Film Forum and My Review of “Hellboy II: The Golden Army”

This is collection of reviews that I found interesting and helpful. The collection will be revised as I find more notable assessments online. Feel free to submit more reviews, or even your own, in the comments below.

HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY

With his newest fantasy, Guillermo Del Toro has earned a place at the table with Jim Henson, George Lucas, Peter Jackson, and Hayao Miyazaki as one of the big screen’s most imaginative inventors of new worlds. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is far superior to Hellboy in many ways. In fact, it’s my favorite comic book movie of the year so far.

The villains in the first Hellboy film failed to be anything close to interesting, and Del Toro’s wild imagination seemed straitjacketed by studio contraints and genre conventions. By contrast, the villains in Hellboy 2 are interesting, even sympathetic — viewers should have no trouble understanding what motivates them.

The first Hellboy had a ruinous conclusion, borrowing the showdown from Men in Black, which was itself anticlimactic. The confrontation at the end of Hellboy II may end predictably, but it’s a dazzling spectacle.

Where the monstrous Hellboy and the handsomely gilled Abe Sapien stood out in a crowd as remarkable mutants in the first film, in Hellboy II we’re surprised when a typical human being shows up.

The bar has been raised for Halloween costume parties: Hellboy II is one of the greatest exhibitions of hand-crafted creatures ever to reach the screen. It’s too bad Stan Winston didn’t live to see it open, and that Jim Henson isn’t here to see the best display of animatronic genius since The Dark Crystal (a film that Hellboy II references more than once, from a mind-melding elfin female to the Garthim-like Golden Army).

And it’s saying something that the film’s two best scenes are almost asides: I won’t spoil them, but you’ll know the first has arrived when you see Hellboy standing at a wall of lockers, and the second when you hear the voice of Barry Manilow. (Trust me.) These two scenes may be the most uproariously funny in any of the last decade’s comic book hero features.

While Hellboy himself is a joy to watch, he doesn’t steal every scene like he did last time around. This time, the scene stealer is an “ectoplasmic mystic” named Professor Johann Kraus, a gaseous entity housed in the costume of a robot straight from an Ed Wood movie. Kraus, voiced by Seth MacFarlane, beats the snot out of another character in an action scene that’s unlike anything you’ve seen before. I love this character, and would happily follow him into his own spin-off.

The only disappointing aspect of Hellboy II for this viewer was the disappearance of David Hyde Pierce as the voice of Abe. Doug Jones, who fits so neatly into that amazing costume, provides Abe’s voice this time, and he does a fine job. But Pierce’s highly mannered voice was perfect for the character, and without him, Abe seems diminished. Too bad, because he has a bigger role to play this time around.

Del Toro obviously viewed this as a chance to see just how high he could reach, how far he could go as a choreographer of special effects mayhem. I’m sure the lessons he learned will serve him well when we go down, down, to goblin town in The Hobbit, and when the spiders run rampant and capture Bilbo’s dwarves in Mirkwood Forest. If this was Del Toro’s audition for a chance in Middle Earth, he would have passed with flying colors. With Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, he proved himself capable of powerful, profound storytelling. With Hellboy II, he proves that he can carry us away into worlds we never dreamed possible.

In spite of the film’s large cast of freaks and its almost-perpetual violence, we can still sense Del Toro’s gentle heartbeat, his sensitivity, in the characters’ conundrums. Prince Nuada, who claims leadership of an mythic underworld, commits a brutal murder at the beginning of the film in order to inherit power and support. But we quickly come to understand his compulsion. Just as the trees fight back in Shyamalan’s The Happening, so nature’s gods and all of the mysterious creatures of myth and spirit are going to unite and fight with Nuada against humanity’s oppression. Yes, this is another in a new surge of films emphasizing how it’s the world, not humankind, that needs to be saved. Neither the humans nor the villains seem interested in redeeming a fallen humanity–they seem stuck in a hopeless decline, fighting to preserve the magical and the beautiful.

In the real world, great works of myth and imagination are some of the most potent forces in fighting back against the tyranny of reason and human selfishness. While Del Toro may not manifest any compelling ideas about how to save the world, his anger at humanity’s failures — which leads to expressions of rage in the form of smash-a-thon mayhem — is justified.

I’ll revise my thoughts later, but for now, here are two more reviews that I find insightful and informative:

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Zacharek:

“The bald truth is that del Toro is one of the few young filmmakers working in the mainstream who actually has any vision, as opposed to just a knack for dreaming up cool effects. Hellboy IIpoetic, funny, darkly romantic and beautifully structured – is a very different picture from Pan’s Labyrinth. But there’s no doubt that it springs from the same cathedral.

