Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

Sequels always suck. No exceptions. Lord of the Rings is not an exception to this rule, because while it is broken up into 3 parts, it is really a single movie. It was shot and produced as a whole by the same team of people. When I talk about a sequel I mean a movie which:

  1. is produced as a follow up to a successful block buster
  2. is released few years after the original
  3. attempts to add a new chapter to an already complete story
  4. tries to cash in on the popularity of the original
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Hellboy 2 is a true sequel. I had high hopes for this movie. As I mentioned it many times on this blog, I consider the original Hellboy as one of the few Hollywood comic book adaptations that did not totally suck. While it was not a great movie, it was fun (if a bit campy), interesting and engaging. It had many good things going for it. For example, it had the strong Lovercraftian overtones. The story dealt with slumbering ancient Gods and a sinister plot to summon them to earth. It had tentacled beasts from bizarre myths of old, occult magic and Nazi sorcerrers.

Hellboy’s origin was complicated as well. Our hero turned out to be a living a key needed to open a gate through which these tentacled dark gods could descend upon the earth. His sole reason for existence was to one day become a harbinger of doom. It made him that much more interesting. He was a being conceived by evil for a singular purpose who choose to reject his destiny and decided to be one of the good guys instead.

We also had a sympathetic rookie agent joining the team – a regular average Joe who knew little about the supernatural matters and mythical beasts. It was ok for him to ask stupid questions that helped the viewers to understand what was going on. He was also just getting to know the other characters so we could discover their relationships through his eyes. Introducing a naive new guy into an existing group is an old and tried storytelling method and it works.

In the sequel has none of that good stuff. The “everyman” character is gone. He is replaced by another new team member but one that is almost impossible to identify with. He is a faceless dude voiced by Seth McFarlane doing his really, really bad German accent from Family Guy. His body is composed of ethereal ectoplasm, he walks around in a Victorian style diving suit, he has no facial expressions, and his voice is supper annoying. I’m all for quirky characters, but this one was a bad trade.

Hellboy is no longer troubled by his purpose, destiny and place in the world. He seems to have all of that worked out. He trades his existential struggles for silly relationship problems and stupid emo stuff (bawww, people don’t like me cause I’m different). The somewhat interesting push and pull relationship between Liz and Hellboy we knew from the original is reduced to basic, textbook sitcom material. One person has a secret, doesn’t want to tell the other. Hilarity snoozefest ensues.

I wouldn’t necessarily call Hellboy a deep character, but there was always something more to him. Between his destiny, his rocky relationship with Liz, various hints that he is actually a religious and superstitious person. All of that added up to a somewhat interesting mix. In The Golden Army he reverts to a common thug, and his rage meter is dialed all the way up to 11. He is reckless, self destructive and seems to thrive on conflict. He seems to be picking fights with allies, friends or even innocent bystanders for the silliest reasons. Any complexity he might have had is gone and we end up with a paper thin, one-trick pony who gets angry and starts punching things in every scene. All the bits that made him so appealing in the first movie have been lost.

Lovercraftian theme is gone as well, replaced with sort of a dark and grim fairy tale backdrop. While I think the ancient gods were a much stronger material I was actually sort of intrigued by this new direction. The idea of having the mythical fey-folk still surviving on the margins of human settlements and secretly meeting in abandoned industrial buildings was actually kind of juicy. This was almost like something taken directly out of White Wolf’s Changeling: The Dreaming if not better. The juxtaposition of the modern, industrial themes with the myth and folklore was possibly one of the stronger points of the movie. Even if some of the creatures look like they were taken directly out of Pan’s Labyrinth. I guess Guillermo del Toro is very fond of these eyeless, stumpy headed wrinkled monstrosities he seems to reuse all the time. Not that I’m complaining – I sort of like these things too. I think they actually do hit some sort of a sweet spot between odd, formless and humanoid look which elicits some sort of a low level emotional response from most people.

Unfortunately, the somewhat intriguing setup leads to nowhere. Upon close inspection the world of the fairy-folk seems devoid of any kind of depth or mystery. In fact we hardly see any of it. It acts merely as a colorful backdrop and we only get to know they key players who are important to the plot. I sort of hoped to see more of the fairies – both being henchmen to the main villain as well as allies to Hellboy and his team. I also expected to see some of the themes from Changeling resurfacing here – like having the fairy society in a decline, loosing ground to human expansion, their magic and their culture slowly fading away into oblivion. But no. This is not the direction they went with. They went for the action flick angle.

You can clearly see that this movie had a much bigger budget than the previous one. They went all out on both huge scale special effects (the big brawl with the overgrown ent on the streets of NYC) and on costumes, and incredibly detailed makeup for dozens of extras in large crowd scenes (the troll market). I suspect that Mr. del Toro spent much more time designing new funky critters to parade in front of the camera than actually writing the screenplay. The plot while serviceable is incredibly linear and predictable to the point of killing any suspense and tension it might have had to begin with. The humor is rather weak, and seems forced – which is especially evident when the same joke is reused over, and over and over again.

It is not a bad movie. It’s just not a good movie either. Usually I wrap these types of reviews by saying something among the lines of “Only watch this if you are a big Helloboy fan”. But you know what? That’s not true. If you really liked the first move, you can just skip this one.

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8 Responses to Hellboy 2: The Golden Army

  1. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Solaris Terminalist says:

    The even numbered Star Trek movies are also an exception to the rule.

    2

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  2. Craig Betts UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Solaris Terminalist says:

    Oops, looks like I tried using some code again . . . stupid BBCode . . .

    I really liked ST6. ST:TNG was running a similar story line about the Klingon history when ST6 was released in theaters. Good stuff.

