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Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008)

  • Review: *** (out of ****)
  • Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Seth MacFarlane, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Jeffrey Tambor, John Hurt
  • Director: Guillermo Del Toro
  • Screenplay: Guillermo Del Toro, Mike Mignola
  • Length: 120 min.
  • MPAA Rating: PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

Now that Guillermo Del Toro has become an Oscar hit and has been tapped by Peter Jackson to take over the Tolkien franchise with back-to-back Hobbit films, it seems like the right time for him to bring out a more inventive, more technical and more costly sequel to his cult smash Hellboy.

Hellboy II: The Golden Army continues the story of Hellboy (Ron Perlman), a dispossessed demon found at the site of a paranormal event during World War II. Joined again by Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Hellboy must now solve a crime involving vicious tooth fairies and a New York auction house. His involvement leads him into a hidden underground where loads of fantasy creatures live out their lives away from the threat of human annihilation.

However, young Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) plans to turn the tables on the contemptible race that brought war to his father's doorstep centuries prior. He has returned to re-forge the crown that controls an unstoppable army of 70 times 70 mechanical constructs known as The Golden Army. Hellboy becomes embroiled in the case while protecting his twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) and the third crown fragment she possesses.

Del Toro takes most of what he accomplished in Pan's Labyrinth and turns it loose on the Hellboy II production. While his Oscar-winning film was far more original, visually stunning and emotionally satisfying, Hellboy II is still a triumph of optical flair. Bringing the series more in line with its contemporaries, Del Toro injects humor into the film in a way that sometimes seems distracting. However, the story is stronger this go around and the acting has improved.

Jeffrey Tambor also reprises his role as the straight-laced bureau director constantly at odds with Hellboy's reckless attention seeking. His attempts to reign him in largely involve bringing in a new handler, this time one who has a more supernatural demeanor from his last one (though he wasn't exceptional, Rupert Evan's presence was sorely missed). Johann Krauss (superbly voiced by Seth MacFarlane) is a strange creature composed entirely of vapor. To appear more "normal", he wears a pressurized suit similar to an old-fashioned diving suit.

The story seems a little more straightforward this time around and the plot is definitely more extensive. It is significantly limited by a need for pointless combat sequences, but that only aligns the film more with its comic book counterparts.

While there are very few differences between the first film and this sequel, there are two areas in which this latest installment excels significantly over the last. The film's costume design by Sammy Sheldon and the production design by Stephen Scott are simply astounding. It is in creating detailed worlds with fantastical creatures and settings that Del Toro truly excels. Hellboy II is so striking to watch that sometimes you forget that there are some fundamental problems with the seeming betrayal of principle that accompanies the film, abandoning some of what made the first film so enjoyable.

But, when compared side-by-side, Hellboy II wins by the slimmest of margins simply for improving the overall look of the film, improving the performances and making for a more engaging story. Now, if only the comparative originality between the sequel and other films of the genre weren't diminished, it might have been a better film. And at least it's better than the glut of dumbed-down action films released in the cineplex in recent years.