There’s so much to look at in “Hellboy II” — so many weird beings with crepelike skin, or eyes in all the wrong places — that the picture runs the risk of being excessive. But in the end, its grandness works because it’s so well balanced by the expressions on the actors’ faces (even when those faces are laden with latex and makeup), or by offbeat little touches like the troupe of cats who cautiously emerge from beneath Hellboy’s bed after he and Liz have had a particularly noisy dust-up. I confess I’ve come to dread movies in which the hero faces down an “army” of anything: Elaborate battles are now a staple of fantasy movies, and the big CGI showdowns of the “Lord of the Rings” pictures set a standard that everyone is now trying to top. But bigger isn’t necessarily better — in fact, it seldom is. Even del Toro seems to realize that, and he constructs the climactic battle sequence so that it caps off everything in the story that’s come before — the movie ends with an emphatic (if somewhat open-ended) period instead of three exclamation marks.

And as with the first “Hellboy,” del Toro is most interested in using fantasy to explore the humanity of his decidedly nonhuman characters.

But Guillermo del Toro’s “Hellboy II: The Golden Army” is something else again: It’s too wildly fanciful, too witty, too operatic in its vision, to fit comfortably into any of the convenient folders we might use to keep our mainstream entertainments sorted in our minds. I left the theater so enraptured, so energized, that it didn’t immediately register that I’d just seen a “special-effects” movie, although, of course, I had.”

Turan:

The parade of creatures Del Toro and his team have come up with as this scenario unfolds, starting with a tour of the legendary Troll Market that one-ups the Mos Eisley cantina scene in “Star Wars,” will make you want to tip your hat in wonder.

There is also a giant beanstalk that resembles something out of “Lord of the Rings” and ends up like a creature Japanese animator Hiyao Miyazaki might have dreamed up. And the film’s Angel of Death, also acted by Doug Jones (who was Pan in “Pan’s Labyrinth”), is everything a creature with that name ought to be.

Though “Hellboy II” is finally a film taken from a comic book, the passion of Del Toro, who was so involved with the story he did the creature vocals, helps us forget that.

More than anything, this film makes us eager for Del Toro’s next announced project, J.R.R. Tolkien’s “The Hobbit,” in which the director’s prodigious gifts will be combined with one of the great fantasy franchises of modern times. That should really be something to see.

Greydanus:

First and foremost, Hellboy II is a riot of creature and set design as well as outsize action set pieces. What makes this stuff work especially well is Del Toro’s penchant for props and prosthetics rather than overreliance on computer graphics.

At the same time, Del Toro never reduces the characters to mere action figures. Not that character development is high on the movie’s priorities, but the personalities and relationships remain at the fore…

In the original Hellboy, the villains were adversaries like demons, Nazis, gods of chaos, assassins and necromancers—characters understood to be evil more or less by nature or by definition, like orcs, vampires or witches. Hellboy II shifts from this kind of mythic good-vs-evil storytelling to something more like classical mythology, with variously flawed characters on all sides.

Except for an occasional cross or rosary, the vestigial Christian influence from Hellboy is virtually gone here. In its place is something a lot like a work of pagan imagination, at times partially reminiscent of the worlds of Japanese animation master Hayao Miyazaki, with his ambiguous antagonists and animistic spirit-creatures.

This isn’t simply a bad thing. Good-vs-evil storytelling aptly reflects the black-and-white world of spiritual warfare, but conflicts in the visible world are seldom so clear-cut. Even Nazis aren’t really pure evil like demons, though movies and comic books might treat them as such. Most people who do bad or even horrible things are more like the denizens of the troll market than typical movie monsters‚Äîmore interested in going about their business than making life miserable for other people.

Del Toro has fleshed out the villainy of the villains. What he still hasn’t fleshed out is the heroism of the heroes‚Äîtheir humanity, yes, but not their heroism. Two films into the Hellboy franchise, what is still missing is redemption‚Äîa crucial theme, as Roger Ebert noted this week on his blog.

I believe Hellboy and his allies are tough and fearless enough to fight and win and save the day. I don’t yet know‚Äîand I’m not sure they know‚Äîwhat they fight for, what they believe in, what in their world is worth saving.

Ebert:

He has an endlessly inventive imagination, and understands how legends work, why they entertain us and that they sometimes stand for something. For love, for example.

Plenty more at GreenCine Daily.

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  • aravis7276

    A friend and I have been reading that there are clever nods to Wizard of Oz in Hellboy 2. I have read that Del Torrow was inspired by the movie, but can anyone tell me of any clear nods or references to the Wizard of Oz?

    Thanks.


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