The underrated hero from the underworld has returned, and this time he has got one heck of a task ahead of him. Following on from HELLBOY, a decent origin film with some cool effects, his latest deployment takes us far closer to Guillermo del Toro’s cinematic safe place: a place filled with old-school mythology, dangerous clockwork villainy and plenty of other visual treats. And make no mistake, there really are one hell of a lot (sorry) of treats on show here. HELLBOY II is a visual extravaganza that just gets better and better as it progresses, and after two hours still left me hungering for more.
For those of you that don’t know, Hellboy is the name given to the big red devil-like dude who was summoned from hell by Nazis during World War Two. Captured by the allies, he eventually ended up working for a secret US security department known as the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense. The BPRD is called to the rescue again when a mass of tooth fairies (crazed little beasts that feast on calcium rich deposits in animal bodies) are unleashed in an auction house. It turns out that this event has bigger repercussions when the fragment of an ancient crown is discovered missing, but not just any crown, a crown that controls a golden army that once scourged humanity. The capture of this crown threatens to break an ancient truce between humanity and the mythical creatures who once roamed the earth and, it would seem, only a certain big red fella and his paranormal pals can stop him.
The set-up, as outlined above, is a fairly standard one for superhero movies but it quickly realigns itself with the mythical world of folklore, beasts and battles that Guillermo del Toro creates like no-one else can. As the band of alien creatures attempt to stop the activation of the golden army, we are treated to the greatest array of wildly imaginative creatures I have seen on the big screen for quite some time. If you thought the tooth fairy concept was cool (and it really really is) just wait until you see the myriad of mythical monsters del Toro conjures up throughout the course of this movie.
The CGI makes THE HULK look like he was drawn by a four year-old and the inhabitants of Narnia seem like poorly photoshopped pictures of woodland critters and they all interact, not to mention battle, flawlessly. The most awesome example of this comes in a scene in a market bustling with all sorts of fantastical beings that has only seen equal in creativity within the cantinas of Tatooine, where they not only mill around being cool but even manage to provide some mighty impressive scraps to keep you warmed up for the main fight scenes.
As a tasty side-dish to this visual buffet, del Toro manages to retain the razor sharp wit exhibited in the original HELLBOY. The dry demeanour of Ron Perlman again perfectly delivers the wry dialogue spouted by the unlikely hero, and the snappy one-liners are set up brilliantly by a new inductee to the department: a German agent comprised of ectoplasmic gas voiced by Seth MacFarlane. Although the crowning comic achievements come in a few scenes between Hellboy and his acquatic colleague Abe Sapien, which I won’t spoil by revealing to you.
Picking flaws in this movie proves tricky. Accepting it as an all-out action entertainment movie, the only real problem I had was that del Toro occasionally felt it necessary to drill home Hellboy’s alienation from the people he is defending (a scene where he stands next to a TV playing a scene from FRANKENSTEIN (1931) was totally unnecessary). Even the amount of CGI didn’t bother me, counterbalanced as it was by the liberal use of old-school costume, make-up and on-set special effects, all of which allowed me the luxury of sitting and salivating over the deliciously imaginative feast for the eyes.
Style over substance, no doubt, but when you’ve got this much style who cares?