Hellboy II Packs Visionary Punch

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Rarely does a sequel improve upon its predecessor as triumphantly as Hellboy II: The Golden Army. Director Guillermo del Toro's second installment in the Hellboy saga is a feast for the eyes as well as the imagination.

After a brief retelling of his origin story, Hellboy II picks up in 1955 when a young Hellboy (a stone-fisted demon adopted by the U.S. Army during World War II) is being told a bedtime story by his surrogate father, Professor Bruttenholm (John Hurt). Getting a great deal of exposition out of the way quickly through a stylized animated sequence, the professor reads of a battle between humans and the creatures of folklore, resulting in the creation of a massive mechanical golden army controlled by the wearer of a golden crown. The warring factions eventually came to a truce, and the crown was broken into three pieces: one went to the human world, and two went to the kingdom of the elves. But in present day, the elves are not entirely happy with the way humans are infringing on the forest realms with their parking lots and shopping malls, and Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) of the Underworld has plans to claim the crown, awaken the Golden Army and go to war against mankind.


Meanwhile Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is still a key agent in the federal government's Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense, and he still has a thing for cats and Baby Ruth candy bars. But the big red guy is having relationship issues with his combustible girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) while at the same time he's yearning for an opportunity to coexist openly with humans, which becomes all the more difficult when one of your only friends is Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), a fish man with an affinity for rotten eggs and, evidently, Barry Manilow. Duty calls, however, when a Manhattan auction house is overrun with swarms of ravenous, bloodthirsty tooth fairies. Hellboy grabs his trusty Samaritan hand cannon, chomps his cigar and charges into battle once again.

While the first film was largely based on Hellboy creator Mike Mignola's Seed of Destruction mini-series, Hellboy II is an original tale he co-wrote with del Toro, and the collaboration shows. This film is as much a sequel to the first Hellboy as it is a spiritual successor to del Toro's Academy Award-winning Pan's Labyrinth. Like that film, it explores the division between the human world and the world of magic, unfolding as a grownup fairy tale complete with trolls, elves and goblins of all sizes. There is a beauty in del Toro's unbridled scope for this sequel, particularly during one sequence in the Troll Market, brought to otherworldly life through an impressive blend of computer animation and practical special effects. The film has many scenes like this one, where you wish you could spend just a few more moments immersed in the world that the filmmakers have created onscreen. 

But there is that pesky "saving the world" thing that keeps the story from lingering for too long, and thanks to top-notch performances all around, we're more than willing to go along for the ride. Perlman is perfect for the title role, and even though he's underneath layers of red makeup, it's obvious that he's having fun. He quips, he sneers, he throws more than a few punches and, at times, he even sings. If any actor is tied to the role in a third Hellboy film, it simply must be Perlman. 

 Jones—del Toro's go-to guy for bizarre creature acting—is given a great deal more to do this time around as Abe, from fighting to falling in love with the villain's twin sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton). Blair brings some normalcy to the group as a convincing romantic foil to our hero while Jeffrey Tambor returns as uptight BPRD director Tom Manning, who continues to distrust Hellboy, particularly after he purposely outs the bureau to the public. Hellboy's disregard for authority leads to the recruitment of by-the-book agent Dr. Johann Krauss, voiced by Family Guy creator Seth MacFarlane. Krauss is one of the film's most welcome surprises, as the ectoplasmic medium comes into conflict with Hellboy on more than one occasion. Hellboy soon learns, however, that it's quite difficult to win a fistfight when your opponent does not have a body, let alone fists.

Del Toro's first Hellboy effort may have been a serviceable adaptation of the Dark Horse series with some shining moments of ingenuity, but Hellboy II is a masterful example of fantasy storytelling at its best.

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