After a very brief history lesson, Hellboy 2 begins with a bespectacled John Hurt telling the young Hellboy a story. Many years ago, Elf Prince Nuada created an army of mechanical monsters to do his bidding. Long dormant, a crown split into three pieces stops them from being released, and you just know we’re about to see Red take them on as an older, wise-cracking, pistol wielding superhero dude.
Flash forward forty years, and this is no Dark Knight. All humour in the film is intentional, Scenes where uptight head FBI guy Jeffrey Tambor leads Abe Sapien (Doug Jones) past various beasts and monsters with tentacles flailing acting crazy whilst appearing oblivious reminded me of Men in Black. Better use of music, atmosphere and more intense action sequences make for a lively start to the picture, improving on the original somewhat. Luke Goss cuts an eerie figure as Nuada – he has some impressive moves. Director Guillermo Del Toro created the role after working with him on Blade 2. He’s come a long way from his days in Bros, huh?
Like Rocky Balboa, Hellboy has become the reluctant hero turned celebrity. He is spotted in the street, much to his annoyance. Eager to prove he’s up to date, Del Toro name drops Youtube as the website tracks our hero’s destructive city-wide exploits. But, unlike Hancock, Hellboy doesn’t need his own PR team just yet. The Golden Army is gloriously realised in CGI. Each sequence involving monsters looks great, and there are many, one so huge that it resembled the beast from Cloverfield. Often it is difficult to tell what is makeup and what is computer generated. Underground sequences have creatures milling about like the cantina scene in Star Wars – a Total Recall-esque community. Spider-like creatures swarm and scuttle, reminding me of those in Del Toro’s debut Cronos. Sure, Red cracks wise like he did the first time, but it wears thin. Kids will love this style, but I’m not sure. Goss’s swordplay is a sight to behold. He is the highlight of the movie for me, a Crow-like villain, resisting the urge to ham it up. His scenes are the darkest, the most effective.
More is made this time of Hellboy’s relationship with his pyrokinetic girlfriend Liz. They bicker like an old couple. Doug Jones again takes the C3PO role as Abe, and no one else but Ron Perlman could play the red devil. I couldn’t help thinking though that the character still lacks something though. Del Toro has given a soap opera feel to the dialogue between Red and Liz, in fact between most of the central characters, and the comedy behind these scenes does not work for me. Maybe the director wants to forge a different angle on the superhero genre. Selma Blair as Liz does ok, but her awesome power could have been more exploited. I was impressed in a scene where she calmly repeats her mantra whilst engulfing herself in flames, hoping to control it this time. There’s clearly more bang for your buck on this outing than the first – it doesn’t have that stilted feel – more fluid this time, easier to watch. It’s just not enough though.
The thing is, it’s all a little too cheesey and tongue in cheek for me. Again, tentacles seem to dominate the film. Why? Faced with recent efforts from Marvel, this doesn’t fare too well. At least Del Toro has improved on the original, but this is by no means a classic franchise yet. He seems content to make movies to the standard of Pan’s Labyrinth in between these bigger, studio-driven comic book adaptations. A third could be the making of this series, but the second one doesn’t quite cut it all the way.