When the film adaptation of Mike Mignola's "Hellboy" came to theaters in 2004, the future of the fledgling Dark Horse franchise was in doubt: the movie didn't hit the 100 million magic number domestically, and the film's producer, Revolution Studios, shut down its film development operations following the conclusion of its distribution deal with Sony. But thanks in no small part to the tenacity of visionary director Guillermo del Toro, the world's greatest paranormal investigator found a new home at Universal Studios. Four years later, del Toro and actor Ron Perlman are back together for "Hellboy 2: The Golden Army," released July 11 in the U.S.
In the first film, John Hurt's Trevor Bruttenholm helped U.S. forces thwart a Nazi plot to bring about the end of the world, but not before the Germans succeeded in summoning a horned, baby hellspawn that would grow up to be Ron Perlman's Hellboy. Bruttenholm adopted the baby demon and raised him amongst the human race he was birthed to destroy. In the present day, a grown-up Hellboy and his adopted father both served as agents of the Bureau of Paranormal Research and Defense, a secret government organization charged with protecting America from all things occult, paranormal and supernatural.
Bruttenholm perished in the first film, but he shows up in a flashback to deftly deliver "Hellboy II's" early exposition to an 11-year-old Hellboy. Bruttenholm tells his son a bedtime story about a tentative truce that had been established hundreds of years prior between the humans and the fantasy races that have since been relegated to myth and legend in our modern world. On the brink of destroying humanity with a kind of mechanical Golden Army forged by goblins, the magnanimous King Balor realized the indestructible force was a weapon too powerful for anyone to wield and deactivated the automated warriors. To ensure that no one would get their hands on the golden crown that gives its wearer dominion over the army, the king divided the crown in three, entrusting one segment to the humans and keeping the remaining two himself. But the King's son, Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), did not approve of a truce with the humans, and he retreated into self-imposed exile, vowing to return one day and lead his people to victory against our world.
In the present day, Prince Nuada returns to his people, seeking to reconstruct the crown and lead the Golden Army to a victory against the human race. Anna Walton plays Nuada's twin sister, Princess Nuala, who shares a mental and physical link to the film's heavy.
The love triangle that drove the first film between Hellboy, Selma Blair's pyrokinetic Liz Sherman, and Rupert Evans' fresh-faced John Myers is nowhere to be found in "Hellboy II," with Myers having been reassigned to another B.P.R.D. facility. But even without a love interest competing for Liz's affections, there's still trouble in paradise between her and Hellboy. Perlman and Blair rekindled the strong chemistry they developed in the first "Hellboy," but their characters' relationship squabbles in the second installment played a bit like a plot device.
In the area of performances, Perlman jumps back into the role of Hellboy feet first, effortlessly bringing Mignola's comic book hero back to the big screen. Doug Jones reprises his role as fish-like B.P.R.D. agent Abe Sapien. Jones also takes over the voice-acting duties for the character, who was voiced in the first film by David Hyde Pierce. Jeffrey Tambor's B.P.R.D. bureaucrat Tom Manning is just as entertainingly uptight as ever. "Family Guy" creator Seth MacFarlane voices Johann Krauss, a B.P.R.D. agent composed entirely of gas.
Manning is none too happy when the hot-headed Hellboy inadvertently reveals himself, and by extension, the entirety of the once-secret B.P.R.D., to public scrutiny. Hellboy, who is at first enamored with the media coverage and the seeming adoration of his public, is shortly thereafter saddled with Spider-Man syndrome: the humans are quick to label Hellboy and his fellow agents as "freaks," and sticks and stones are not far behind. Over the course of the film, an insightful Prince Nuada makes Hellboy question if he's fighting for the right side. And even though Hellboy chose to go down the light path at the end of the first film, "Hellboy II" hints that his destiny as a harbinger of the end of the world may still be in the cards.
"Hellboy II" is far more ambitious than the first installment in the franchise, and director del Toro certainly took advantage of some of the tricks he learned while making "Pan's Labyrinth." Whether our heroes are failing to be inconspicuous in the Troll Market beneath the Brooklyn Bridge or battling a Forest Elemental in the streets of New York City, del Toro has packed the second installment of the Hellboy franchise with more fantastical creatures and locales than you can shake a big red fist at.
The film's humor is fairly spot on, with an impromptu, drunken rendition of Barry Manilow's "Can't Smile Without You" by Hellboy and Abe Sapien ranking high among the laugh-getters.
Scenes like the outing of the B.P.R.D. and an unexpected development for Hellboy and Liz serve to make "Hellboy II" far from just rehash of the first film. And though the movie doesn't end on a cliffhanger, "Hellboy II" does set up a potential third installment that could be as unique and groundbreaking as the first two Hellboy films.
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