Director Guillermo Del Toro just keeps getting better and better. He seems to have given up making genre-straddling childhood-based horror/dramas for now and has officially supplanted Peter Jackson as THE director to look out for in the realm of fantasy film. This is a man who is redefining the genre as we know it one great film at a time. "Hellboy 2" is the perfect sequel to a solid comic book adaptation and a great way to spend two hours of your life. The visuals are amazing, the humor works well, and the characters are much more fully fleshed-out than they were in the first film. Every aspect of the first Hellboy movie has been improved upon and nearly every flaw buffed out. As a superhero flick it may not hit the heights of Iron Man
, but it does lord over the impressive The Incredible Hulk.
You know the story: Nazis raise a demon during WWII, American troops intercept and adopt the little red bugger and raise him as one of the good guys, demon fights monsters as part of a top-secret task force, falls in love with pyrokinetic hottie, discovers he's destined to destroy the world, lots of a$zkicking ensues. The first film was a nice introduction to the characters with some really great visuals and cool ideas. But the fact that big red demons don't work so well in a live action medium hurt it. In fact, I'd venture to say that without the amazing Ron Perlman, the whole project would have been an exercise in futility. But Perlman IS Hellboy and he brings a lot of believability and gruff charm to a character that simply shouldn't work on the big screen. On the other hand, the two animated features
suffer from no such translation issues and still benefit from Perlman's distinctive delivery so check those out for sure. Okay, round two. So here we are introduced to the story of The Golden Army, an unstoppable mechanized force used to subdue mankind during a war with the elves and other magical denizens of the world. The wise elf king ceased the slaughter and agreed that humanity may have the cities and the magical denizens take the wilds. But now mankind has left them nothing and the king's son seeks to renew the war and crush the world's population by resurrecting the legendary Golden Army. Meanwhile, Hellboy continues his passive-aggressive attempts to expose the covert Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense to the world (his handler has to bribe him with Cuban cigars), but at least he's got the girl...or does he?
Freed from the annoyance of the unnecessary human protagonist of the first film, we're now totally focused on the characters we the fans care about: Abe Sapien the Atlantean empath, Liz Sherman the unbalanced firestarter, Hellboy himself (obviously), and a new addition to the team in the form of a German poltergeist that can inhabit and animate inanimate objects, Johann Krauss, who arrives to serve as the team's field commander. This guy adds so much to the film I don't know if it would have been above average without him. Great, great character.
Fairly early on Del Toro begins throwing everything he's got at the audience. The menagerie of creatures in this film is astonishing. Do not try to count the varieties or you will miss the film. George Lucas is kicking himself somewhere as we speak; Del Toro manages to infest "Hellboy 2" with enough bizarre and imaginative creatures to fill dozens of Star Wars cantinas but I never once stopped and thought "that is totally computer generated". That's the difference between a filmmaker who truly loves his work and one who just wants to throw a bunch of cool stuff to make the audience go "wow!" before getting annoyed by it 15 minutes in. Guillermo Del Toro has built a career encompassing simple horror
, supernatural coming of age drama
, comic book films
, and politically-tinged fantasy
and has continually innovated and improved on each genre he has touched. "Hellboy 2" feels like a culmination of those styles coupled with a massive budget. The film has incredible visuals, but never forgoes character development; it has clever humor, but also genuine emotion. Perfectly balanced.
I've tried to think of a specific flaw in this film and I've come up empty. "Hellboy II: The Golden Army" is a brilliant fantasy film that delivers everything one could hope for and easily tops it's predecessor. Don't get me wrong, if the idea of a big red demon with an oversized gun in one hand and a cigar in the other strikes you as unconscionably silly then this film will still not work for you. This is not "Pan's Labyrinth", this is not an art film, this is a pure goofy over-the-top comic book romp. But it's one of the best out there and there is only one man who could have made it so. Next stop for Guillermo Del Toro: Middle Earth. I absolutely cannot wait to see what he has in store for "The Hobbit".
4 1/2 stars rounded up for degree of difficulty.
Seriously, YOU try to make something like this into a believable film!