Hellboy II: The Golden Army (Major Spoilers)

Hellboy II: The Golden Army is another visual masterpiece from Guillermo del Toro and Mike Mignola, but like its predecessor it falls down when in comes to its female characters.

In the first film, Liz Sherman’s role as a dangerous, unstable pyrokinetic was overshadowed by her role as Hellboy’s love interest (an element not found in the original comics). In the sequel, she has clearly gained much more confidence and control in her powers, but instead of addressing this character development the filmmakers focus her role almost entirely on being Hellboy’s love interest. While she avoids the damsel-in-distress condition that kept her out of the first film’s climax, in this one she literally stands around doing nothing (admittedly, along with Abe Sapien) while Hellboy and newcomer Johann Krauss kick bad guy butt.

The new female character in the movie is the elven Princess Nuala. The words “elf” and “princess” pretty much tell you everything you need to know. She spends most of the film trying to hide the McGuffin from her genocidal twin brother Nuada or developing a doomed romance with Abe. (At this point the Hellboy film franchise has not had a single female character who was not made into a love interest for a male character.) In the final act she is (surprise!) kidnapped by Nuada and offered in exchange for the McGuffin. Naturally, her big heroic act at the end requires that she sacrifice herself to save others.

Did we really, really, need another Beautiful Martyr Princess?

Comments

  1. Maria says

    I was so mad when I saw this movie this afternoon! As soon as Prince whatshisname put the crown on his head I was expecting Nuada to challenge him. She’s his sister, so she’s obviously royal and she’s been carrying around that blasted piece of crown for who knows how many centuries. You would think the obvious thing would be for her to challenge him. But noooo, she just stands around until she can convintly verify *Hellboy’s* right to challenge. Aargh!!! I nearly spit my drink out when that happened.

    Ok, enough ranting and thank you for writing such a coherent analysis of this movie. All I can do is splutter furiously.

  2. Gategrrl says

    I noticed that in The Hulk (2008) that Liv Tyler, who played the Elven Princess in The Lord of the Rings, was also written as an Elven Princess in The Hulk, even though her new character Betty Ross, is by no means a wimpering woman (at all).

    I’m planning on going to this movie this afternoon…Hellboy is your traditional, wisecracking superhero (hello, Flash?) with a tail and attitude. That kind of hero is fun, but not exactly deep. I’d heard they were developing Abe more in this movie (too bad the original actor didn’t sign up for the role again)…I guess for Abe this meant a Romance, too?

  3. blue epiphany says

    @Maria – I couldn’t agree more! The character had been so. damned. useless throughout the entire movie, and I just sat there thinking, well she’ll challenge her brother and that will be just awesome. But it didn’t happen. Also, gotta love how she never took advantage of the fact that she was linked to her brother by, say, knocking herself out. No, no, she stands around letting people get hurt and then sacrifices herself. Grrr.
    @Gategrrl – Abe was played by the same actor, but in the first movie the voice was done by David Hyde Pierce. This time the actor (something Jones, forget his first name) also did the voice

  4. Neev says

    Saw this movie last night and ARGH was it bad. Not just the way the women were treated, but every single character in the film seemed to be suffering from a severe case of STUPID. I came away with the impression that it wasn’t sexism but just plain bad writing that doomed those female characters to being useless side characters or romances for the entire movie. I don’t even know why there was a romance between Nuala and Abe since he was sad for roughly five minutes after she died and then was able to give a flippant line to his boss when he quit like nothing important had happened. *frothy rage*

  5. Maria says

    @ gategrrl-you know, you’re right. I knew that Liv Tyler as Betty Ross annoyed me and you nailed exactly why. She’s treated exactly as a useless elven princess. And yeah, developmenmt for Abe meant that he got to fall in love, get drunk, sulk, and then get over it. Sigh.

    @ blue epiphany-exactly! She’s clearly supposed to be one of the oldest and wiseist creatures around, but we never see that. We just see her needing to be saved and then sacrificing herself to save everyone else. Because that’s not an overused trope at all. Sigh.

    @ Neev-It was actually pretty much what I expected after the first one, a silly, mostly plotless excues for some wisecracks and a lot of CGI. Which I am ok with. I am nortious for requiring two thing from my action movies-eyecandy and explosions:)-but even though it satisified those requirements I can admit that it was pretty badly written. And every character fell into some cliche or another. It’s just that the female characters had such miserable cliches!

  6. says

    If i hadn’t read a cautionary post about how terrible the writing in HB2 was, I’d have walked out of the theater mid-way through the movie in disgust. As it was, I waited until the credits rolled to do so.

    I am particularly tired of filmmakers taking strong female characters and completely marginalizing them, but the entire approach to all of the characters was dramatically flawed. As I said in my review this morning, the characters actually regressed, starting with the emotional depth of action figures and slowly becoming cardboard cut-outs as the film went on.

    But to take Liz and Nuala and reduce them to non-essential props was absolutely unforgivable. The wooden mannequins from the only decent part of this movie (the animated telling of the Golden Army’s back story) had more compelling and believable motivations and behaviors.

  7. Gategrrl says

    Okay, I’ve now seen Hellboy 2…and, although the visuals were spectacular, I wasn’t as enamored of it as much as I thought I would be, and not all for female-role reasons.

    For 1) I agreed with Nuada, the Elven Prince. Humans WERE destroying the green areas, and were an environmental mess. He went about it the wrong way (attacking first without stating his case) and I suppose that’s what made him the villian–that and his “I’m NEVER going to STOP” attitude. But, isn’t that what people love Hellboy for? Never stopping until he beats his opponent? So, I had some problems with the motivations. The villian didn’t come across as complex, like I think Del Toro thought he would. The hero came off as bad, and the villian as a heart-in-the-right-place, actions-in-the-wrong-mode kind of guy.

