Twitter Plot Summary: Hellboy and the BPRD are back, this time taking on a prince who rules over the land of fantasy and wishes to destroy humanity. No pressure.
We should consider ourselves lucky that Hellboy 2 ever got made. The first film, whilst incredibly competent and respectful towards Mike Mignola’s source material, didn’t make a huge impression outside of the relatively small comic book film audience of the time. But then Guillermo del Toro went and made Pan’s Labyrinth which made a lot more money and gave him carte blanche to work on any project of his choosing. So, as a fan of the Hellboy comics he was allowed to work on a sequel to his 2004 film.
The Golden Army is a story that doesn’t draw influence from Mignola’s comics and instead embraces the world of fantasy along a similar line to Pan’s Labyrinth. It’s tribute to del Toro’s visual aesthetic and the brilliance of the Hellboy character that slamming those two worlds together works very well indeed rather than being the film equivalent of mixing oil and water. Taking place some time after the events of the first film, The Golden Army sees Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) declaring war on humanity from the realm of fantasy, and it’s up to the B.P.R.D. to step in and save the day.
Doug Jones returns as Abe Sapien, but this time is given opportunity to use his own voice rather than being dubbed by Frasier’s David Hyde Pierce. This small change goes by barely unnoticed, and allows Jones to fully inhabit the character. It’s a good move too, especially given the extended role that Abe has in this story and his relationship with Nuada’s twin sister, Nuala.
del Toro has put together a story that is not only rich in action but also rich in characterisation. Hellboy, a typically reliable performance from Ron Perlman, is frustrated about his good deeds not being recognised by the world at large and having to work in the shadows, and apart from the threat to humanity’s existence there are relationship matters to contend with. This side of the story is played well by Selma Blair as Liz, although given the creative team involved it goes without saying that she is not a damsel in distress and, ignoring her relationship with Hellboy, plays an equal role in events.
There is clearly a debt owed to the likes of Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal in the production design, in particular the visit to the troll market. This is a sequence rife with interesting characters and an example of life in the other realm.
And who can ignore the presence of Johann Kraus, voiced by Family Guy/American Dad creator Seth McFarlane? The ghost medium is a superb counterpoint to Abe, Liz and Hellboy’s usual methods, but also bringing something new and exciting to the team dynamic. Not to say that Rubert Evans’ John Myers didn’t have a similar sort of impact in the first film, but it’s clear that his presence there was to serve the plot and it’s understandable why the character didn’t return for this sequel.
The Golden Army succeeds by establishing a different tone to the original film but keeping the journey of the characters true to the template. It’s a pity that there doesn’t appear to be widespread appeal for the characters to return to our screens, you’re unlikely to get a better mix of big budget action and characterisation in a major studio film.