentic Liz Sherman, and new BPRD leader Johann Strauss, voiced by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlene.  Hellboy does his best to work alongside Liz, despite their sticky relationship issues, and Abe is distracted from his duties by his attraction to an unlikely ally, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who shares a psychic bond with her misguided brother Nuada.

There’s plenty of spectacle here.  Big colorful sets, outlandish production design, and rubbery monsters abound in Del Toro’s unusually childlike vision of Mignola’s world.  Hellboy II is, at times, downright weird.  Weird is wonderful.  And yet…

Del Toro is delivering a big budget action film here, not an esorteric creep-out.  He doesn’t linger on the weirdness; he’d rather have characters shooting and punching and shooting some more.  He’d rather assault your senses with pure volume and crazy visuals, practically shouting to the world that he too can make a noisy Summer blockbuster.

Yes, Guillermo, you can.  But you can also craft quiet tension.  I’ve seen you do it before (The Devil’s Backbone, Pan’s Labyrinth).  Here, even the emotional moments are either played for laughs or inflated with bombast.  Granted, it’s what I expect from Summer movies.  It’s just not what I expect from Guillermo Del Toro.

Hellboy II is a silly action movie, wrapped in a thin, pretty promise of something more.  There’s a measure of charm in its strange world, but never enough to satisy.  The things that worked in the first Hellboy film continue to work here, but there’s a lack of depth that make these films little more than curious, lavish big-budget “cult” action movies.

7 on a 1 to 10 scale

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