    2) The movie came across to me as a series of spectacular set-pieces ringed through with cartoony humor. The resultant texture of the movie was odd, then. There wasn’t much plot there, and where the heck was The Golden Army all this time? Why wasn’t that used earlier on in the movie?

    3) And just as I thought, the “development” that Abe got was just about as bad as all the other characters (especially supporting characters, but Hellboy, too). It’s like he was a female character!

    4) The way the pregnancy was used as a way to motivate Hellboy back to life. I think it would have been more effective mentioned earlier on in the movie, plot-wise. And the stereotypical treatment of the two guys (Hellboy and Abe) discussin’ the wimmins was just…asnine. Del Toro really dropped the ball there. Was his other movie (forget the title at the moment, the girl in Spain) as cliche ridden about women as this movie?

  8. Patrick says

    A few notes regarding the movies non-gender elements:

    There’s actually very little CGI. Del Toro is a huge fan of practical effects, especially puppetry.

    In the first film, Doug Jones played Abe physically, while David Hyde Pierce provided the voice. Jones has subsequently voiced Abe in both the animated features and Hellboy II.

    I saw the issue of Nuada’s position being justifiable as a major theme of the movie, not a flaw in its story. Consider especially the sequence with the plant elemental – Nuada flat out tells Hellboy that killing it would be wrong, and its death scene is very sad. And Hellboy and company are rewarded for their actions by being threatened by the people they saved. Consider that Nuada is given a heroic motivation for wanting to kill Hellboy, who killed his friend Wink. (How often do you hear the villain telling the hero “You killed my friend,” after all).

    I think the fact that the movie refused to make the antagonist and out-and-out villain, and questions the rightness of the heroes’ cause, is a strength of the film. Remember what Hellboy and his fellow ‘freaks’ do after winning the day? Tell Manning and the BPRD to go screw themselves.

  9. Patrick says

    Gategrrl:

    I thought that the Golden Army was used quite effectively. The opening story gives us an idea of how dangerous it is without ruining the reveal for the audience (plus, awesome del Toro puppets!). They then pretty much immediately establish Nuada’s plan (get the crown, awaken the army, wipe out humanity). From a narrative standpoint, the awakening of the army clearly set up as the film’s climax.

    Regarding del Toro’s previous film, Pan’s Labyrinth: it features three prominent female characters. Ofelia (the hero), Mercedes (a servant at the army outpost), and Ofelia’s mother. Ofelia’s mother spends most of the movie pregant and ill, serving primarily to reflect on Ofelia (who is the main character, after all), but Mercedes is a very strong, active character with multiple Crowning Moments of Awesome.

  10. blue epiphany says

    In response to a couple of comments that found the character of Nuada sympathetic; it bothered me that he was presented in such a way, because his actions were not, to me, sympathetic at all. He’s fighting the humans because the humans broke the truce!!! Yes, but why did he choose to go into exile for a couple thousand years and do nothing until now? It played to me that he wanted war, and waited until things were so bad that he felt he would get the most support, not that he wanted to protect his people. He was highly manipulative, trying to convince people his motives were pure in order to get them to help him. This was reinforced by the scene where he releases the tree god; he has sent it to kill Hellboy, but then manipulates Hellboy into feeling guilt at having to kill it to stop it.
    Getting back to the subject of how women were presented in this movie, the more I think about it the more unhappy I am with Nuala. I was creeped out by the incest/abuser vibes given off by Nuada’s character. Especially in the scene where Nuada is searching the library; what was the point, other than titillation? The character of Nuala was just…bad. She was there to be a love interest, to be a plot device, to be an object (literally, at the end), but not to be a real character.

  11. says

    I agree completely. Nuada’s goals were sympathetic, but the character himself was not. Putting the last tree elemental at risk was completely inexcusable if his goal was really saving the earth. A good writer would have followed up on that and made him confront his own mistakes before the end of the movie.

  12. Gategrrl says

    Yeah, as I watched the film and saw Nuada release the Forest God and then pose his arguement to Hellboy (Are you really going to kill this last of the Forest Gods? You’re one of us!) to be a head-scratcher. After all, as Corvus pointed out, Nuada’s the one who put the Forest God at risk in the first place!

    I just found that during the first viewing (will view it more once it comes out on HDdvd, later) the motivations of the main villian and the main (anti?)hero were similar EXCEPT that Hellboy doesn’t seem to kill humans, like a Slayer from Buffy, while the other monsters really ARE monsters, in that they kill humans and their domesticated animals (cats) left, right and center with abandon.

    I loved the first story segment with the animation (real or CGI?) about the Golden Army story. But aside from that tale, overall, the movie felt like a mish-mash, with complexities shallowed out by cliche characterizations of both female AND male characters. There was a lot lacking in resonance.

    Patrick:
    To me, the lack of Golden Army during the main part of the movie meant that the rest of the movie was “filler”. The Golden Army was made of such Terminator/Iron Man tough stuff, they were pretty much apocolyptic material, and overly strong for the strength of the main (good) characters.

    I dunno. I would have preferred to have seen one GA robot be sent to wreak havoc to illustrate directly to Hellboy et al how unbeatable they were/are. Structured differently, if each of the holders of a piece of the crown were able to control ONE army robot each (that is, Nuada, Nualla, and Hellboy or Abe) I think it would have been…I don’t know…more fulfilling in its story-telling promise?

    Instead, I think Del Toro went for something else entirely; which, unfortunately, meant that he (or the ghost writers) considered ALL the characters in the worst cliche-way, in particular any character that wasn’t a sword wielding muscle-man.

  13. Kaylob says

    I watched the movie and i parden my french f@ckin loved the film .But now i can’t find any pics of the big ass awsome god tentacle lookin thing .

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