Written by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt, Brian Steele
In the best of cases, sequels coming from successful initial films allow for further exploration into the world already created. Something that does not occur as often as it should, but luckily Hellboy II: The Golden Army serves as an improvement in every facet of an already fantastic film. Big words to say, but this film shows Guillermo Del Toro diving deep with the weirdness of these characters and everything surrounding them. Completely unhinged in the best of ways.
Now on a roll with capturing monsters for the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) has found himself in an unstable relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) even with the love they have for each other. As they investigate another monster attack they encounter an ancient war under the surface as well as Hellboy trying to enter the public spotlight for his contributions to humanity.
For all of the wondrous weirdness with the first Hellboy film, it lacked a certain braveness to stick to its convictions with the wackiness of this world with the addition of a human character as the guide for audiences. Any fears and hopes of holding back get thrown out the window in a way to let Del Toro tell the kind of story he wants and we should all be thankful for it because it’s a fantasy masterpiece through and through. It manages to double down on focusing on the heartfelt emotions of this supposed monster with more deftness than most stories do with humans while also exploring new ideas with what the character of Hellboy represents.
The most fascinating aspect comes from going all out with the monster world living right under the surface where we learn more about how magical creatures and humans used to live in harmony until war broke out. A truce brought peace but trouble brewed consistently thanks to the actions of a select few. The moments where Hellboy and the crew go into these places mostly populated by these creatures show the incredible detail in the production design and the practical effects in creating these monsters. Coming as no surprise seeing as it’s a Del Toro film, the idea of making these creatures look as realistic as possible makes a tangible difference in the enjoyment of these sequences. Each punch Hellboy lands on these enemies gets felt and does not feel like a bunch of computer-animated figures just bashing into each other. It adds a particularly riveting texture to the film.
On top of the issues with the monsters, Hellboy must also contend with this relationship with the general human public. Sick of hiding in the shadows when trying to do his work, Hellboy straight up announces his presence to the world and it pretty much goes as well as you could expect. The struggle felt here connects with the vision and purpose of the villain, who will be discussed later, but serves as another indicator of the fear regular people will always have for Hellboy. No matter how many times he saves them from monsters seeking to dispose of them, he will never be loved fully by all people. A rather sad aspect of the feature but ultimately one remaining important to the substance of the titular character’s development.
Stepping into the villain role is Luke Goss portraying Prince Nuada, which serves as a much better adversary and foe for Hellboy. His introduction into the feature may be one of the best ones a villain has ever received, demonstrates just how much of a challenge he can pose to our protagonists, and establishes what he seeks to accomplish. His intentions do not stray too far away from someone like Magneto in the X-Men films but it combines with the extra wrinkle of what it means for the rest of the people and specifically what he wishes to awaken in order to complete his plan. The design and makeup work put together to make Goss such an intimidating figure in the feature does wonders. It contributes to establishing the struggle he wishes to save his people from even if the means to his ends do not make it a good deed whatsoever.
The heart of the feature unsurprisingly falls with the romantic emotions Hellboy feels towards Liz but also the delightful addition of a love interest for Abe Sapien (Doug Jones). All of the established relationships from the first film just get firmer and more touching as we progress through this feature. You have Hellboy and Liz having their struggles living together as a couple within the Bureau, which appears to be typical growing pains in a relationship. Abe learns about a little secret Liz has been sharing while also bonding with Hellboy about their romantic woes. The particular scene where this occurs utilizes Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You” to a perfect degree. Furthering the relationships reestablishes exactly what Del Toro wants to portray in this story. Yes, big action set pieces appear in this film to a tremendous degree but the lovable nature of these characters remains the most intriguing and endearing aspect of the story.
All of this greatness occurs before even mentioning the Golden Army referenced in the title, which serves as a stand-in for many ideas. They essentially represent weapons of mass destruction and how their utilization could do quite a bit of harm if under the control of the wrong person. The fact the Golden Army can be an afterthought demonstrates everything this film wants to juggle while doing it to perfection. All of the themes both internal and external for Hellboy further emphasize that while he may look like a frightening creature, he has the heart of the average person just trying to live. Balancing this with the large action set pieces involved shows Del Toro at his absolute finest and his magnum opus.
Capturing so much fun, love, and thrilling action sequences, Hellboy II: The Golden Army has everything one could want from a fantasy tale. Intriguing creatures brought to life in innovative and textured ways, deepening lore, threatening villains, and gorgeous visuals. This feature provides all of this along with continuing the emotional work of the protagonists from the first film to make such a wonderful moving picture made with so much love from its director. You can feel the passion and affection Del Toro has for these characters and it rubs off on me as I adore revisiting this story and these wonderful creatures.