Hellboy II”: Superhero overload
“Hellboy II: the Golden Army” is a textbook example of why sequels will continue to be made and at the same time why, in some ways, they are a shame.
Director Guillermo Del Toro’s original effort was 2004’s modestly budgeted “Hellboy.” Despite its imperfections, “Hellboy” possessed subtle charms and featured a little-known Marvel character (played effectively by Ron Perelman) as a wry superhero who liked cats and consumed inordinate amounts of pizza while saving the day from bad guys. It was a surprising success. Not a blockbuster, but it made enough money ($60 million or so) that discussion of a sequel was required.
“Red” (Hellboy’s nickname) is back, this time with a much larger budget and with superhero mania in full swing. But whereas Del Toro’s darkly majestic “Pan’s Labyrinth” (2007) benefited greatly from the element of surprise and freshness, his Hellboy redux mission seems primarily to impress with sheer spectacle. “Bigger is better,” right? But what about “less is more”? Apparently that mantra only exists in Hollywood among anorexia-afflicted actresses.
What happens when a project gets more money, more resources, and is trying to capitalize on a seemingly insatiable desire for superhero blockbusters? In the case of “Hellboy II,” we get some impressive visuals and locations-from the streets of Manhattan to the hills of Scotland, and a land called Bethmoora where a white-faced goth prince (Luke Goss) returns from exile to reclaim his army and rule the world.
The more screen time Del Toro’s freaks and monsters get, (most of whom seem inspired by a certain Mos Eisley cantina), the less time, unfortunately, Red’s wiseguy-with-a-big-heart personality gets to surface. Ditto the marginal screen time and significance accorded his pyrokinetic gal Liz (Selma Blair) and amphibian buddy (A C-3PO clone as well) Abe (Doug Jones).
The pacing and action are first rate and one can’t help but chuckle at the Barry Manilow tribute about halfway in. In contrast, the story seems superficial and quickly thrown together. Do we care what’s at stake? Is there anything here that, fundamentally, we haven’t seen in other films before? Not just ever before, but how about earlier this summer?
There’s a reason people hang on to old slippers and record players. Sure, their replacements look and sound newer and flashier. But they don’t necessarily make us feel better.
The most likely response to “Hellboy 2: The Golden Army” is, with a shrug of the shoulders, “Yeah, that was great. Can’t wait for the Dark Knight.”
Rated PG-13 for violence, mayhem, scary monsters, profanity, and adult themes.