So, as I mentioned in my Summer-Movie-Preview-Extravaganza entry, I've been looking forward to the coming of Hellboy II: The Golden Army for a while. I really enjoyed the prior installment--really, who's going to turn down clockwork ninja zombie Nazis?--so my anticipation for the sequel was pretty high.
My biggest worry, though, was director Guillermo Del Toro's own success. Prior to the original Hellboy and Pan's Labyrinth, his biggest success was Blade II, and that's not saying much. However, his newer, over-the-top style of visuals, particularly in the aforementioned Pan's Labyrinth really seemed to be out of place for the dark, historio-occult mysteries in Hellboy. My fears, however, were answered.
As a deviation from the prior movie, which revolved around a revived Rasputin attempting to summon the Cthulhian gods of the Ogru Jahad, Hellboy II: The Golden Army deals with Celtic Mythology, as rogue elvish Prince Nuada attempts to summon the titular indestructable Golden Army to wage war on mankind. It's up to our Big Red Hero and his cohorts to keep him from doing so.
The problem with this is the fact that everything that made the original film so great--the covert nature, the creepy occult features, the secrecy and paranoia--are all abandoned. Hellboy himself doesn't seem like a freak to us anymore, when he's wandering around a "Troll Market" with all sorts of beasties. The very thing that made him unique in the first movie is abandoned, leaving us bored in the sequel.
The same thing happens in many of the fight scenes: Hellboy, as a demonic brute, simply smashed through problems with the Right Hand of Doom in the first movie, or blew them away with "The Samaritan". In ...Golden Army, the fights are replaced with absurd wire-fu moves that would be better served for a Jet Li or Jackie Chan movie.
By the same token, the side plots and newer characters add little to the characterization. Joining the force to replace the removed John Myers is ectoplasmic-strategist Johann Krauss. While his costume is visually appealing, he adds nothing to the plot, acting only as a "hard-ass C.O." for 3/4 of the film, before having the customary change of heart. Similarly, BPRD leader Manning, who had established an uneasy truce over cigars with Hellboy at the end of the first movie, now becomes naught but a sycophant to Krauss, losing all of the character development that had occured prior.
However, the biggest disappointment in characterization comes from Liz Sherman, Hellboy's main squeeze. (Minor Spoilers ahead!) Early on in the film, it becomes evident that Liz has a greater focus on her pyrokinetic abilities...and immediately after, it becomes just as evident that she's pregnant with Hellboy's baby. I was frustrated by this--instead of becoming a strong action hero in her own right through practice and self-control, Liz becomes nothing more than a baby-repository. She does little to contribute to the plot afterwards, except for the fact that she is, in fact, pregnant, and needs Hellboy to be a good father.
As with all summer-blockbusters, the action scenes are key, but they feel genuinely purposeless and lackluster in ...Golden Army. Hellboy fights a troll servant of Nuada in the "Troll Market", but there's nothing particularly exciting about it. A fight scene with a massive plant elemental in the streets of Brooklyn began to evoke the feel of the first movie, but was continually interrupted with drivel about the "death of the faerie world" and a lack of participation by Liz (boy, a pyrokinetic sure would be useful when fighting a giant freaking tree)). Even the final fight scenes seem tacked on and artificial, as the remaining BPRD members simply stand by as Hellboy fights Nuada in what looks like a scene from Kill Bill Vol. 1 on top of a giant clock.
Oh, and the ending? Not what I was hoping for whatsoever. It genuinely doesn't make sense in the context of the series. I wouldn't bother going to see for yourself; if you're curious, just ask me or go spoil yourself.
This is getting long, so I'll sum up swiftly--the characters are shallower than their earlier versions, the plot does not fit well with Hellboy's original mythology, the action's off-kilter, and it's not what the first film was. The visuals are beautiful, but they're all that the film has going for it. Save your money, and wait for the double-feature on FX.