Unlike Batman or Iron Man, he isn’t a millionaire playboy in his off-hours, relaxing in a palatial mansion. Hellboy is more of a blue collar guy. A member of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, the BPRD, he’s part of a team of heroes that put a stop to any supernatural menace that threatens the world. Afterwards, he’s more likely to chill out by watching some television and smoking a stogie.
Oh yeah, he’s also a demon who is prophesized to one day enslave all of humanity.
In this follow up to the 2004 film, Hellboy (Ron Perlman) and his human girlfriend Liz (Selma Blair) interrupt their relationship problems to join with their BPRD colleagues – which include the half-fish half-man Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) and the newly arrived Johann Kraus, an ecotplasmic being house in a modified deep sea diving suit and voiced by Seth MacFarlane – to stop the elf prince Nuada (Luke Goss) from locating and reviving the mythical Golden Army and destroying mankind. Of course, since a majority of the BPRD are creatures of supernatural origin, they are a deeply held secret of the government, a secret that Hellboy rather brazenly discloses in a desire to just get a little recognition for the hard work he does. This not only creates a public relations nightmare for his boss Director Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), but gives Nuada an opening to sow a seed of doubt in Hellboy’s mind about his role of humanity’s under-appreciated savior.
Writer/director Guillermo del Toro has a remarkable ability to material originally created by others and somehow make it his own without losing the original’s uniqueness. Here he has taken the world created by comic book writer/artist Mike Mignola and crafted now a second exciting, fun and faithful big screen adaptation while still retaining his own aesthetic and style.
The imagination on display in every frame of the film is staggering. A standout is the Troll Market sequence, which features remarkable designs for even background creatures that only get a fleeting few seconds of screen time. Del Toro doesn’t spend time dwelling on these fascinating creations. He moves the film along at a brisk pace, allowing all the monsters, goblins and other creatures to be a part of the world, as ordinary as the extras that inhabit the background of a more conventional narrative.
Hellboy 2 fits snugly within the current generation of comic book adaptations, eschewing the stereotyping of comics as “kiddie lit” and infusing its characters with traits and foibles all too recognizable within all of us. Hellboy and Liz have their relationship problems. Abe, meanwhile, finds that he has feelings for Nuala, but can’t bring himself to tell her. When Hellboy comes across Abe suddenly finding new depth to a Barry Manilow lyric, his diagnosis is “You’re in love. Have a beer.” This leads to a bonding moment between the two that is played true to the characters, but with a touch of humor as well.
Interestingly, not one, not one but two characters are forced into making life-or-death choices and pick a decision that would grant them personal happiness at the possible cost of thousands and perhaps even millions of lives. Arguably, these are selfish decisions, but one perfectly in keeping with the characters making them and it is hard to fault them. At least one of these decisions will have interesting consequences should del Toro find time to return to the Hellboy universe. And considering that the film ends with a few plot threads still dangling, one hopes that he eventually will.
It is also hard to argue with the motives of the nominal villain, Prince Nuada. As presented, he is not some power hungry conqueror, in it just for the sake of conquest. Instead, he views the encroachment of mankind on the mystical world as a violation of a treat between the two long forgotten by man and a threat that must be pushed back with force. It is from this viewpoint that he points out to Hellboy that for all his longing to be accepted by humans, by his very nature he will always be in conflict with them.
If there’s any real complaint about the script it lies in the resolution. Sure there’s plenty of action and some comedic counterpoint that never overwhelms the scene. However, the final defeat of the villain lies in a plot point that is blatantly set up in the film’s first act, that one can’t help but sit through the rest of the film wondering if del Toro is actual going to use such an obvious device or if he’ll find a way around it.