4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch

“You’re in love, have a beer” — Hellboy II: The Golden Army

With the first Hellboy movie being a success, it was pretty much a no-brainer for a sequel to be green-lit. The movie not only made money for the studio, it also brought a new audience to Mike Mignola’s comic book.

Unfortunately, there was a snag, in that Revolution Studios, which produced the movie, went out of business in 2006, the same year the sequel was originally scheduled for.

It took a couple years for the rights to find a home, but eventually Universal took on the property, seeing value in it.

Most of the cast was brought back, including Ron Perlman in the title role, Selma Blair as Liz, Doug Jones (providing his own voice this time) as Abe, and Jeffrey Tambor as Manning. Rupert Evans was in a play in London and was unable to return, so Myers was written out of the sequel. (Hellboy got pissed at him and had him reassigned to Antarctica.) Although the character of Bruttenholm was dead, Sir John Hurt returned in a flashback to Hellboy’s youth (the young Hellboy played by Montse Ribé) to tell the story of the Golden Army that would serve as the basis of the movie’s plot.

The sequel also brought in the character of Johann Krauss from the comics. Physically played by puppeteers John Alexander and James Dodd, who expertly manipulated Krauss’s steampunk armor, Seth MacFarlane provided Krauss’s voice after Guillermo del Toro was dissatisfied with Thomas Krestchmann’s vocal work. Luke Goss and Anna Walton were cast as the Nuada and Nuala, the fae twins, with the great Roy Dotrice appearing as their father, King Balor.

 

“Let this remind you why you once feared the dark”

Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Written by Guillermo del Toro & Mike Mignola
Directed by Guillermo del Toro
Produced by Lawrence Gordon and Lloyd Levin and Mike Richardson
Original release date: July 11, 2008

We open on Christmas 1955, and Professor Bruttenholm tells little Hellboy a bedtime story about King Balor who commissioned the Golden Army, a collection of indestructible clockwork soldiers. Realizing the awful power he’d unleashed, Balor agreed to shut down the Golden Army and hide it. The fae would stay in the forests, while humans would stay in cities. The crown that activates the Golden Army is divided into three portions and scattered.

Cut to the present day. Balor’s son, Nuada, has returned from exile to fight back against a corrupt humanity. With the help of a giant named Wink and a gaggle of tooth fairies (tiny creatures who live off of calcium, so they will totally consume a human’s entire body, down to the bone), he attacks an auction house where one of the crown pieces is being sold.

The B.P.R.D. is brought in to deal with the situation. Manning is beside himself, as Hellboy keeps allowing himself to be seen by the general public, and even posing for pictures and videos that are posted on YouTube. (“I hate YouTube,” Manning declares bitterly.) As for Liz, while she loves Hellboy, living with him is proving to be a chore.

Liz, Hellboy, Abe, and several agents (who, of course, all get killed), go to the auction house to find no dead bodies and a lot of tooth fairies. Liz is able to deal with the little creatures by burning them, but her inferno blows Hellboy out a window right into the middle of the press gaggle outside the auction house. The proverbial cat is now out of the bag.

Nuada confronts King Balor with his plan to revive the Golden Army. Balor orders his soldiers to kill his son, but Nuada instead kills them and Balor as well. Nuada’s twin sister, Nuala—who feels every wound he feels and vice versa—escapes with one of the crown pieces, as well as the map to where the Golden Army is hidden.

A new B.P.R.D. agent is sent in to run things, a disembodied wraith named Johann Krauss, whose ectoplasmic form is held inside steampunk armor. He is able to revive one of the tooth fairies long enough to learn that they were purchased at the troll market. The B.P.R.D. has never been able to find the troll market, but the tooth fairy says it’s under the Brooklyn Bridge.

Abe also determines through his hyper senses that Liz is pregnant. This does nothing to make Liz any happier. She swears Abe to secrecy, even from Hellboy.

Investigating the Brooklyn Bridge, with the help of goggles that can penetrate the glamours that trolls use to pass for human, the B.P.R.D. gets into the troll market. Hellboy encounters Wink, while Abe finds Nuala—whom Wink is there to find.

Hellboy manages to kill Wink, while Abe grants Nuala asylum at B.P.R.D. headquarters.  However, before they can leave, Nuada himself shows up and attacks them with an elemental creature. Nuada tries to turn Hellboy to his side, and fails, even though Hellboy resents being forced to hide from humanity.

Abe has fallen for Nuala, and he and Hellboy get drunk and listen to Barry Manilow’s “I Can’t Smile Without You” as they lament the state of their love lives. Nuada is able to track Nuala through their bond, and while she has hidden the crown piece, Nuada does take the map and kidnap his sister, telling the B.P.R.D. agents to bring the crown piece if they don’t want her harmed. To add a little extra oomph, he stabs Hellboy with a spear, the tip of which remains lodged in Hellboy’s chest. They can’t remove it surgically. However, they have figured out where the Golden Army is: Ireland.

Liz convinces Abe to take Hellboy to Ireland to try to save Nuala and Hellboy both. Krauss goes along, despite the lack of authorization, saying only that he’s a wraith now because of something that happened involving the woman he loved.

