HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY directed by Guillermo del Toro, screenplay by del Toro based on characters created by Mike Mignola, with Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor. A Universal release. 110 minutes. Opens Friday (July 11). For venues and times, see listings. Rating: NN
Del Toro’s Hellboy sequel boasts a helluva look – and not much else
Guillermo del Toro’s 2004 HellBoy stands as a terrific comic-book adventure, full of completely realized characters and truckloads of antic energy in the service of a storyline that balances its apocalyptic thrills with genuine humanity. (Check out the director’s cut.)
Four years and one Pan’s Labyrinth later, Hellboy II: The Golden Army suggests that del Toro needs a script editor – or some serious budgetary restrictions – to keep his self-indulgence at tolerable levels.
The first hints of excess can be seen in the overlong animation of the title sequence, a display of infernal clockwork mechanics that takes a good minute or so to stamp out the name of the movie. Next there’s a bit introducing the new bad guy, the elf prince Nauda (Luke Goss, the villain of del Toro’s Blade II), who’s doing shirtless gymnastics in his underground lair. For a very long time.
The exposition gets rattled off effectively enough – the big red galoot and his pals at the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense must stop Prince Nauda from unleashing a legendary army of invincible killer robots to destroy the human race – but somehow there’s not much urgency to the action.
Instead, del Toro rifles through his sketchbook for a slew of elaborate fantasy tableaux – and gets lost in every one.
Del Toro is his generation’s Terry Gilliam, an intensely visual director who loves his ideas so much that he’s happy to disappear into them for minutes at a time, forgetting all about such trivial concerns as story, characters and audience.
Hellboy II has visual splendour in spades, but watching the movie is like eating an entire cake. After a while, you can’t register anything but richness. By the eighth or ninth time the movie stops dead to gaze in wonder at another of del Toro’s pale-skinned, otherworldly creations, I was throwing up my hands in exasperation.
The actors aren’t to blame. Ron Perlman is still wonderful as the cranky, proudly immature Hellboy, and Selma Blair is a prickly, melancholy marvel as his beloved firestarter, Liz Sherman – even if del Toro’s script does her no favours.
Doug Jones returns as the amphibian Abe Sapien, taking over the character’s voice from an absent David Hyde-Pierce. (Jones, who is del Toro’s go-to guy for creature acting, also appears as several other characters.)
And there’s a new character, BPRD commander Johann Kraus, whose ectoplasmic form is contained in a modified diving suit, and who speaks in exactly the same arch German accent that voice actor Seth MacFarlane uses for American Dad’s talking fish, Klaus.
I thought the similarity was just a coincidence until MacFarlane’s name appeared in the end credits – and then I found myself wondering why del Toro would think that was a good idea. But like so much of Hellboy II, the answer is that nobody told him otherwise.