Directed by: Guillermo del Toro
Starring: Ron Perlman, Selma Blair, Jeffrey Tambor, Doug Jones, Luke Goss, Anna Walton, Roy Dotrice and John Hurt
Four years after Guillermo brought us the first Hellboy movie, he's back with the sequel.
Right from the outset, the new film stretches the stylistic boundaries of what we expect from the world of del Toto and Mike Mignola's imaginations. The backstory we need to know is presented in the form of a fairy tale, enacted by puppets as Dr Broom (John Hurt reprises his role from the first movie) reads the infant Hellboy a story on Christmas Eve. A vast golden army of mechanical warriors, constructed for the Elf King by a troll blacksmith, lies in slumber under the Earth until the day when it is called to wage war on humankind. For the young Hellboy, it's just a cool bedtime story. Dr Broom knows more, of course.
When we arrive at BPRD headquarters in the present day, it's soon obvious that things have moved on since we last caught up with the gang: Hellboy and Liz are now a couple. As the audience is familiar with the characters there's more opportunity to investigate the group's dynamics, although they are sketched out for us in the first few minutes just in case anyone missed anything. As a result, we discover that Manning (Jeffrey Tambor) is still convinced he's in charge, Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) is still reading books at a prodigious rate, and Hellboy has contrived to get Agent Myers reassigned to Antarctica (Rupert Evans was busy doing a stage production of Kiss of the Spider Woman in London). It's also obvious that Hellboy and Liz's relationship is going through a bit of a stormy patch, to say the least. After a rather unfortunate episode involving the deaths of several BPRD members (nothing new there) and the introduction of Hellboy to the national press (more of a surprise) a new member of the team arrives in the ectoplasmic shape of Johann Krauss. At this point in the film, most directors would just sit back and concentrate on the quirks of fitting in someone new to a well established family. Cue general widespread larks and merriment, the occasional grisly death, and we'll have a generally acceptable film, right?
We should know better, of course: this is Guillermo we're talking about. This time out, it's the bad guys who really steal the show. Prince Nuada (Luke Goss) has had enough of the devastation that humans are wreaking on both the Earth and the underworld, and wants control of the Golden Army from Hellboy's bedtime story. With it, he can wipe out mankind and reclaim the planet for the elves, trolls, goblins and other denizens of the Other Side. In order to do this, however, he has to act against his father, King Balor (a nice surprise to see Roy Dotrice back on the big screen).
Goss is a revelation in this film. He plays the Prince with real pathos, engaging your sympathy from the outset even while he's being a complete bastard. His voice is the epitome of fatigue, sadness and fury. We know how much is at stake, we feel his anger, and before very long del Toro has us rooting for the bad guys. Think of this movie as the Inconvenient Truth of comic book movies, and you've got some idea of the tone. We've screwed up the planet; why wouldn't the rest of its inhabitants be more than a little pissed at us? However, Prince Nuada's sister the Princess Nuala (Anna Walton) disagrees with his methods; she ends up at the BPRD, of course, in the care of a badly smitten Abe Sapien and in the funniest sequence in the film Abe tries to seek advice from Hellboy about how to conduct a relationship whilst they both drink rather a lot of beer:
(Refusing a drink) My body is a temple.
No it's not, it's an amusement park. C'mon!
Seeing a fish man and the prince of Hell singing along to a Barry Manilow track is worth the price of admission all by itself. But the basic premise of the film is clear, and it's an interesting one: we don't really want Hellboy to win.
Doug Jones appears as at least three characters in the film (I lost track, but apart from being Abe Sapien he's definitely the Chamberlain from the Royal Court and the Angel of Death) and does such a good job of playing non-human characters that it becomes quite worrying. He's made a career out of alien roles, of course: he was The Silver Surfer in last year's Fantastic Four movie and he played a variety of creatures in the Men In Black movies. He gets to deliver his own vocal performance this time round rather than miming for David Hyde Pierce, and he makes a great job of it.
There are some nice references to other movies, too - in one street scene, the local cinema is showing a film called "See You Next Wednesday." This title (taken from a line of dialogue in 2001: A Space Odyssey) crops up in pretty much everything John Landis ever directed, so it's fun to see it here. I'll have to wait for the DVD of course, but at one point I was sure I saw someone in the Troll Market walk past carrying Dobby the house elf from the Harry Potter movies.
The only niggles I had with the film are that several scenes look as if they were shot on pretty low-end video gear. The fight scenes also seem to have been processed to make them look as if they were happening faster than was humanly possible, primarily by covering them in what I assume is some form of computer-generated motion blur. It just ends up looking silly. But these are very minor criticisms of a film that I thoroughly enjoyed. Let's hope we don't have to wait more than four years for the next installment in the saga.
Chris's rating: Five Stars