Spoilers ahead for HELLBOY II.
HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY is one of my absolute favourites: a beautiful, unique and kick-ass fantasy superhero movie that builds and expands on the solid foundation of its predecessor and ends up, in style and tone, halfway between Guillermo del Toro’s Hollywood output and his artier, richer Spanish-language projects. During my latest re-watch I got to thinking what a lovely alternative Valentine’s Day movie this could be, because it is, in the end, all about love…and kicking ass. Just in time, eh?
Mankind’s demon protector Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and the no-longer-secret Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defence face Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), a vengeful elf renegade who will stop at nothing to reclaim the Earth for his kind. The end of the world may be the least of Red’s worries, with his relationship with Liz (Selma Blair) strained and about to get far more complicated…
We know del Toro marshals wonderful production design teams (the animatronics and creature designs in this are stunning), that he electrifies fantasy spectacle and breathes life into monstrous characters in a unique way. You can’t help but be drawn in by how this universe is realised by del Toro’s, a universe inspired by the whole run of Mike Mignola’s Hellboy comics rather than a particular storyline. Such pleasing details can be found throughout, like how the elves bleed sap and turn to amber when they die, how the faerie folk live and reluctantly grow amongst the rusted pipes, struts and supports of the human world above.
But what makes me really love Hellboy II, weirdly, is the unexpectedly affecting goofy rom-com element. Amphibious Abe Sapien’s (Doug Jones) faltering awkward new relationship with Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), Hellboy’s more established relationship with pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz hitting new roadblocks. The choice of “Can’t smile without you” as the movie’s theme song really was a stroke of genius, resulting in HB and Abe getting sloshed on Mexican beer and mulling over their love lives (“I can’t smile, or cry. I think…I have no tear ducts”, “I would die and do the dishes!”). This scene always makes me think of a friend I don’t speak to anymore; we shared many a moment like this.
Love is everyone’s mortal weakness here. Hellboy can’t fight Nuada to the best of his ability for fear of harming the Princess (the old supernatural bond between twins thing) and is seriously crippled by Liz’s sudden appearance at his duel, ghost-in-a-diving-suit Krauss (Seth Macfarlane/John Alexander/James Dodd) lost his body forever trying to save his fiancé (offscreen), and Abe essentially releases Nuada’s unstoppable Golden Army by keeping the final piece of the all-powerful eleven crown as a bargaining chip for the safety of his elf beaux. Added to this Nuada himself, his twin sister being the one chink in his armour and his ultimate downfall.
Both Nuala and Nuada say “I love you” in their way when they die. Nuala does it in a more explicit fashion, making a final empathic connection with Abe. For Nuada, it’s more a grudging acknowledgment of Hellboy’s impossible position trapped between two worlds, just as he was. He feels for him and hopes he can make it work out (“We die and the world will be poorer for it”).
Happy Valentine’s Day everybody. If you’re with someone, watch a film together. If you’re on your own, watch a film, and consider Hellboy II in both situations, the best of alt-romantic movies and tragically unresolved relationship stories. I really wanted to find out what kind of endearingly weird parents Hellboy and Liz would have made, ah well… SSP