I came, I saw, I said “meh” (Hellboy 2 review)

July 14, 2008

**************SPOILERS BELOW**************

So I saw Hellboy 2 on Friday.  I was pretty excited for it.  The first movie caught me off guard.  I didn’t expect to like it, as I’ve never read any of the comic books and I had never even heard of the character.  However, I rented it when it came out on DVD and I was shocked by how much I liked it.  Ron Perlman was great (he was 54 years old in the first movie!).  Abe Sapien was an interesting character, voiced by Mr. Niles Crane himself, David Hyde Pierce.  Jeffrey Tambor was great as usual (when is that Arrested Development movie coming out again?).  In fact, the only low point I saw in the whole movie was Selma Blair, who turned in a relatively lackluster, monotone performance.  Other than that, the movie was great.  Great action, comedy, interesting storyline and love story.

So you can understand my excitement at seeing Hellboy II:  The Golden Army.  I think that’s a bad thing.  I wasn’t that happy with this second installment.  I’ve thought about this movie all weekend, and I kept asking myself “Was I disappointed because the movie was mediocre, or was I disappointed simply because it didn’t meet my every expectation?”  After thinking it over, I honestly believe this movie was simply mediocre and my disappointment was justified.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army starts off with a flashback to the mid 1950s, showing us a child Hellboy on Christmas Eve (a devil-like creature waiting for Santa Claus on the eve of Christ’s birthday?  Oh how ironic!).  I think the flashback was done just so they could bring John Hurt back.  Anyway, as Hellboy is being tucked in, he wants a bedtime story.  Hurt proceeds to tell him a story about the Golden Army.  We’re told through the use of wooden puppets (Hellboy had just been watching Howdy Doody, so we’re seeing this story through his puppet-riddled imagination) that long ago, man existed alongside all sorts of magical creatures.  Man, in his infinite greed, began a war with the magical creatures, who are led by King Balor.  King Balor commissions the construction of a Golden Army, which consists of “70 times 70” mechanical golden warriors who cannot be destroyed.  The Golden Army is controlled by a golden crown, worn by King Balor.  The Golden Army goes to town, but Balor feels great remorse at having unleashed them so he calls a truce with man.  As part of the truce, the golden crown is broken into 3 pieces, 2 of which stay with the magical creatures, and 1 is given to man.  That truce exists until the modern day…

King Balor has twin children, Prince Nuada and Princess Nuala.  Nuala agrees with her father to maintain the truce, but Nuada never liked the truce and always knew about man’s true nature.  He went into exile.  Now, after thousands of years, he’s back to destroy mankind.  And he wants the Golden Army to help him do it.  But first he needs the crown.  One piece of the crown rests on his father’s belt.  Another piece on his sister’s dress.  The final piece, mankind’s section of the crown, is about to be auctioned at an auction house.  Nuada, along with his brutish mute of an enforcer, Wink, attacks the auction house.  He kills everyone in the room and makes off with the crown.

Hellboy and Liz, meanwhile, are having relationship problems.  They’re yelling at each other about typical relationship things (he’s messy, she’s bossy).  During their fighting, the alarm goes off and they head out to the auction house.  Nuada is gone, but the creatures he used to kill all the humans are still there.  The creatures are tooth fairies, who eat teeth, as well as pretty much every other part of the body.  In order to kill all the tooth fairies, Liz sets everything on fire, which blows Hellboy out the window into the crowd below.  He’s no longer a secret, which pisses off Jeffrey Tambor’s character, Agent Manning, who has spent the majority of his career trying to suppress public knowledge of Hellboy.

Agent Manning is so angry at Hellboy, he brings in another agent who can reel Hellboy in and bring him under control.  The new agent is Johann Krauss, voiced in an over-the-top German accent by Family Guy’s Seth MacFarlane.  Krauss exists solely as an ectoplasmic fog, so he walks around in a containment suit which looks like a 1930s deep sea diving suit with a big glass dome for a head.

Meanwhile, Nuada goes to visit his father.  He begs for his father to take up arms against the humans, but his father wants to continue to honor the truce.  So Nuada kills him and takes his section of the crown.  Now only one section remains:  the one on his sister’s dress.  His sister flees from him and goes into hiding in the Troll Market, which is exactly what it sounds like.

Hellboy, Abe, Liz, and Krauss find out about Nuada’s plan to revive the Golden Army and go to the Troll Market themselves.  Here, Abe finds Nuala and Hellboy encounters Wink.  Hellboy kills Wink and they all go back to their headquarters with Nuala, hoping to protect her.  While she’s there, she and Abe begin to fall for each other.  Nuada hunts her down easily because a link exists between the twins.  Whatever she feels or knows, he feels or knows.  If he is injured, so is she.  Nuala hides the crown piece and is taken hostage by her brother.  Nuada tells Abe that if he wants to see Nuala again, he’ll find the crown piece and bring it to Nuada.

