Hellboy’s nonchalant approach to fighting the bad guys in a beleaguered and workman-like way while smoking a cigar is quite the opposite to Batman’s tortured soul searching for a meaning to his life. Yet the widespread acclaim heaped on The Dark Knight (Christopher Nolan) this summer would be just as apt for this follow-up to an original which showed much promise even if it doesn’t take itself quite as seriously. Aided by the imaginings of Del Toro, the director of films featuring fantastical delights such as Pan’s Labyrinth and The Devil’s Backbone, Hellboy II builds on the modestly-budgeted original with a dazzling display of creatures and worlds without losing any of its heart or sense of fun.
One of the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense’s secret agents, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) helps mankind despite being from a mystical realm which would view him as a ruler. His distinctive thick red skin, tail, stone arm and superhuman strength are supported by large firearms: he takes no nonsense from the monsters he battles to keep us safe from. Abetted by amphibian Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and his literal firebrand girlfriend Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), in The Golden Army he must try to work out why Liz is so moody, fend off threats from the bureau to have him turfed out for courting press attention as well as save the world. It doesn’t just bring a few action set pieces, Del Toro brings us a well-rounded hero to root for who shows genuine human emotion despite his unworldly roots.
Hellboy II centres on a legend about a war between the humans and the people of the mystical realm. King Balor, leader of the magic elfin race, once had a Golden Army of indestructible mechanical soldiers built, controlled by a crown anyone with royal blood could use. But when the army attacked killed humans showing no mercy, Balor was consumed by regret and called a truce giving humans control of the cities while Balor’s elves would keep to the forests. Although Balor shattered the crown into three pieces, as a peace offering, his son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), went into exile vowing to return when his people needed him and make use of the Golden Army once more.
Hellboy wouldn’t be Hellboy without Ron Perlman who once again excels as the titular character in the role he was probably born to play.
While Hellboy faces a relationship crisis, Abe finds himself in the position of falling in love… with Prince Nuada’s twin sister Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). Such diversions might become distracting to the point of sickening in many a comic book hero, but the attention to detail and careful construction of Hellboy II’s story means it always adds to the tale rather than drawing attention away from the story unnecessarily. The set pieces are there, from an attack by masses of flesh eating cockroach-like creatures and Hellboy battling a giant troll to a forest spirit threatening the unsuspecting public and a showdown with the Golden Army, but each is reached with character-driven plot points you can get engrossed in — this is no soulless cash-in, Del Toro has put thought into every scene. Hence, a trip to the troll market and the meeting with an Angel of Death are given a mystical quality only he could bring to the movie. Abe’s attempts to deal with finding his true love by drinking beer with Hellboy is a hilariously laddish moment and numerous inventive characters are found along the way, including a new addition to Hellboy’s team, the ectoplasmic Johann Krauss, who exists only in a bizarre suit in a kind of mist form. His teaching of Hellboy that even a cloud of gas can outwit him is a highlight of the whole movie.
Of course, Hellboy couldn’t be a success without Ron Perlman who once again excels as the titular character in the role he was probably born to play. Endearing despite his heavy-handed and casual approach to saving the world, he sidesteps the all-too-serious character traits of Superman, Spider-man and Batman who can’t get over their own demons. As a demon himself, Hellboy gets on with the job and Del Toro revels in the freedom to create a world that, while completely imaginative, leaves the door open for us to creep into and enjoy as much as he must have had developing and filming. Hellboy II: The Golden Army is brought to the screen with a heart of gold and will gather an army of fans. Bring on number three.