- Rated PG-13
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All photos © Universal
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
efore Guillermo del Toro was a household name, he directed perhaps the most underrated superhero movie ever made. Based on Mike Mignola’s mid-1990s comic book series “Hellboy,” the 2004 film featured the perfect mix of action and comedy, and proved to the industry that you didn’t need an A-list hero (or star) to make a good film. It also introduced the fanboy crowd to Ron Perlman – even if he was covered in red paint and prosthetics the whole time – but despite the actor’s charismatic turn and the positive reception from critics and fans, “Hellboy” fizzled at the box office. Now, after three years of delays, the film’s sequel has finally arrived in theaters, but while del Toro adheres to the “more is better” rule with “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” he only delivers a mild disappointment instead.
An undetermined period of time has passed since the events of the first film, but plenty of changes have taken place at the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Development. Hellboy (Perlman) is now living with his firestarting girlfriend/co-worker, Liz Sherman (Selma Blair), Agent Myers has been transferred out of the BPRD headquarters, and Johann Krauss (Seth MacFarlane) – a disembodied ectoplasmic spirit with psychic powers who maintains a human shape via a containment suit – has been brought in to keep Hellboy on a short leash following the cigar-chomping demon's outing to the public. Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is still swimming around the BPRD offices as well, and he’s inadvertently discovered a secret about Liz that has caused a rift in her relationship with Hellboy.
The trio’s personal lives are put on hold, however, when Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) returns from exile to challenge his father’s millennia-old peace treaty between humans and the creatures of a mystical otherworld. But in order to declare war, Nuada must first track down the missing piece of a fabled crown that allows him to control the Golden Army – a piece that just so happens to be in the possession of his twin sister Nuala (Anna Walton), who has sought refuge with Hellboy and Co.
One of the more pitch-perfect castings in recent memory, Ron Perlman continues to shine as the cigar-chomping, cat-loving title character, but as part of del Toro’s plans to incorporate more of the “Hellboy” universe into the sequel, the actor is sometimes pushed into the background. Annoying as it may be, it allows for some of the supporting characters to be better developed – namely Hellboy’s partner-in-crime Abe Sapien (played and voiced by Doug Jones), who’s not only given a love interest in the equally psychic Princess Nuala, but also gets a nice comedic moment with Hellboy involving some late-night drinking and Barry Manilow’s “Can’t Smile Without You.” Unfortunately, the other two BPRD agents aren’t treated quite as well. Selma Blair’s Liz continues to draw the short end of the stick (not only does she get the clichéd story arc, but her pyrotechnic special effects look unfinished), while new freak on the block Johann Krauss is an unnecessary addition.
This is just the beginning of the film’s unfortunate series of problems, however, and among my chief complaints is that “The Golden Army” looks more like “Pan’s Labyrinth” than “Hellboy.” Del Toro seems so concerned with showing off his scrapbook of kooky creatures that he loses focus along the way. Sure, the main villain may seem a bit generic when compared to the other creatures that inhabit the story, but why can’t we spend more time with him instead of roaming around troll markets filled with Mos Cantina rejects? Additionally, the story is way too slow for an action movie, and though the set pieces are all good fun, the moments that connect them usually aren’t special enough to keep you interested. It’s not that “Hellboy II” is a particularly bad sequel, but that it tries to do way too much in the time allotted. Diehard fans of Mignola’s comic book will undoubtedly enjoy “The Golden Army” for its back-to-the-roots approach, but others may find it a little less appetizing – especially when there are better superhero films on the way.
Two-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
If there’s one thing Guillermo del Toro does better than making movies, it’s helping produce the special features that accompany them. The two-disc Blu-ray release of “Hellboy II” is jam-packed with so much bonus material that even Jon Favreau would be jealous. The first disc alone includes two audio commentaries (one with writer/director del Toro, and another with cast members Jeffrey Tambor, Selma Blair and Luke Goss), as well deleted scenes and U-Control features like multi-angle scene views, behind-the-scenes set visits, and an inside look at del Toro’s personal notebook. The second disc may look bare in comparison, but the 154-minute (!) production featurette, “Hellboy: In Service of the Demon,” more than makes up for the lack of appearances. Covering everything from creature design and special effects to stunts and sound editing, when fans are done sitting through this monstrous making-of, they’ll feel like they were there when it all went down.
Rounding out the set is a tour of the troll market, storyboards for the puppet flashback sequence, an animated comic prologue, four galleries including a Mike Mignola sketchbook slideshow, awesome (but unused) poster designs from the film’s marketing campaign, and a DVD-ROM copy of the script. And if that wasn’t cool enough, the special edition collector’s set also includes a Golden Army statue, an excerpt from del Toro’s aforementioned journal, and a “Hellboy II” poster. If only every studio serviced its fans as well as Universal has done with "Hellboy" here.