Adapting Mike Mignola’s relatively unknown comic book creation Hellboy for the big screen in 2004 could have easily gone sour in the wrong hands. Considering director Guillermo Del Toro was only given a budget of $66 million to bring the broad imaginative scope of the material to life, meager by Hollywood standards given that Spider-man 2 had a budget of $200 million that same year, one would have been easily forgiven for believing the film would open to a sea of empty seats. To even suggest it might spawn a sequel would have resulted in squabbles of laughter from the cinematic elite. However, Columbia Pictures were the one’s laughing their way to the bank when the film, easily going down as one of the best comic book adaptations in recent years, went on to make $100 million worldwide. Skip ahead four years, add an extra $20 million to the budget of the original, a switch in production company (Universal Pictures), a dash of the creative vision behind Del Toro’s medial film Pan’s Labyrinth and you’ve got yourself the devilishly delightful Hellboy 2: The Golden Army.
This time around Hellboy (Ron Perlman) , a daemon whom crossed through from a portal to hell activated by the Nazi’s during the 1940′s (don’t ask, just see the first film), and his unique companions from the secret government agency entitled the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense are tasked with stopping the grudge bearing, blade wielding Elven Prince Nuada (Luke Goss). In an attempt to rid mankind from the land he believes rightfully belongs to the Elf’s, Prince Nuada seeks out the three separate pieces to a crown that grants the wearer control over the Golden Army; an indestructible battalion of merciless mechanical soldiers.
Despite creating the screenplay from scratch, Del Toro’s attempt to merge folklore and fantasy brings nothing fundamentally new to the table and consequently makes for a predictable adventure. Its still an enjoyably ride, but certain plot devices feel as though they were lifted right out of the pages of fantasy favourites, such as Lord of the Rings, leaving the film’s narrative to compare unfavourably with freshness of the original. However, what originality the plot lacks, the film’s character and set design makes up for in spades. From swarms of bone eating “Tooth Fairies” to unsightly Trolls disguised as irate senile women, the marvelous character design alone is worth the price of admission. Obviously, the creative juices that inspired the award winning art direction of Pan’s Labyrinth were still flowing when Del Toro began work on Hellboy 2. The film does remarkably well at feeling like a live action comic book, as the cinematography relishes in bold colours and impeccably directed action sequences that transpire in unique and exciting locations. The more generous budget has allowed for a greater range of computer generated effects, used to excess in the films climatic battle. Thankfully though, most of the characters are spared from the digital wand and instead are the product of skilled makeup artistry and elaborate costumes, giving even the most unique character creations the appearance of being a living, breathing entity that CGI is still yet to convincingly portray.
Behind a truckload of red makeup is Ron Perlman, whose characterisation of the egocentric protagonist Hellboy, or Red as he prefers to be called, is once again the highlight of the film. Perlman brings a genuinely likable human element to the leading role, furthering the strong connection with the audience he established in the first film. Selma Blair, reprising her role as Red’s fiery partner Liz, seems even more emotionally detached that she did in the original. I could understand why she was disturbed and self doubting the first time around, as spontaneously combusting in a padded cell time after time might do that to you. But now that she’s found a family of sorts and has control over her abilities, her continued somberness seems out of place and context in a film bristling with life. Living with Red does however provide an endless assortment of material for the sub-plot which humorously depicts domestic quarrels between the unlikely couple. Newcomer Luke Goss makes for a convincing antagonist as the Elven Prince Nuada. Given his ghoulish appearance, creepily apt manners, and undeniable talent with a blade, the Prince is a surprisingly formidable opponent to Hellboy, an impressive feat considering Red is quite literally the spawn of the devil!
Whilst Hellboy 2 follows a rather contrived and predictable narrative structure, it retains the fascinating artistic direction, cinematographic flair and strong cast that made the first film such a success. Of most importance, Hellboy 2 manages to be something that recent adventure sequels such as The Mummy 3 and Indiana Jones 4 ultimately failed to be: fun!
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