Screenwriters: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Doug Jones
Running Time: 120 mins
Guillermo del Toro is still golden over a year after Oscar success with Pan's Labyrinth. Although the man himself missed out on a statuette, there is no doubt he is a master of his craft; a filmmaker of singular and seductive vision. Inevitably, Hellboy II isn't as drenched with pathos and pure idealism (that is sure bait for The Academy), but this comic-book sequel does showcase del Toro's prodigious talent for conjuring extraordinary 'other' worlds. The visuals are bigger and glossier than Hellboy, but even at the cutting edge, he manages to preserve that haunting, old-fashioned quality of a childhood fairytale.
There's plenty of impish humour too. Ron Perlman, returning as the hell-born hero with the clipped horns, naturally gets the biggest share of one-liners, but it's the contrast of his gung-ho heroism with a lot of sulky teen tantrums which make him such a fun character. Since his last outing, he's shacked up with his pyrokinetic sweetheart Liz (Selma Blair), but his bad habits and general loutishness have her blowing her top like Krakatoa every five minutes. Inevitably, more serious trouble looms in the netherworld in the form of a pasty-faced Luke Goss. As the tyrannical Prince Nuada, he resolves to wage war on humankind.
Not since his days in Bros, posing for Smash Hits covers, has Goss sucked his cheekbones so hard; he's evil. So evil that he kills his own father and pursues his twin sister (Anna Walton) for an amulet that will invoke the titular Golden Army. As with the first film, the background story eats up too much screen time, so it's just as well that it's beautifully shot. When Hellboy does eventually clomp onto the scene, the mood shifts and the pace is upped. In a typically flamboyant action sequence, he puts down a swarm of fanged tooth fairies and suddenly finds himself in the burning glare of the media spotlight. He laps it up at first, but then come the horrified gasps and the screaming…
Hellboy can stomp on monsters all day, but a lack of self-esteem gets the better of him, and his relationship with Liz hits a deeper downward spiral. Meanwhile, his amphibious sidekick Abe (Doug Jones) goes googly-eyed (well, even more googly-eyed) over Princess Nuada and even takes to wearing contact lense. They track her down on the 'other side' in a trippy detour to the story that sees Hellboy face off with more bizarre beasties. The most impressive is an anthropomorphic beanstalk which sprouts from a Mexican jumping bean - a comical metamorphosis. But then comes a rush of adrenalin as this not-so-jolly green giant stomps across the city; then awe as its sap spills onto the concrete and conjures a garden of Eden. Less awe-inspiring is Hellboy's method for dispatching such creatures: a really big gun.
A new addition to the team, Johann Kraus (Seth MacFarlane), prefers a subtler approach to fighting the forces of evil, but in the end this gaseous know-it-all (he's literally made of hot air contained in an 18th century diving suit) is superfluous. He exists merely to up the laugh quotient, perhaps compensating for the absence of Frasier's David Hyde Pierce - the previous voice of Abe. Still, the biggest yuks belong to Perlman, lumbering and awkward in his 'freakishness' and laconic in his observations of humankind. When he finds Abe listening to old Barry Manilow records his first response is of utter incomprehension, but a spat with Liz and a few beers later, he's singing the words to 'Can’t Smile Without You...’'
It's only as the end draws near that the dark clouds gather again. Prince Nuada appeals to Hellboy's devilish nature, reminding him that however hard he tries, he will never fit in with his human masters, let alone get any thanks for protecting them. Of all the demons Hellboy wrestles with, it is this undeniable knowledge that proves the most difficult to put down. Liz too is forced to reconsider how much she is willing to sacrifice for a world that doesn’t care, and so the stage is set for a melodramatic showdown. And, it wouldn't be classic del Toro without the razzle-dazzle. The Golden Army provide that as they finally rise up, but even in the culminating moments of battle, it is del Toro's feel for human grace that shines through.
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