Hellboy was one the most faithful and most expertly executed comic book adaptations for my money, and in this, the second outing for Mike Mignola’s character, the franchise remains true to form. What I liked most about the first Hellboy is that it didn’t take itself too seriously. I mean how could you take a demonic drunk who angle-grinds his horns any other way? And it is this sense of fun-filled adventure that makes Hellboy II such a joy to watch. Because that’s exactly what it is, a joy. There’s no attempt to bring these supernatural beings into the ‘real world’, no black jumpsuits or real world re-imaginings in sight. Comic book movies can sometimes take themselves too seriously, but not this one, which is a comedy as well as and above anything else.
Ron Perlman is superb in his role as our hero who is still working under the employ of the government as we rejoin the action, although now things have gotten a little more complicated. His beauty and the beast relationship with pyrotechnic girlfriend, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) is starting to show some strain, leading to some hilarious superpowered arguments and emotional insight that would be equally at home in a fine romcom, but which sits beautifully in the backstory of this fantasy adventure.
As before, Hellboy and Liz are assisted by the cerebral aquatic, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who himself develops a love interest as the film zaps along. In fact, the film’s finest moment comes as our unlikely lovelorn heroes join each other in a drunken rendition of Barry Manilow’s Can’t Smile Without You, another example of how director Guillermo del Toro so expertly humanises a world of demons and monsters, giving them real emotions and reactions in a stand out scene which had me grinning like the cat who found the cream factory.
The team bounces superbly off of each other with Abe’s empathy and intelligence providing the perfect foil to Hellboy’s insistence that any problem, no matter how vast, can be solved with a good beating. Hellboy’s public outing has, however, attracted unwanted attention and a new authoritarian leader in the form an ectoplasmic German named Johann Krauss, who is possibly the most stereotypical presentation of a German on screen in the past five years. Hellboy playfully acts up against his new leader, mispronouncing his name ‘kraut’ and noting the ‘SS’ in its correct spelling.
Our heroes are pitched against Prince Nuada, played by Luke Goss, who excels in the niche he has carved for himself as Hollywood’s go-to pale bad guy. Nuada is on a quest to recover the pieces of a broken crown that will enable him to control the unstoppable Golden Army and reclaim the land of men.
As we’ve come to expect from del Toro’s work, the action takes place against a rich backdrop of weird and wonderful characters and locations, which are shown to exist just below the surface of everyday society. Each and every character, location and costume is phenomenally detailed and del Toro is masterful in his depiction of a wholly believable mystical subculture, which is then married to his ability to so fully immerse his audience within it.
The film then fizzes along at a joyful pace, with each fantastical and comedic element expertly pinging off one another as the action unfolds. del Toro even finds time to examine some more serious material, most prominently in Hellboy’s battle with and defeat of an elemental, the last of its kind and an interesting analogy for global warming and human consumption. In short, it’s a triumph and the movie’s lighthearted tone is something a lot of comic-book movies could learn from.
Extras We are treated on the DVD to more than four, yes, count them, four hours of extras including a making of documentary, an animated comic and an enjoyable cast and crew commentary. Perhaps the standout feature is a tour round the Troll Market (one of the movie’s iconic scenes) with Del Toro himself, who points out some of the detailing and in-jokes on display.