When Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the mythical realms returns from exile determined to awaken an ancient indestructible army to wreak vengeance on humanity in violation of a sacred pact it’s down to Hellboy (Ron Perlman), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defence to stop him.
Contrary to what you might think Hellboy II really doesn’t fit easily into a pigeonhole, there’s so much going on. Del Toro’s second film based on Mike Mignola’s creation builds on the impressive original in every way and then goes even further.
Starting out with an endearingly animated prologue explaining the reason behind the creation of the Golden Army, an immensely powerful army of automatons created to win a war only for the king Balor their controller to see the error in his ways resulting in a pact of peace between the mythical races and man. The crown which controls the army is split into three pieces with one given to man which causes Prince Nuada to dissappear vowing to return to claim what is his as Man hasn’t earned their place in the world.
Present day and we see Prince Nuada training in a subterranean chamber in an impressively dextrous manner slicing a drop of water in two in slow motion before seeing a train drive past in the background showing that this subterranean chamber is infact not too far below the streets of unsuspecting citizens. This is just one of many images that really shows this is far removed from the image associated with films based on comic books.
It has to be said that the cast are exemplary in their roles and no other actor could portray Hellboy other than Ron Perlman but the characterisation built into the script by Del Toro and Mike Mignola makes everything click together like the pieces of an awe inspiring puzzle.
Relationships and characters have changed since the first film. Liz and Hellboy are having relationship troubles and it’s the inherent believeability of this relationship which is just one of the amazing but subtle charms of these characters. Hellboy is getting bored with being cooped up in the basement and the BPRD operating in the shadows and is having constant arguments with Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) who is trying to keep a lid on Hellboy’s existence.
Beneath it all this is a love story and an incredibly endearing one, a scene where Hellboy now out in the open thanks to some reckless behaviour on his part is hit on the head by a stone thrown by disapproving member of the public really shows why, with Liz stepping in front of her considerably larger partner protectively as Hellboy has a look of crestfallen confusion in just one of the pairs many great character moments.
Whilst it might be Hellboy’s name in the title there’s plenty of other characters worth noticing. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) gets his own love story becoming enamoured of Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) the twin of Prince Nuada and the normally eloquent and well spoken Abe becoming tongue tied when talking to her is another great character moment.
A scene where both Hellboy and the normally teetotal Abe both feeling rejected and confused get drunk and end up singing along to Barry Manilow’s ‘Can’t smile without you’ is poignant rather than just being played for laughs.
Prince Nuada isn’t just some stock ‘evil’ character but rather more layered and his impassioned plea to his father King Balor isn’t without merit. Things aren’t black and white in this world and Goss’s performance just adds more to the character and his dialogue with Hellboy really plays at his vulnerabilites pointing out he has more in common with him than the humans.
Mr Wink Prince Nuada’s right hand man is a thing of beauty, a huge cave troll with a mechanical hand which can be fired off and then crawls back to him and despite what you will inevitably think this is all done via real practical effects with minor tweaking with Brian Steele playing Wink.
Another agent of the BPRD has been sent in to curb Hellboy’s reckless behaviour and here we have one of the other standout characters in Johan Krauss (John Alexander) a German who’s body has been rendered into an ethereal gaseous state and as such inhabits a suit, a bit like an oldschool diving suit. He’s fastidious and by the book which impresses Manning and Abe and promotes a feeling of jealousy from Hellboy which culminates in an impressively comedic face off in the locker room.
Jeffrey Tambor is great as the official of the BPRD who is clearly terrified of what Hellboy and his team have to deal with but still likes to lecture the team on how they’re supposed to be a covert facility.
There’s also the awe-inspiring scene in the Troll Market, a unique trip into Guillermo Del Toro’s imagination realised via a homage to Jim Henson’s Creature Shop looking like a mash up of Mos Eisley’s Cantina and the market scene of Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark. All manner of bizarre creatures are seen mingling in the bustling crowd all of which are realised via prosthetics, there’s no way the likes of Cathedral Head could come from any other film maker.
A later encounter with the Angel of Death is yet another reminder of Del Toro’s amazing imagination.
It’s also highly accomplished on a technical level with numerous long tracking shots with one being reminiscent of Men in Black as Hellboy and Manning walk through the BPRD facility whilst all manner of bizarre carnage rages behind them as they casually walk on by.
The choreography of the action scenes is impressive and there’s no jittery headache inducing snap cuts or shaky camera, Del Toro treats the framing of action with the same level of skill and attention to detail as quiet character moments and a big action scene involving a towering elemental is clearly a love letter to Kaiju films but rather than having some huge hideous beast smashing up buildings it’s a thing of beauty and also serves as the ambiguity which is at the core of the story writ large.
With action, comedy, a love story and more Hellboy II plays more like a feature length episode of an excellent TV show rather than a film thanks to it’s great ensemble cast. The ending is a bittersweet affair given the troubles the long mooted Hellboy III faces.