Meanwhile, Manning is searching high and low for the crown piece. Unbeknownst to everyone, Abe has already found the crown piece, and has hidden it on his person as they travel to Ireland.

With the help of a legless troll—who created the Golden Army for King Balor and now regrets it—our heroes are let into the underground lair where the Golden Army will be raised. However, before that happens, they are taken to the Angel of Death, who tells Liz that Hellboy is destined to destroy the world. Liz chooses for him to live now anyhow, and the Angel removes the spear fragment.

A now-healed Hellboy, Liz, Krauss, and Abe confront Nuada. To everyone’s shock, Abe turns over the crown piece, saying that Hellboy would do the same for Liz. Nuada raises the Golden Army, but does not release Nuala, to Abe’s anger. Our heroes fight the Golden Army, and seem to make short work of them, particularly Krauss, who is able to possess one of the clockwork soldiers.

However, each soldier reforms itself regardless of how much damage has been done to it. Krauss bitterly says he’s out of ideas, but Hellboy has one: he challenges Nuada for control of the Golden Army—as a prince of hell, he has that right.

And so the pair of them face off, Hellboy promising Abe he won’t kill Nuada (because that would also kill Nuala), but he will still kick his ass. And in the end, Hellboy is indeed victorious, but Nuada tries to stab him in the back after Hellboy has won. Before he can, Nuala stabs herself in the chest, which kills them both. Liz then uses her fire to destroy the crown so no one can ever raise the Golden Army, and also tells Hellboy that she’s pregnant.

When they return to the surface, Manning is there with several agents, looking for the four of them. Before he can reprimand them, all four quit.

 

“We die and the world will be poorer for it”

I’m of two minds about this particular sequel. I mean, it’s not bad or anything, but where the first movie had me all excited, this one didn’t quite pull together for me.

Elements of it were excellent. I particularly liked the use of Gaelic folklore and the legends of the fae. Casting Roy Dotrice (Ron Perlman’s co-star on Beauty and the Beast back in the day) as the king of the fae was particularly inspired, and I only wish we’d gotten more of him.

Ultimately, though, the movie spends way too much time on its fancy-shmancy special effects and nifty looking battles and impressive creatures, and not nearly enough time on the actual story and character stuff.

Which is too bad on two different levels. The effects and creatures are, in fact, very impressive, from the adorable-yet-deadly tooth fairies to Wink to the Golden Army soldiers themselves. There’s a delightful steampunk sensibility to the soldiers, to Wink’s prosthetic weapon, and to the design of Krauss’s armor.

And the fight scenes are impressive as heck. Luke Goss in particular deserves kudos for the work he did training in staff and sword techniques, as his work is excellent. (He’s also playing almost exactly the same role he played in del Toro’s Blade II, which also starred Perlman. Gotta watch that typecasting there, Luke…)

But, man, do the characters get short shrift. Hellboy’s love for Liz was a magnificent undercurrent in the first movie, but it’s a bog-standard woman-complains-because-man-doesn’t-clean-up bullshit in the sequel, and it feels like del Toro is hoping that Liz’s being pregnant will be enough to create tension. It’s too bad, because Selma Blair is so much better in this movie, much more cranky and sure of herself.

Abe’s love affair with Nuala also gets no room to breathe, which is too bad. Doug Jones being allowed to use his own voice only makes Abe more compelling. (I love when Nuala, who can see the truth in things, realizes that “Abe Sapien” is not his real name, but frowns when she learns his real name. “Oh dear.” “Awful, I know.”)

Worse, the deepening of the respect between Hellboy and Manning that was so beautifully played in the first movie when the latter shows the former how to light a cigar is flushed away, as we’re back to Hellboy hating Manning, which is lazy. And Hellboy is revealed to the public which winds up meaning absolutely nothing, beyond a few shouted insults near the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s an issue worth exploring, but the film never really bothers to.

Still, the movie is fun. Not quite as many great moments as the first one, and I would’ve liked more with the characters and less with the CGI spectacle (a complaint that will likely continue to come up a few more times in this rewatch), but Perlman’s snotty Hellboy remains a fun smartass protagonist. And I like the fact that he carries around Bruttenholm’s rosary on his left wrist throughout.

It’s too bad that the planned third movie never happened, as both Liz’s pregnancy and the mentions by Rasputin in the last film and the Angel of Death in this one about Hellboy’s true destiny perfectly set up the last part of the trilogy. Sadly, what with del Toro’s schedule (between Hellboy films, he made the multiple-award-nominated Pan’s Labyrinth, which made him in much more demand), the disappointing box office of this film (competing as it was with The Dark Knight), and various other sillinesses, that sequel never happened, and likely never will.

 

Next week, we’ll look back at the TV movie that kicked off the Witchblade TV show.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is pleased to announce that eSpec Books has now re-released the first three of his “Precinct” series of high fantasy police procedurals: Dragon Precinct, Unicorn Precinct, and Goblin Precinct, with re-releases of both Gryphon Precinct and Tales from Dragon Precinct due over the course of the next month or two. And coming this fall is Mermaid Precinct, which will be followed over the next year or two by Phoenix Precinct, Manticore Precinct, and More Tales from Dragon Precinct.

29 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!