Starring: Ron Perlman, Luke Goss, Selma Blair, Doug Jones, Jeffrey Tambor, Seth McFarlane

Director: Guillermo Del Toro

Screenplay: Guillermo Del Toro

Cinematography: Guillermo Navarro

Original Score: Danny Elfman

Running Time: 120 mins.

Guillermo Del Toro, a director that seemingly comes from the “one for you, one for me”, school of direction, splitting his time between smaller more personal projects (The Devils Backbone, and most recently Pans Labyrinth) and bigger budget ‘Hollywood’ films (Mimic and Blade 2). With the exception of Mimic, which was a bit of a disaster, all of Del Toro’s films have gained a lot of critical acclaim, and quite rightly so he seems to have such a good eye for fantastical imagery and a real knack for the highest rate of storytelling. So all of this past in mind where exactly does Hellboy II: The Golden Army fit into his repertoire? The answer is, everywhere!

He has hit that perfect balance between what he loves as a film-maker and what the audience loves to see, combining his storytelling and vivid imagination to create a summer blockbuster that has evidently been hand crafted with great love and affection by all involved, Fantastic 4 this is not! The original Hellboy, also directed by Del Toro and starring the same cast, was a sufficient and faithful enough adaptation, and despite being very enjoyable, with a standout turn by Ron Perlman as the titular Hellboy, it was seriously lacking in a number of areas. It seemed that Del Toro’s visions had been reined in somewhat by the studio and the brief running time left many side characters fighting for screen time leaving us with an especially weak villain, on top of this there were no standout action scenes, a real issue in what was meant to be a set piece driven comic book adaptation. In fact, given the modest box office success, it’s surprising Del Toro was rewarded the chance to make another, so out went Columbia Tristar and in came Universal offering only the same budget as was estimated for Hellboy 1 (highly unusual when making a sequel). However the difference is this time Del Toro’s reins have been removed, this is his cut of the film, with his vision and imagination on full speed ahead.

In some ways this could be seen a slight reboot of the franchise, nothing would be lost through being a Hellboy virgin upon watching it, and the only through line from the past film is the love story between Selma Blair’s Liz Sherman and Hellboy, though what happened last time round seems almost redundant. The ‘pedestrian’ character Meyers from the last film is explained away through one line of dialogue leaving no loose ends to tie up starting the story afresh.

Beginning with a fantastic fairytale played out through marionettes we discover that there is a pact between the fairytale world and our own, so that we may all live in peace. Us sticking to our world and the fairytale creatures to theirs. However the fairy prince Nuada is not happy with this pact and feels they should have the right to rule where they wish, overthrowing his father and seeking to destroy the world of humans, using the one thing that can eliminate all in its way, The Golden Army. To say any more would be to spoil the subtle twists and turns, but needless to say it builds to a climatic fight between the forces of good and evil.

The strengths of Hellboy II are primarily in its vision and the performances, Ron Perlman once again shines giving Hellboy true pathos, making him at once funny, angry, driven and very childlike in some ways, and in a trait all the main characters share, conflicted. This is a film of conflicts drawing you to think rather than just take in what you see only to forget it two minutes later, in the decisions the characters make, so to do you in deciding what is morally right and wrong, in much the same way as this summers other excellent blockbuster, The Dark Knight, did.

One thing Hellboy does have over that certain Dark Knight is a wonderful sense of humour, one scene in particular stands out and had me in stitches, it really gives this assortment of freakish looking characters more humanity than many a human in most other films! The addition of Johann Krauss is also a welcome one, making something that is essentially a wisp of mist into a fully rounded ‘person’, through Seth Macfarlanes brilliant voice work. Of the other new additions villain of the piece, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) shines, makes his character very sympathetic to the point where you may well want to root for him in his quest, he isn’t so much evil as feeling betrayed.

So what of the weakness is Hellboy 1, a lack of action, while he hasn’t fully remedied this problem it’s certainly a huge step in the right direction. The fight with a forest god in the middle of the city is amazing and the snippets in the trailer really do this scene no justice, to see the foliage drop from the creature onto the city is absolutely stunning. Both thrilling, funny and on a grand scale, this is what Hellboy needed. The problem is that comes a little over an hour in, leaving a lacklustre final fight with the Golden Army disappointing rather than devastating. That said the lead up to the final fight is fantasy film at its finest, the rock creature in Ireland and the Angel Of Death (looking like something straight out of Pans Labyrinth) are worth the admission price alone!

VERDICT

The run of excellent comic-book adaptations continues, a very different beast to The Dark Knight and injected with Del Toro’s full imagination. The finest fantasy film you’re likely to see in many a year, despite a lack of good action scenes there is so much more here to distract from this small misgiving. Character, story, and a film stuffed with the greatest array and characterisation of creatures since we visited Middle Earth….funny that! Lets hope that this does well enough to warrant a third, though god knows whats left in Del Toro’s imagination to show!

 

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