Now how does this happen? The first Hellboy movie was crazy mad insane; you couldn’t even figure out what the frak was going on a lot of the time but it didn’t matter, because it was that wildly entertaining in its all-out, geek-out nuttiness. And now, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is just kinda there, like it has accepted its insanity and douses itself with a big handful of lithium every six hours and is feeling much better now, honestly. Thanks, and don’t forget to buy the Hellboy Happy Meal on your way home.
I’m still thinking, four years later, about how wacky the original Hellboy was, and yet I can barely remember the sequel I saw a few days before sitting down to write. I want to say that Hellboy II is pure dumb popcorn fun while you’re watching it and instantly forgettable the moment the credits start to roll—but actually, I was forgetting it while I was still in the process of watching it.
That could be the problem: Watching Hellboy II is a process. It feels like it’s been tamed, corralled and commoditized. Hellboy version 1.0 was rowdy, feral and dangerous—and already, in only its second outing, the franchise has been herded into the slaughterhouse, ground up into chuck chop and wrapped in sanitary plastic.
Not that Hellboy II is actually bad, per se. It’s just so … ordinary. Here is a movie about a huge, red-horned demon-dude refugee from Hell who loves cats and television and junk food—and he’s played by Ron Perlman, who’s all kinds of cool—and they made him kind of boring. Here is master fantasist filmmaker Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, Mimic), who wrote and directed both the original and this sequel, giving us an urban troll market—it’s hidden under the Brooklyn Bridge—and warrior elves in the subway, and it all feels like something that’s about to get slapped on a T-shirt and sold at Target for $19.95. Imagine trying to take everything that was astonishing and dream-making and nightmare-inducing about Pan’s Labyrinth and boiling it down into something you could navigate in a video game. You couldn’t do it. But the Hellboy video game—for PSP and Xbox!—is coming soon.
Del Toro teases us right as the film opens, with a child’s reverie of puppet warfare, a fantasy brought on by tele-visions of Howdy Doody meeting bedtime stories about an ancient war between elves and humans, a long-forgotten truce and a dormant army of golden robots. The child who dreams this is actually Hellboy as a kid, and you think right there, “This is gonna be as outrageous and audacious as that first movie.”
But all that daring is tossed aside when we join Hellboy today and are treated to a checklist of comic-book-action clichés: the bickering with his girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair), who’s really hot, as in, no, seriously, she can cause things to burst into flame; the comical despair of the nonsuper-powered boss (Jeffrey Tambor) who can’t control Hellboy; the sidekick-y sidekick-ery of Hellboy’s fish-man pal Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) who, for some reason halfway through the film, abandons the breathing apparatus that lets him walk around in the open air yet still keeps walking around in the air without suffocating. They’re battling an evil elf prince (Luke Goss), who wants war with the humans because we paved paradise and put up a parking lot, and if he has to raise the Golden Army to do it, then by all the ancient gods, he will; just try and stop him.
Oh, and that’s another thing that left me feeling unsatisfied. All this stuff about the Golden Army and how unstoppable it would be were it to awaken, combined with all of the evil prince’s schtick about how humans must be wiped from the face of the planet? It appears to be promising us a good ol’ rampage of the entire Earth, and instead, we get something disappointingly local and very anti-climactic. How could it be that the truly gross and horrific little tooth fairies from early in the film are actually scarier than the creatures that get their names in the title? That really feels like a cheat.
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY
Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones