HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY is a confusing mixture of legends, fairy tales, paganism, occultism, Romanticism, left-wing ideology, and religion, including light Christian elements. Consequently, it doesn’t quite really know where it’s going, though the ride along the way has many moments of exciting fun.
Ron Perlman stars as the title character, a grown-up demon raised by his late Catholic adoptive father to battle the forces of darkness. The movie opens in 1955 with Hellboy’s adoptive father telling him a pagan story about the battle between human beings and the magical creatures of the fairytale world in the forests. To destroy the humans, the elf king created a mechanical “Golden Army.” The army proved to be too much of a destructive force, so the king forged a truce with the humans. As part of the truce, he divided the power to control the Golden Army with the humans into a three-part golden crown, with the humans getting the third piece. The king’s son, Prince Nuada, however, refused to accept the truce.
Cut to the present time. An auction house in New York City is selling the third piece of the magical crown, without knowing its power. The evil prince barges in on the auction, takes the crown and unleashes hundreds of tiny carnivorous creatures to kill all the humans there. The prince is upset about the destruction of the planet’s forests caused by the humans. He wants to take the other two parts of the crown away from his father, the elf king, and destroy the humans once and for all.
Into the picture steps Hellboy and his team of supernatural agents at the American government’s Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. Helping him fight evil supernatural, magical forces are his girlfriend Liz, who can turn her body into a flame of fire, and Abe Sapien, a half-human, half-aquatic being who can read minds and has a wealth of knowledge about magical creatures and the occult. Only they can save the humans from Prince Nuada’s evil plans, but are the humans worth it?
As Prince Nuada’s plans come to fruition, the government becomes wary of Hellboy’s tendency to ignore orders. They appoint a new leader for the team: a dead German occult scientist named Johann Krauss who can use his ghostly ectoplasm to animate mechanical and organic objects and creatures. Krauss tries to reign in Hellboy’s insubordination, but that’s the least of the team’s worries when the evil prince proves himself to be a formidable opponent.
HELLBOY II is better made than its predecessor, but it throws in too many ad hoc plot twists, including a cryptic prophecy about Hellboy’s future that’s completely extraneous to the actual plot at hand. This last twist is introduced just before the climax, but it is so cryptic that it really makes no difference to any of the characters’ actions.
Also, the movie’s mixed worldview (a mishmash of paganism, Romanticism, left-wing environmentalism, and a light smattering of Christian references) undercuts the audience’s loyalties. For instance, the evil elf prince is clearly a mean guy but he’s also upset about the mean humans destroying nature. In fact, the movie says in the beginning that humanity was actually created with “a hole in its heart.” It also indicates that this is what led to the original war between the humans and the elves. This not only contradicts what the Bible actually tells us (the Bible says the first man was created good until he sinned). It also undercuts the title hero’s efforts to stop the elf prince from destroying the human race with the Golden Army. Apparently, the production team’s effort to bring a more complex story with complex characters to life has diluted the plot’s moral, redemptive premise.
Ultimately, therefore, despite all its fun action and entertaining spectacle, HELLBOY II is strangely uninvolving. It has a hole in its own heart, a lack of clarity that’s tinged with an unconvincing anti-human environmentalist message. Also, though the movie shows Hellboy carrying a Catholic rosary in a couple scenes, it significantly downplays any possible Christian theology he may believe. Thus, although a personal sacrifice solves a plot problem at a crucial point, the filmmakers miss a chance to bring a strong redemptive arc to their story. This does not bode well for the writer/director of HELLBOY II, Guillermo Del Toro’s, HOBBIT movies now in production, which are being developed from the famous fantasy works from Christian author J.R.R. Tolkein. Hopefully, the better-made Christian fantasy movie PRINCE CASPIAN will make a whole lot more money than HELLBOY II, but that won’t happen if the world’s Christians don’t take a stand to choose the good and reject the bad.
Interesting side note: Roy Dotrice plays the elf king in HELLBOY II. You may remember Dotrice as the father figure in the TV series BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, in which Ron Perlman, the actor behind Hellboy, gave an award-winning, acclaimed performance as the beast with a heart of gold.