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  3. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Ubuntu Linux Terminalist says:

    [quote post=”2710″]Oops, looks like I tried using some code again . . . stupid BBCode . . .[/quote]

    Well, I don’t really use BBCode here. Just a few of basic HTML tags that are listed above the comment box. That and some replacement magic for inserting quotes into the comments.

    Oh, and I was never a big Trek fan so I haven’t actually seen ST6.

    One thing I always disliked about the series is how it systematically seeks to Flanderize every single race to the point of exaggeration.

    Like the fact that all Klingons are humorless honorable warriors. All Ferengi and greedy merchants, and etc. I mean, one would think that these huge societies would have at lest some variety. There must be some pacifist Klingons out there, or ascetic Ferengi who do not care about money and/or worldly possessions.

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  4. Dax UNITED STATES Opera Windows says:

    There are a few exceptions to that rule. Star Wars Episodes 5 and 6 were good sequels. The Rocky movies (except 5 and the most recent one) were good. Terminator 2 was just as good as the first. But generally speaking you are correct; almost every sequel sucks.

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  5. Mack UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Oh cmon

    “like having the fairy society in a decline, loosing ground to human expansion, their magic and their culture slowly fading away into oblivion.”

    The whole point of this movie, aside from Hellboy and Abes bromances, was to show the elf society losing ground to the humans. It’s repeated Over and Over and Over that the elf dudes are going to die off and fade away. The final line of the main elf badass is “We shall die and the world will be poorer for it”, same with the giant green forest monster, “This is the last one left in existence blah blah blah”, you couldn’t escape the whole Omgz we’re Killing Environments that was implied in this movie through the elf thing.

    “In The Golden Army he reverts to a common thug, and his rage meter is dialed all the way up to 11. He is reckless, self destructive and seems to thrive on conflict.”

    Totally disagree. He gets his rage meter up because of the frustrations of holding together a relationship with Liz in what is a seriously high pressure job, as well as the world outside completely Not Getting Him. Case and Point: the giant plant monster. He takes serious time in the movie to weigh up the pros and cons of taking it’s life, and the necessity of sending one of the Elves last heritages and natural miracles to hell in order to save human life. Had he been the thug you describe, he would have wasted it without a second thought.

    Sure, hellboy gets seriously pissed in this movie- But the movie takes great pains to explain why he’s like that, and to fill in his character behind the action. Note the TVs calling him and Liz “A federally funded threat to traditional marriage”, the Beer/Singalong scene with Abe, the jokes at the Diver suits germans expense as Nazi reference, harbouring an animosity explained in the first movie/comics.

    No offense intended, but it seems to me like you’ve watched this movie without certain scenes, or without trying to understand the character developement. I thought this movie was actaully far better for character developement than the first, and the annoying, boy scout CIA guy in the first one bugged the living crap out of me.

    I do agree on the ramping up of Toro’s weird characters though – They’re awesome.

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  6. Luke Maciak UNITED STATES Mozilla Firefox Windows Terminalist says:

    @Mack: Yes, you are right. Initially I had that worded differently. The gist of it was that I wanted to see *more* of this theme. I wanted it explored in more depth. There is a little bit of that there, yes. But it is mostly conveyed through what prince Nuada says and not exactly shown.

    For example, during the throne room scene you do feel this notion that these people are fading away. Then we enter the Troll Market and we see this thriving economy and all these fairies well adjusted to life in the big cities. It sort of took the sting out of the whole “fading away” theme showing that they can thrive even in the most densely populated urban areas.

    Same with the abandoned city. Initially I was like ohh! An abandoned city. This is because they are fading away! And two seconds later the legless goblin explains that the city was abandoned due to a curse that came to the city with the golden Army.

    He could have just said something about there not being enough of Fey fold in the world to populate this city anymore. Or something like that. But no – it was cursed, and everyone moved out. Meh…

    Maybe I’m to harsh on this movie. I get like that when something does not live up to my expectations. :P

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  7. Mack UNITED KINGDOM Safari Mac OS says:

    Mhmf. I agree with your point about troll alley- But that’s not the elves natural woodland, that’s the whole mishmash of all the fairy creatures hanging on the by the fingernails to the hiding places they have left. I think a thriving elf civ would look completely different, all medievally and ye olde englande woodland based.

    The contrast between the forest energy of the elves monster and NYC brought it out quite well though, I thought- the massive contrasts between the specie and how coexistence was out of the question.

    Either way, the film was a joy to watch- Toro’s weirdness and impressive set pieces, especially the rock opening to the abandoned city and the cinematography of the four, finally unified characters coming over the hill, really made it for me.

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  8. vacri AUSTRALIA Mozilla Firefox Debian GNU/Linux says:

    The movie wasn’t terrible, but neither was it anywhere near what del Toro is capable of. There were a lot of hackneyed tropes. There was the “hot chick who can’t do anything”. There was the “nerd and hot chick fall in love just because”. There was, as you pointed out, the “I can’t tell him I’m pregnant”. And of course the “give him something to live for” that follows on. There was the fake german. The angry young prince murdering his dad in a for-or-against-me moment. And the dad who can’t see it coming. The stickler-for-paperwork finally rebels. In troll alley, there was even the Big Pointless Grinding Machine that you just know is going to have a bad guy stuffed into it as soon as you see it. One of my friends actually fell asleep during the movie.

    The elf prince was a listless actor with no grace of movement – he should have been replaced with a dancer. The elf princess was the classic helpless chick who is only a prize in the eyes of the story (see also Princess Bride). Why can’t we have more Ellen Ripleys in movies? All the supporting characters had the depth of the paper they were written on.

    It’s a run-of-the-mill movie, neither good nor bad. Pity it wasn’t up to del Toro’s best.

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