Given the peculiar ambitions of the Hellboy franchise—would-be blockbuster special effects-driven eye candy horror action comedy—it should come as no surprise that the second go-round, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is all over the place.
The tone shifts from scenes of wacky slapstick to too-earnest melodrama to self-serious superhero movie-isms, and you can practically fell the gears grinding when it does.
It’s to writer/director Guillermo del Toro credit that the entire endeavor never completely stalls out, but manages to zip by thanks to copious B-movie charm, and genuinely amazing creature designs, a movie menagerie that could fill more than one of Pan’s labyrinths.
Ron Perlman reprises his role as the title character, the big red son of Satan with a huge right hand and sawed-off horns who works for the BPRD, a sort gothic version of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones’ Men In Black. His best friend is fish man Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), his long-suffering girlfriend is pyrokinetic Liz (Selma Blair) and his boss is Jeffrey Tambor.
Added to the mix is another colorful freak a by-the-book agent Johann Kraus (voiced by Seth “Family Guy” MacFarlane, doing a silly German accent).
Meanwhile, a pair of albino elf twins—evil prince Luke Goss and good princess Anna Walton—cause trouble for our heroes. The former is pursuing the latter, who holds the last piece of the maguffin he needs to control an unstoppable army of clockwork killers and take earth back for elfkind or whatever.
Del Toro plays the interpersonal conflicts as seriously as the apocalyptic threat business, but just because there’s a devil man, fish man and elves acting out the same old jokes, sitcom romances and buddy cope movie clichés, it doesn’t really make them any less tired.
Nor does it help that the movie seems to be two or three different movies all trying to eat one another. For example, in one scene of moving, surreal beauty, Hellboy reluctantly kills a beanstalk monster he’s told is a forest god, and, after the slam-bang action, the monster’s blood transforms a portion of the city is turned into a veritable garden of Eden, striking all of characters dumb with awe as they survey the “damage.”
In the next scene, Hellboy loses a fight to a set of lockers possessed by a disembodied German accent, the rain of cartoon blows ringing off his head like punchlines.
While Del Toro (who shares a story credit with Hellboy and company’s creator, comic book artist Mike Mignola) doesn’t quite make such an odd amalgam of genres work, he doesn’t exactly fail either.
His movie is less than the sum of its parts, sure, but there are some downright incredible parts.
The exposition about the elves and the Golden Army is presented as an animated 3-D puppet show that looks at times like a Brothers Quay 300, a visit to a “troll market” bears one of most interesting gathering of movie creatures since Sir Alec Guinnes took Mark Hamill into the Star Wars cantina, and the titular menace’s ability of self-repair leads to some more interesting animation.
The multiplex would be a much better place to visit if more big studio movies failed in the same ways that this one does.