The most amazing thing about Hellboy II is that, for all its artistic grandeur and eye-popping visuals, it’s so detached and uninvolving.
Much like Sex and the City, Hellboy holds a magnetic appeal to a certain clique. In Hellboy’s case, it’s a clique that dishes over things like Men In Black, Fantastic Four, and Ghostbusters; with Sex and the City, swap those topics out in favor of Jimmy Choo, Donatella Versace, and Prada. In both cases, the lead characters look great thanks to lots of makeup.
As completely derivative as the Hellboy pastiche is, there’s no denying director Guillermo del Toro has a terrific cinematic eye and Hellboy’s is the perfect world to exploit del Toro’s considerable visual talents. There are loads upon loads of fully-realized elves, goblins, and other creatures, including “tooth fairies,” little flying fairies that at one moment look cute, then turn ferocious the next, sporting razor-sharp fangs designed to rip the teeth right out of their prey.
Regardless of all the technical panache, though, Hellboy II does nothing to improve on the original movie’s weaknesses. What were problems then are problems now — and then some.
The biggest irritation is that the action scenes of and heroic moments — made all the more obvious by Danny Elfman’s obnoxious score — lack any sense of adrenalin; there’s not even a solitary twinge of excitement. That’s where this installment — and its predecessor — ultimately fails: the yawns outpace the gasps.
Of course, it doesn’t help matters when the main protagonist, Hellboy himself (Ron Perlman, The City of Lost Children), has a painfully limited range of facial expressions thanks to a ton of red makeup. And, to the detriment of this second chapter, a heavier reliance on pure, new-fangled CGI puts a damper on the original’s more extensive use of quirky, on-set animatronics.
The story is fairly clever, with the movie starting in a flashback to Christmas Eve 1955 and a young Hellboy, eager for Santa’s arrival, being read a bedtime story by his “father” (John Hurt, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull).
That bedtime story tells of a war between man and goblins. When man won, he set the conditions of the peace to be that the magical creatures would move to the forests and man would take over the cities. In the process, a goblin army of golden mechanical soldiers was locked away in a secret location.
OK. That’s sorta cute.
The story then picks up some 53 years later (Hellboy ages at a much slower rate than mere mortals). A prince named Nuada (Luke Goss, Blade II) is plotting a master plan for world domination and heads to a New York auction house to snap up a trinket crucial to his nefarious intentions.
By usurping the throne from his peace-minded father, collecting all three pieces of a golden crown, and interpreting a map that discloses the golden army’s location, Nuada wants to resurrect the army and restore the goblins to their rightful place at the top of the world’s food chain.
Imagination Gone Wild
Like a sleight-of-hand trick, the sundry story elements — some of which aspire to Shakespearean tones — melded with the visuals are almost enough to make a case that the movie is more significant than it really is.
A little bit of reason might shed some rationality on what’s at stake here, however. This golden army is repeatedly referred to as a force of “70 times 70.” Is that awesome? No. Not really. That’s 4,900 metal men. While it’s never really clear what their threat to modern society would truly be, it’s also not clear how indestructible they are.
Chalk up a 10 for the visualization of these mechanical meanies, but also chalk up a big zero for “Sense of Urgency.”
The puree is sweetened when the prince’s far more pure-hearted twin sister turns into an unlikely love interest for Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, Mystery Men), a human-size fish out of water. Keeping in the geeky-romance vein, continuing tensions between Hellboy and Liz (Selma Blair, In Good Company) try to make the Big Red One more sympathetic (beyond his fetishes for Baby Ruth, Tecate, and Cuban cigars, and his ability to make quips like, “I would give my life for her, but she also wants me to do the dishes”).
There’s a lot of imagination on display here. But, like The Golden Compass, this is another example of a movie about magic and fantasy that is sadly missing its own spark of magic and wonder. Hopefully del Toro will find that crucial magical element before he commits to film the first frames of his adaptation of The Hobbit.