It is fairly rare that a franchise survives a studio change. After disappointing box office returns for the initial Hellboy, Guillermo Del Toro’s labor of love attracted such attention with its incredible DVD sales that caused Universal to buy the rights to the franchise and pony up the money to make a sequel without forcing any changes on writer/director Del Toro and his cast of characters. Fortunately for moviegoers, Del Toro’s return trip into the universe he loves is a treat for the viewer.
The age-old truce between the supernatural world and the world of men came about due to King Balor’s use of the unstoppable and indestructible Golden Army, a mass of dangerous clockwork machines that don’t know thirst, never tire, and cannot be destroyed. These constructs were so fierce and dangerous that after their first use, Balor (Roy Dotrice) swears to never use them again and splits the crown that controls them asunder. One piece goes to the humans, and the other two pieces stay with the elves. The truce does not sit well with Balor’s ambitious son Nuada (Luke Goss), who leaves in exile with companion troll Mr. Wink to train and plot revenge.
Meanwhile, on the surface world, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and Liz (Selma Blair) are still an item, but things are more than a bit rocky. After all, when you’re dealing with a lifelong bachelor demon raised by a scientist and a pyrokinetic woman, you’re going to have issues. Hell, even normal couples have issues, but when you live in a top-secret government facility, things only get tenser. After all, how can you possibly have a satisfying argument when you get sent out on investigative missions once Prince Nuada returns to the surface world, unleashes a horde of nasty beasties known as tooth fairies on an auction-house full of innocent people, and steals humanity’s piece of the crown that controls the Golden Army?
After overthrowing his father as King of the Elves and stealing Balor’s piece of the crown, that leaves one more roadblock on Nuada’s quest for power. That roadblock is his twin sister, Nuala, who possesses the last piece of the legendary crown of Balor. Knowing her brother’s intention to completely break the truce and wipe out the human world, Nuala takes flight only to find her path crossing with that of Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who is instantly smitten. Paths start intersecting, showdowns are staged, and Liz is given a lady or the tiger choice to make.
Is Hellboy II predictable? Yes, in a lot of ways it is. Hellboy says fun things, there are personality conflicts, and I saw the ending coming a mile a way as it was pretty obvious how things would play out. However, it’s an incredibly cracking summer movie, it moves fairly quickly (aside from a diversion to Ireland), and there’s a whole lot of laughter to go along with the action sequences.
I’m convinced that Ron Perlman was born to play Hellboy. I don’t have enough good things to say about his performance, as he seems to have grown into the character, breathing life into the improbable head-knocking demon. Doug Jones’ first tilt at voicing Abe Sapien (in addition to being the body for Abe) works out well. There’s legitimate friendship between Red and Blue, and their bonding experiences result in a sequence so funny I had tears rolling down my cheeks the entire time. It was sheer brilliance. Seth MacFarlane is in full Klaus The Fish mode as the voice of Johann Krauss. The by-the-book Krauss serves as Hellboy’s foil for most of the film, leaving Jeffery Tambor’s Tom Manning with very little to do aside from bluster, praise Krauss, and make the occasional joke (which is a shame).
While the script slows down in the middle, and there is some clunky dialogue at times, the sheer visual poetry brought to the screen by Del Toro and cinematographer Guillermo Navarro overcomes that. Using a combination of practical effects for creatures and characters and CGI assistance, Del Toro and Navarro craft a world with enough pop to hold my attention even when there’s nothing really going on aside from the hustle and bustle of the Troll Market. The movie is a staggering feat of visual craftsmanship and organic special effects that could teach George Lucas how to properly use the medium to augment the story without looking too phony. This isn’t a cartoon, and it’s not shot like a cartoon. It’s shot like a real film, which is why it looks like a real film and not something designed solely on computer.
Aside from the flab and a few references to ‘I’ll tell you x detail later’ designed to set up a third Hellboy movie, Hellboy II is a damn good piece of summer popcorn cinema. It has laughs, it has action, it’s the perfect movie to see on the big screen (or on a high definition big-screen television), and it never falls into the moping hand-wringing of certain other summer superhero movies that I will not name here for fear of inciting the wrath of Hulk fanboys again.Ron Hogan, our US correspondent, is now overcome with the urge to grow Hellboy sideburns and chomp on a cigar. Find more by Ron at his blog, Subtle Bluntness, and daily at Shaktronics.