Universal // 2008 // 120 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge David Johnson // November 10th, 2008
Visionary director Guillermo del Toro returns to the comic book genre for his follow-up to his lukewarm hellfire saga Hellboy. I'll say it right away: the sequel is much better -- though I'm still not reluctant to fully embrace the character.
Life for Hellboy (Ron Pearlman) is complicated these days. He's in an oft-tumultuous relationship with his, er, flame, Liz (Selma Blair), is clashing with his new government supervisor (Jeffrey Tambor) and is itching to introduce himself to the public. See, Big Red just wants acceptance and in his naiveté, he thinks the skeptical, easily-spooked human race will give it to him.
Ha! Humans sucks! Just ask Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) a bad-ass elf who wants to exterminate humanity by using the indestructible Golden Army, a legendary fighting force that was built during the massive war between humans and fantasy creatures a long, long time ago (as shown in an awesome opening credits animated sequence).
Long story short: Hellboy, Liz, psychic fishman Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and Johann Krauss (voiced by Seth MacFarlane), the new team leader who's made merely of vapor, must intercept Nuada before he unleashes the Golden Army and wipes out mankind once and for all.
I know the first Hellboy has its fans, but it didn't do too much for me. The effects were great and I liked some of the touches with Hellboy and Liz's romance, but the experience left me a bit on the cool side. Now comes Guillermo del Toro, fresh off of Pan's Labyrinth and apparently invigorated with a new blast of creativity, to unleash a film that is bigger, more imaginative and, ultimately, better than its predecessor.
I'm still not wowed by the mythology or the character, though.
Still, I don't know how someone couldn't objectively say that Hellboy II isn't a visual revelation. The imagination and fantasy on display here from the first flame to the last is nothing short of dazzling -- each sequence consistently outdoes the one that preceded it. The Troll Market, the forest god, those crazy flesh-eating bug things, any scene with Johan Krauss, the goggles, the giant rock guy and, of course the Golden Army itself. Most of the time I was just sitting, agog at the creative display.
Which almost distracted me from the down points. One, the writing isn't terribly sharp. Hellboy II is more light-hearted than hardcore (though Prince Nuada takes himself way too seriously), but I'd be hard-pressed to point to anything that struck me as particularly funny. When Abe and Hellboy get drunk and talk about their love lives -- yeah, potential there, but then HB spits out a lame line about how it sucks to do the dishes. Hellboy loves the one-liners, too, but these fail to score as well. He's gruff and drinks beer and has an attitude but I grew tired of the schtick. The Hellboy-accepted-by-humanity plotline had some potential for genuinely interesting character development, especially with Nuada prodding him to make a choice over which species to serve -- but that thread just sort of spins of into the ether.
Two, the film was so packed with ideas and images that sensory overload kicked in, and the experience just seemed so busy. Stuff just happens so fast and the eye candy is just so overpowering. Krauss, for example, is an awesome character, and pretty much the only source of real comedy, but it feels like his story is gracelessly jammed in.
Finally, anything with Liz can be counted on as being irritating. I'm really not sure what her purpose is in this movie other than...melting an important plot device at the end?
These flaws noted, I'm still going to recommend Hellboy II because it is fun and the window we get into del Toro's imagination is a stunner. Plus, there are some excellent action set-pieces, including some excellent swordplay from Nuada, a nice, slimy fight with that forest god and the big finale with the Golden Army, which rivals Transformers for bodacious robot fighting.
As you would probably guess, Hellboy II is a killer Blu-ray. The 1.85:1 widescreen is a treat, pushing that varied and awesome imagery cleanly and with vivid bursts of color. From Hellboy's lava-red skin to Liz's personal inferno to the intricate design of the Golden Army, the colors are strong and the details pop. Lots of CGI in this movie, but the effects look great, a tribute both to the clean HD presentation and the top-shelf post-production work. Sound comes courtesy of a DTS-HD Master track and is quite aggressive. The sound design is layered and robust and the mix keeps up with it admirably; great use of the surrounds and a true aural treat during the big action moments.
Extras: U-Control, featuring in-movie angle comparisons (pre-visualization, finished, and partially animated), behind-the-scenes footage and concept art; a two-hour plus making-of feature called "Hellboy: In Service of the Demon"; a look at that intro puppet sequence; a handful of so-so deleted scenes with optional commentary from del Toro; feature commentaries with the cast and del Toro, the latter of which is my favorite -- it's obvious how much the film meant to him; the Troll Market tour with del Toro; a virtual comic book; and a BD-Live equipped comic-book builder, which translates scenes from the film into comic art, you know, if that's your thing. A Digital Copy disc is also included.
I liked, but didn't love Hellboy II. The effects and design wizardry alone are worth a peek though.
Not Guilty. Hey, it's a cat!
Review content copyright © 2008 David Johnson; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p Widescreen)
* DTS HD 7.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 120 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* U-Control In-Movie Features
* Deleted Scenes
* Virtual Comic
* Digital Copy
* Cinema Verdict Review