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Guillermo del Toro, director of PAN’S LABYRINTH, brings his boundless visual imagination to another screen edition of the HELLBOY saga. Filled with fanciful creatures and whimsical silliness, del Toro nicely balances between humor and action in this fun superhero adventure. While not as fresh as the original, HELLBOY II holds its own in a summer filled with wonderful superheroic antics.
Ages ago the magical creatures of the world made a truce with humans, setting aside their indestructible golden army. They would stay in the woods while humans ruled the cities. However, as the cities spread and humans became consumed with greed, the magical creatures were pushed into the shadows. Now Prince Nuada (Luke Goss, BLADE II) wants the magical world to rule again, so he seeks the three pieces of the crown that controls the mechanical golden army made up of 70 times 70 warriors. With his robbery of the second piece of the crown and the murder of dozens of humans, the U.S. government calls in their paranormal task force of Hellboy (Ron Perlman, THE CITY OF LOST CHILDREN), Liz Sherman (Selma Blair, CRUEL INTENTIONS) and Abe Sapien (Doug Jones, PAN’S LABYRINTH).
Since the first film, Hellboy and Liz have started a relationship together, but it’s rocky. Hellboy wants everyone to love him, but Liz wants him to focus on her. Government agent Tom Manning (Jeffrey Tambor, TV’s THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW) definitely wants to keep his “freaks” secret from the public. However that doesn’t happen and Hellboy begins to see how cruel humans can be. This leads the government to install a new leader to the group — rules-oriented German ectoplasm expert Johann Krauss (voiced by FAMILY GUY’s Seth MacFarlane). Meanwhile, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton, VAMPIRE DIARY) flees with the final piece of the crown to protect humanity from her brother.
Del Toro fills HELLBOY II with more comical creations than the previous installment. His visual style is unique and captivating. Hellboy, Johann and Abe visit a troll market, which is filled with amazing creatures, one is a librarian of sorts with a small building growing from his head. Like the first film, del Toro mixes these fantasy creations with jokester material and inner struggles. Hellboy might look like a hulking demon, but he has a soft spot for kittens and drinks in the shower when his girl won’t tell him what’s wrong with her. In lesser hands, the tone would be cheesy, but del Toro sets up his world’s tone from the start and knows just how far to push it without completely spiraling into ridiculous self-parody, ala SPIDER-MAN 3.
While the sets and set pieces are bigger this time around, del Toro weaves in an interesting character story as well. Prince Nuada isn’t simply played as a power hungry villain and his final statement to Hellboy was some poignancy. Hellboy’s relationship with Liz is moved along nicely too. Abe even gets a chance at romance with Princess Nuala, even if his actions at the end open up a big plothole. But I guess love will do that to ya. And the addition of the bizarre Johann added a welcome tension point for Hellboy as well. Ultimately, what makes this film work is that it stays true to the characters we came to love in the first film. Del Toro has fun with them and so do we as a result.