Dir: Guillermo Del Toro. US. 2008. 115 mins.
Trust Guillermo Del Toro to deliver a summer action adventure which is gleefully unpretentious in its desire to entertain while filled with some of the season's most inventive visual effects and creature designs. This bigger-and-better sequel should be a solid hit for Universal and easily outperform the $59.6m domestic and $39.7m international tallies achieved by the 2004 original.
The first Hellboy was financed by Revolution Studios and distributed by Sony worldwide but, with Revolution now closed, the producers brought the sequel back to Universal where it was originally developed. In the meantime, Del Toro's original had developed an enormous cult following on TV and DVD, ensuring a bigger budget and audience demand for a sequel.
Hellboy is still at the lower end of the comic book scale so is unlikely to hit the box office heights of Iron Man or Batman, but strong reviews and word-of-mouth as well as Del Toro's post-Pan's Labyrinth critical stature will help bring new audiences as well as fans into theatres.
De Toro stays true to the B-movie tenets of his original, reuniting the sub-A-list cast of Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Doug Jones and Jeffrey Tambor and maintaining a broad sense of humour. There is no bombast or self-importance here a la Batman or The Incredible Hulk, just a great storyteller delivering a good time at the movies.
Nor does he feel any need to recap on the Hellboy origins story beyond a cursory reference at the beginning. Instead Del Toro introduces the new plot with a scene from Hellboy's youth in 1955 when Professor Broom (Hurt), who was killed in the first film, recounts the story of The Golden Army to his young red, horned son.
Courtesy of a dazzling puppet sequence created by Denmark's Ghost VFX, we learn that many centuries ago, the original magical creatures of the earth led by King Balor forged a golden army of killing machines in a war with humankind. Anguished by the devastation the army wreaks on the humans, the king strikes a truce with them that has lasted to this day. Only the rightful owner of the king's crown - divided into three parts - can conjure up the army again.
Back in the present day, Hellboy is arguing with his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz Sherrman (Blair) at their underground home - the New Jersey-based Bureau For Paranormal Research (BPRD) - when they are called out to investigate a disturbance at a Manhattan auction house. King Balor's son Prince Nuada (Goss) has steolen a part of the crown which was up for auction and wiped out the attendees with thousands of tooth fairies.
Nuada plans to reassemble the crown and summon up the Golden Army to wipe out humanity and reclaim earth for the magical creatures. It is up to Hellboy, Liz and their aquatic empath colleague Abe Sapien (Jones) to stop him.
Hellboy II's creatures and effects are extraordinary - from the misfits at BPRD to the myriad magical creatures on show in the Troll Market underneath the Brooklyn Bridge or the gigantic vine creature with whom Hellboy battles on the streets of New York.
But Del Toro's skill is not just in creating stunning setpieces or creatures but in story construction. Hellboy II moves at a furious pace, balancing wit with menace, cooking up tasty subplots while expanding the bigger legend of the heroes for part three, carefully developing the relationships between existing characters while introducing new ones into the mix. And he still finds time for Abe Sapien to fall in love, get drunk and sing along to Barry Manilow's Can't Smile Without You.
Dark Horse Entertainment
Guillermo Del Toro
From a story by Del Toro and Mike Mignola, based upon the Dark Horse comic book created by Mignola