If you enjoyed Hellboy, you’ll probably enjoy Hellboy II: The Golden Army about the same amount. If you were already tired of the titular character played by Ron Perlman, then you’ll absolutely hate the second installment. This film is just about the same as the first, with the only changes coming from the story. However, the way that the characters are explored, the visual effects, and pretty much everything else is exactly the same as it was before.
The plot this time around is set-up in the film’s opening scene, set all the way back in the 50’s. A young Hellboy is told a story by his surrogate father that involves a story that details a war between humans and elves. A truce was eventually formed, much to the dismay of one Prince Nuada (Luke Goss). Well, approximately 50 years later, Nuada decides that the truce has gone on for too long, and wishes to start another war using The Golden Army from the title. But first he needs to gather a few items in order to wake them up. Or something like that — it doesn’t really matter.
We’re introduced to the prince practicing his skill with a blade. I guess that the knife-guy from the first film was popular with fans, so director Guillermo del Toro one-upped him by giving us this prince. He’s more acrobatic and more skilled, so we know we’re in for some entertaining fight scenes. Just like Hellboy, also returning from the first film is his girlfriend, Liz (Selma Blair) and Abe (Doug Jones). Since their jobs are to investigate and eliminate the paranormal, they soon become involved trying to stop Nuada, eventually aided by his twin sister, Nuala, who ran away after Nuada revealed that he wanted to kill all the humans.
Despite the fact that Nuada’s ultimate goal is to eliminate a race I’ve grown quite fond of, (some of the time anyway), he’s a sympathetic villain. The reason he’s angry is because his race is soon to become extinct, you can kind of understand why he wants vengeance. But it doesn’t seem like the humans are the right target. They’re not slowly killing the elves, it’s just that the elves don’t get to inhabit the face of the Earth. Nauda’s father is the one that made this truce, so I don’t see why humans are taking the brunt of the force.
Regardless, this is what he feels, and that is made apparent to us. The feelings of the other characters are made clear too, which is good. We got quite a lot of development in the last film, and that trend continues here. Some of it seems forced though. There’s a part in the middle of the film where both Big Red and Abe have to learn how to deal with things that life throws at them. Hellboy has to deal with humans not accepting him, while Abe has to learn what love is. Both of these storylines felt shoehorned in, with one of them not even getting used after the character learns his lesson.
Also sticking true to the previous film is the visuals, which are still breathtaking. Coming from the success that was Pan’s Labyrinth, we know that del Toro has a thing for creating amazing looking creatures. There are some similarities between those in Pan’s Labyrinth and The Golden Army, but the similarities are not distracting. There are some completely unique ones too, like a giant plant thing that spans several city blocks. Yes, that does show that the “bigger is better” idea was used when crafting this movie, but this notion is used so frequently because, when done right, it works.
For the first half of Hellboy II, I found myself laughing a lot — another trend from the previous film. In fact, I was ready to call The Golden Army much funnier than the first Hellboy. But the humor dries up near the halfway point, and this is when I found myself enjoying the film less. I still didn’t dislike it, and I was still having a generally good time, but it was more enjoyable when it wasn’t taking itself too seriously.
The main difference this time around is that the action scenes have been improved. This time around, they aren’t ruined by poor, distracting CGI. Instead, the CGI is used impressively, and even though it’s used a lot, it’s good enough to not take us out of the scenes. At some times, you aren’t even sure what’s CGI or what’s just amazing costuming, and that is something that is very impressive.
The question you probably have at the moment is “but is it better than Hellboy?” In some areas, it definitely is, but as a whole film, it’s slightly weaker. It’s by no means bad, and if you liked the first film, you’ll like this one too, but there’s less character development and it begins to take itself far too seriously mid-way through. The first film may have had distracting CGI, but that’s something that you can overlook if you’re into the film enough. I never felt that same atmosphere this time around, even though the CGI was definitely improved.
I still enjoyed Hellboy II: The Golden Army. The plot is deeper than the first film, and the much-improved CGI was a welcome addition. It does take itself too seriously, and I found myself less involved because it’s less atmospheric, but it’s still fun and since it follows the “bigger is better” approach to sequel-making, you’re unlikely to get bored. It’s not quite as good as Hellboy is, but if you enjoyed the first film, you’ll like this one too.