Face-Off: Hellboy vs. Hellboy II: The Golden Army

THE SHAPE OF WATER, the latest film from Guillermo del Toro, is currently playing in select theatres and will be expanding to more screens this weekend before receiving a wider release on December 22nd. There are other big movies coming out this month, like the latest entry in a certain space opera saga, but THE SHAPE OF WATER is the one that's getting most of our focus here on Arrow in the Head. Since del Toro has a new movie in theatres, we wanted to do something del Toro related for this week's Face-Off... and one great way to celebrate his career is by taking a look at two of his most popular films - the 2004 comic book adaptation HELLBOY and its 2008 sequel HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY.
Things could be going worse for Hellboy. He could just be an evil being residing in Hell, but instead he has gotten to live a pretty good life on Earth since crossing through a dimensional portal as a baby in 1944. That was sixty years ago, but Hellboy ages differently than humans - sixty years has only aged him into his thirties. He has spent decades eating like a champ, nurturing kittens, and fighting monsters as a member of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense. This story takes place at an interesting, tumultuous time in his life, as he's about to lose the man who has been his father figure since '44, he's lovesick over troubled pyrokinetic Liz Sherman and fears a fellow BRPD agent is going to steal her away from him, and there are these villains who want him to embrace his true nature and help them bring about Hell on Earth. While trying to protect his loved ones and the world, Hellboy also needs to find himself.
One thing Hellboy is dealing with in this sequel is the fact that he's tired of being hidden away from the world, with higher-ups always having to deny his existence after he's spotted in public. It's sort of absurd that this is even an issue, because a whole lot of people saw Hellboy out and about in the first film. It's pretty obvious he exists, but he takes steps to make himself even more obvious this time. The bigger issue is that Hellboy and Liz Sherman haven't been getting along lately, with Liz tiring of his lifestyle. It isn't long before we learn that Liz is pregnant, which is sort of a tough thing to wrap your mind around, a human woman having babies with this red demon with horns and a tail. Well, at least he has a good personality. Mostly. Hellboy also nearly dies before his child (children) can be born, as the film's villain deals him a mortal wound. It's the love of Liz that saves him, like his love saved her in the first film.
In 1944, the mystic Grigori Rasputin (yes, that Rasputin) was working with the Nazis to open a dimensional portal to free the Seven Gods of Chaos, the Ogdru Jahad, from their crystal prisons so they can claim the Earth and destroy the heavens. Things didn't work out then, but Rasputin has risen again in 2004 with the help of his immortal lackeys Ilsa Haupstein and Karl Ruprecht Kroenen. Together, this trio unleashes monsters into the world while building toward the night of an eclipse, when they will again attempt to free the Ogdru Jahad. These gods are inspired by the sort of things H.P. Lovecraft would write about, so they're definitely not to be trifled with. The villains are creepy, and the idea of their gods taking over the world is quite troubling.
At the dawn of time, man shared the world with the magical beings fairytales are made of. Elves, ogres, goblins, fairies, trolls, you name it. War broke out when man wanted to expand his dominion, a war that was brought to an end when King Balor of Elfland's massive army of golden mechanical soldiers beat back the humans, leading to a truce. All this time later, Balor's son Nuada Silverlance seeks to take control of the golden army so he can take back for the world for his kind and save the planet from humanity's nonsense. Nuada isn't an outright evil villain, he believes he's doing something noble... problem is, his plans would result in the deaths of a whole lot of people, and Nuada really isn't the sort of guy you would want to have ruling the world.
While HELLBOY is a superhero movie with a strong sense of humor running through it, it also has a weird horror edge to it. You have Lovecraftian gods and monsters, the end of the world, mystics, Nazis, a demon with evil hidden within him, a decomposing corpse who is stolen from his grave so Hellboy can get information from him, etc. This has the same PG-13 rating as the average superhero movie, but younger superhero fans may not be comfortable with having some of these ideas and images in their minds. There is an unsettling darkness to this one.
HELLBOY II shifts the franchise from the horror genre into fantasy. The back story is presented as being a fairytale read to Hellboy when he was a child, and the entire film plays like a fairytale with a superhero dropped into the middle of it. This fairytale style and tone is what I associate with Guillermo del Toro more than anything - I feel like HELLBOY II takes us on a stroll through the man's brain. It's unique and fun, and the genre mash-up works very well, making this a much more pleasant film than its predecessor.
The creature (other than Hellboy) who gets the most screen time is the rampaging beast Sammael, who's such a camera hog that he even multiplies every time he gets killed. Kill one Sammael and two will rise in its place. The design of the creature is pretty cool, but watching Hellboy and his pals have to deal with Sammael after Sammael does get tiring eventually. Toward the end, we see more tentacled beasties and an awesome variation on Hellboy who has long horns and a fire burning between them.
With so many magical beings to bring to the screen, this film is an extravaganza of wonderfully designed creatures. There are little fairies that devour human beings, the pale elves, an angel of death, talking tumors, and best of all are the trolls. These large, hideous things are brought to the screen through the use of stunning special effects, and the coolest of them is Nuada's right hand man Mr. Wink... who himself has a mechanical right hand that can be fired from his body and then drawn back to him on a chain.
Hellboy knocks the hell out of Sammael again and again over the course of the movie, their battles taking place in a museum, out in the city, in the subway, and in the villains' lair beneath a Russian cemetery. These creatures just seem like a way to work in some action, though. They have no personality, they're just there to get beaten on. Of the lead villains, Hellboy has the best fight with Kroenen - and it's a fight I wish had been more elaborate.
This one kicks the action up a notch, delivering better fights and giving Hellboy a wider variety of opponents to face off with. The metal-fisted troll Mr. Wink, a huge forest god, a swarm of voracious tooth fairies, Nuada and his magical martial arts skills, even towering mechanical soldiers of the golden army - Hellboy takes them all on over the course of the film, and it's great fun to watch him do so. This is a prime example of a sequel being bigger and better.
HELLBOY got off to a good start in this Face-Off, but then HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY came in and took the win. I don't think the result of this competition will be too controversial, because even Guillermo del Toro himself has said that he prefers the sequel over the first film. HELLBOY is a well-made, entertaining film, but I find HELLBOY II to be even better and more entertaining.

Do you agree with the outcome, or do you like HELLBOY more than its sequel? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts on these films and on Guillermo del Toro's overall career. If you have suggestions for future Face-Offs, you can send those to me at [email protected].



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