Abe find the crown piece but doesn’t tell the others.  Hellboy, Liz, Abe, and Krauss all take a plane to the where the Golden Army sleeps to try and stop Nuada.  Abe gives the final crown piece to Nuada to save Nuala.  Once Nuada has the crown piece, he reassembles the whole thing and awakens the Golden Army.  A massive fight scene takes place between Hellboy and Nuada, which only ends when Nuala kills herself in order to kill her brother.  Liz melts the crown completely, and the Golden Army is stopped for good.

Oh, and Liz is pregnant with Hellboy’s twin kids (a pair of twins dies, and another pair is born?  It’s the circle of life!).

So, after that lengthy description, here is the main reason I was disappointed:  the story was unfocused with many superfluous characters and scenes.  The first movie felt pretty tight, with very few scenes that could have been cut.  Pretty much everything in the final cut of the first movie needed to be in there to progress the storyline.  However, with Hellboy 2, the movie felt much looser.  I found myself questioning about half the scenes that were in the movie.  “What the hell did that have to do with anything?”  “That was pointless fluff.”

First of all, the character of Krauss was so over-the-top as to be distracting and annoying (just like the real Seth MacFarlane!).  He provided absolutely NOTHING to the overall storyline (just like the real Seth MacFarlane!).  He didn’t do anything but beat up Hellboy in a locker room (just like the…no, wait.  Seth MacFarlane didn’t do that).  Yeah, that scene didn’t progress the story AT ALL.  Now, it’s possible that Krauss plays a bigger part in the eventual Hellboy 3, and they’re merely introducing him here for future use, but he had far too many lines and scenes for such a fluff character.

Second of all, all of the stupid little side missions that Hellboy and his team had to go on in order to find Nuada seemed to exist solely to allow Guillermo del Toro to use some of his leftover creature designs from Pan’s Labyrinth.  These side missions were pointless and could have easily been sidestepped with some better writing.  Once again, a director has fallen into the big-budget movie trap of thinking that audiences won’t care about bad scripts as long as there are bright explosions and/or weird creatures on the screen (although judging by the weekend box office take for Hellboy 2, maybe he’s right).

Now, Ron Perlman turned in another decent performance as the main character.  Selma Blair showed, once again, an incredible lack of any emotion.  Abe Sapien was given a much bigger role in this one, including a decent love interest storyline with Princess Nuala, and for the most part, his storyline was pretty good.

The greatest part of this movie was Luke Goss’ performance as Prince Nuada.  He was a fascinating character that should have been given much more screen time.  Even though the final cut of the movie attempts to make Nuada as two-dimensional as possible, Goss really turns in a wonderful, rich performance and by the end of the movie, I was very sad to see him die.  He wasn’t an evil person at all, just misguided.  He was driven and passionate and hated fighting against his own people.  He showed great reverence for the natural, magical creatures that helped him, including a scene where he unleashes a forest god, who is the last of his kind.  He preaches to Hellboy that if Hellboy kills the forest god, he will be destroying something that is beautiful and he will be removing it from the world forever (gee, is there an environmental message here, Mr. del Toro?  I couldn’t tell what with your amazingly subtle story telling…).

So, the most interesting part of the movie was given the least screen time.  The pointless scenes were littered liberally throughout the entire picture.  And the acting (save for Goss) was mediocre at best.  The overall movie just seemed to lack the same magic that made the first one such a charming pic.  The lack of a cohesive plot was the biggest drawback to Hellboy 2.  The humor felt very forced and extremely corny (not that the first movie didn’t have some corny humor, but it was almost done tongue-in-cheek.  H2 didn’t capture that same feeling).  If this movie had been released as Hellboy 1, I wouldn’t have bothered to see any sequels.

Now, as I said above, I’ve never read any of the comic books.  It’s entirely possible that Hellboy 2 captures the look and feel of the comics much better than the first movie did.  Hellboy comic fans may completely disagree with my review.  However, I’m viewing this movie through the eyes of someone that probably represents the majority of Hellboy moviegoers.  That is, most moviegoers have probably never read a Hellboy comic.  This means that while the movie may be based on the comic, it needs to be it’s own separate entity.  It exists outside of the world of comics and therefore cannot rely solely on said comics.  Characters and scenes that work in the comic world don’t always translate perfectly to the screen.  For example, the Johann Krauss character.  If Krauss is a character in the comics, I’m willing to bet it works there because the reader’s imagination makes it work.  When you see it in flesh and blood on the screen, it comes across as obnoxious.

Overall, I was disappointed in this movie.  But I wasn’t greatly disappointed.  It’s not that I didn’t like it.  It was mediocre.  But I’d be very leery about sitting through any more sequels.


One comment

  1. for sure that director has an amazing imagination, reminded me a lot of his work in Pan’s Labyrinth

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