As far as sequels go, Hellboy II: The Golden Army is a good one. Writer/Director Guillermo Del Toro shows off with exceptionally beautiful set design, amazingly creepy cool creatures, and slick fight scenes that nod to his spectacular Pan's Labyrinth. Even with all this, I believe the movie failed to capture the great characterization presented in its predecessor which is--as I said back in my Indiana Jones review--the heart of a good franchise film. But even though The Golden Army wasn't as character driven as the Hellboy, I still enjoyed it.
This time around, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his team at the U.S. Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense are dealing with a vengeful troll prince (Luke Goss) as well as their new found exposure to the outside world.
The movie opens when Red is just a young, scary-looking chap, and his father tells him the story of the troll king and the humans and the creation of the Golden Army--invincible metallurgical soldiers who have no souls or remorse. After the humans come in a basically annihilate the otherworld, the troll king commissions an army of magical robots that basically turn around an annihilate the humans. Distressed by what he has done, the king makes a pact with the humans to keep the Army dormant and the two societies will live in peace.
Prince Nuada doesn't like this. Skip ahead to present-day to find him wreaking havoc on both his world and the human world in order to bring the big bad Golden Army back into service. That's where are heroes come in to save the day.
Besides dealing with Nuada's antics, Red and the whole BPRD are dealing with everyone knowing who they are. At first people are excited to see Hellboy in person, but then people begin to fear him. This subplot isn't even worth calling a subplot. It's really more like three scenes that show a quick character arc for Hellboy. I understand the point of it in the movie, but I think it should've been worked a different way.
As I did the first time around, I thoroughly enjoyed Ron Perlman's performance. He's got impeccable timing and the perfect body language to make you look at Hellboy as just another wise-cracking young rebel who won't take anybody's shit instead of a big red demon with his horns shaved down. His boisterousness plays perfectly opposite the cool calculated vibe emanating from Prince Nuada. This guy is a different kind of bad guy. Not one who's out to rule the world but more out to bring back what he thinks is balance. I had a hard time deciding if I pitied the character or despised him, and that's definitely not a bad thing.
There's a new boss in town, Johann Kraus (played by James Dodd and John Alexander, voiced by Seth MacFarlane), who's an ectoplasmic man with the ability to control the dead and machines. His character is a little weak and is mostly used for his talents, which are both handy and convenient.
Red's relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) is front and center with them bickering as usual but also having some very tender moments. She also flashes her powers a little more, and actually uses them for purpose at least once. Blair's performance, as per usual, is a bit wooden. But Perlman seems to pull a little bit more out of her, so scenes with him tend to be better than without.
Abe (Doug Jones) gets a love interest in Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), Prince Nuada's twin sister. He also gets drunk, which was only slightly humorous.
The romantic moments with Liz and Red and Abe and Nuala are where the movie fell off a bit for me. Don't get me wrong, I'm always up for a little romance mixed in with my action, but the romance felt like an afterthought--just something to mention now and again to get a chuckle or create extra stakes in a scene. Liz and Hellboy deal with some heavy stuff, but they resolve it a little too quickly for me to really invest in it. Also, Abe and Nuala have some extremely great moments that are so fleeting, I just wasn't completely invested in them as star-crossed lovers or whatever they may have been.
The Golden Army is half action-packed comic book movie and half art house drama movie. And the balance doesn't quite mesh for me. Even though I recommend seeing the movie, I just didn't walk away from it with the same feeling I got from the first one.