After the success of his first Hellboy film in 2004, Guillermo Del Toro decided to make a sequel that was released in 2008, around the time The Dark Knight and Iron Man were released. The film begins with a young Hellboy being told a bedtime story by Professor Broom (played by John Hurt) about a mythical Golden Army: an indestructible army of automatons created by goblin blacksmiths for King Balor of the Elves. Balor controlled the army with a special crown and under his command, The Golden Army wreaked havoc across the lands. Devastated by the destruction from his own army, King Balor decided to call for a truce and discontinue its use. He broke his crown into three pieces, giving one piece to the goblins, one to the humans, and one for the elves. While everyone agreed to the truce, Balor’s son, Prince Nuada (played by Luke Goss), could not, and went into exile. Nuada travelled around the world, searching for the pieces of the crown.
We then cut to Hellboy (played by Ron Perlman) and the BPRD investigating a massacre at an auction site caused by Prince Nuada. During the investigation, they are attacked by a swarm of demonic fairies, causing Liz Sherman (played by Selma Blair) to incinerate them and launch Hellboy outside in front of the public. While Hellboy is glad to be in the public, Dr. Manning (played by Jeffrey Tambor), Abe Sapien (played by Doug Jones), and Liz are not. Manning has another BPRD agent, Johann Krauss (played by Seth MacFarlane), transferred from D.C. to ensure that Hellboy doesn’t get into trouble. Meanwhile, Prince Nuada kills his father for the second piece of the crown. His sister, Princess Nuala (played by Anna Walton), manages to escape with the shard and is hunted down by Nuada and his minions.
I appreciate how this film is different from the first one despite being a sequel. Far too often in Hollywood, sequels are either too similar to their prequels, or too different in a bad way. However, Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) further expands the story while remaining distinct. Another thing I noticed with the sequel was the tone of the film. While Hellboy (2004) had a more somber tone, Hellboy II is much more comedic. Del Toro manages to naturally blend in dramatic storytelling and heavy themes with humor without making it cheesy. For example, he balances two scenes of Hellboy and Abe drinking together while HB encourages Abe to express his feelings for Princess Nuala with Prince Nuada making his way through the BPRD facility.
One thing I absolutely love about Del Toro films is how he makes every character so distinct from one another. Agent Krauss, Sapien, and Hellboy are all portrayed to be very different from one another, with Krauss being a very by-the-book person, Hellboy being rough around the edges, and Abe being the empath. Additionally, Del Toro always manages to get me to care about certain characters that are not the main characters, whether it be their design, personality, or abilities. A good example of this is Karl Ruprect Kroenen from the first Hellboy and Prince Nuada and the elves from Hellboy II.
Speaking of Nuada, I believe that Del Toro used him as a method to convey the message of environmentalism. We see Nuada planting a forest elemental to fight Hellboy and even claiming that it, like Hellboy, is the last of its kind. Nuada believes that humanity’s control of the cities will lead to the destruction of the forests and other creatures. Whenever Nuada kills, he always refrains from killing animals. Even in his final moments, he tells Hellboy that if he chose humanity, the magical creatures will die. In a way, Nuada isn’t a true villain, rather, he’s a complex character who wants the best for those who he believes are at risk of extinction.
Unlike the first film, Del Toro had much more creative control in the sequel, and it really shows. Every shot is slathered with such love and passion. One of my favorite scenes has to be the opening scene, where Professor Broom tells a young Hellboy the story of The Golden Army. Del Toro has stated his love for miniature models, and in the opening scene, tells the complete story in a sequence of models and puppets. Most of the set pieces are phenomenal: the troll market set is absolutely breathtaking with the amount of practical effects used to bring another world to life. Additionally, the scene where the Golden Army awakens is one of the most beautiful scenes that seamlessly blends both CGI and practical effects. While great visuals do not make a movie great, in this case, it does. Hellboy II blends elements of steampunk and fantasy. It makes me want a live action Batman: Gotham by Gaslight movie by Guillermo Del Toro.
Del Toro originally wanted to make Hellboy into a trilogy, with the theme of Hellboy facing becoming the beast of the apocalypse. Ideas were drafted, but nothing was officially written. Del Toro himself said that the third installment would be darker and more tragic compared to the first two, saying that he specifically envisioned different tones for the 3 Hellboy movies: with the first one being “pulpy” and gothic, the second one being more comedic and fantastical, and the third one being the most tragic and bittersweet. Del Toro at the time was very busy working on an adaptation of The Hobbit (2012) and Pacific Rim (2013). After years of pondering, he ultimately decided not to make it, citing monetary constraints, leading to Hellboy being rebooted in 2019, with David Harbor starring as Hellboy and Neil Marshall in the directing chair. And we all know how that went!
Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) is one of my favorite comic book films. It has its serious moments and comedic scenes that are interwoven perfectly with its more existential themes. Unlike a lot of sequels that don’t live up to the reputations of their predecessors or even outright destroy their reputation, 2008’s Hellboy II: The Golden Army manages to surpass the first film in both storytelling and visuals. While there are some really good comic book films, a lot feel very similar to one another.
I have never seen a comic book film that comes remotely similar to Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008) in either its visuals or themes. It really shows the creative talent of Guillermo Del Toro when he has creative control over his projects. I wish we could’ve seen a third installment to his trilogy, but alas, some things aren’t meant to be. While Del Toro might not make a third film, I do believe that he could adapt it to a video game format or an animated Netflix series with the animation of Castlevania (2017-2021). Perhaps one day, whenever Del Toro and Perlman are ready, we might get a conclusion to the Del Toro Hellboy trilogy.