Back in April 2004, I walked into the theater to see Hellboy knowing next to nothing about the character . At that point, I had started seeing movies more and more rarely at the theater, so I’m not sure exactly why I saw Hellboy except I guess the marketing intrigued me–there were hints that the movie would have a Lovecraftian vibe. And from the moment I saw the pre-credit title card–a fictional quote from the equally fictional De Vermiis Mysteriis–I knew I’d found kindred spirits in Messrs Mike Mignola (creator of Hellboy) and director Guillermo Del Toro.
While I loved the movie, it wasn’t until a few months later I decided to track down one of the movie’s toys. Then I was really hooked. I started reading the comics, which offered a blend of everything I loved–science fiction, Lovecraftian horror, folklore and mythology, all centered around a hard-boiled hero who happened to be a monster.
My Hellboy fad/obsession lasted for about three years. It was only last year that my interest began to wane a bit. I think it was mostly natural; people tend to gain and lose interest in such things throughout their life (though a part of it was definitely due to a certain dissatisfaction with the direction the comics were taking).
And so I went to see Hellboy II this weekend without the immense anticipation I have for, say, The Dark Knight. I think this was a good thing; I wasn’t nearly as invested in the film, and therefore I was able to enjoy it more than I might have.
I don’t consider myself an official movie reviewer (unless someone wants to pay me to be…), but as someone who’s quite familiar with Hellboy and the work of Guillermo Del Toro, I’ll say Hellboy II is a great movie. It’s the best one I’ve seen so far this year, though Iron Man is pretty close behind and I haven’t seen The Dark Knight yet.
Hellboy II picks up right where the previous film left off, with Hellboy and Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) in a relationship (albeit with a few issues). The B.P.R.D., run by Agent Manning (Jeffrey Tambor, whose Manning–an officious but sympathetic character in the first film–has been turned into a wimpy milquetoast this time around), is still a secret, something that’s been chafing Hellboy more and more. He yearns to bask in the public spotlight, naively unaware of how blinding it can be.
Into this situation comes Prince Nuada (Luke Goss), an elf (in the Old Norse sense of the word) who’s fed up with humanity’s mistreatment of the earth. With the help of an army of magical killer robots, he intends to Destroy All Humans™.
The plot isn’t as important as the two things Del Toro is best at: the sights and character development. When I say sights, I don’t mean just the special effects. Del Toro has a genius’s gift for creating incredible, beautiful images in film, even when the subject is ostensibly ugly (such as a troll posing as a bag lady, or a gigantic Lovecraftian plant-monster).
At times, Hellboy II feels a lot like an action-oriented version of a Harry Potter film, complete with trips to a “Troll Market” and ugly-but-lovable beasties. While there are some creatures that are entirely CGI, they are so infused with personality that you don’t even notice. This is particularly true of Wink, a hulking troll-like creature who plays Mugsy to Nuada’s Rocky.
And while the film is filled to bursting with the requisite steampunk-style gadgetry Del Toro loves (seriously, he could have made Wild Wild West or The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen into good movies), the film’s heart is in its characters. I can guarantee you no other action-oriented summer blockbuster will take a ten-minute break to allow its main characters to mope around like lovesick dogs to the tunes of Barry Manilow. It’s these little glances at the daily life of the B.P.R.D. and its agents that makes Hellboy II so fun to watch; it makes me wish there were a weekly television series.
If I wasn’t quite as enthralled with Hellboy II as I expected to be, it’s simply because I’m not as taken with the character and mythos as I was a couple of years ago. It’s a beautiful, fun film, and a culmination of everything Guillermo Del Toro has worked toward thus far. Next up for him is The Hobbit, which I’m sure will be great, but dammit, I want At the Mountains of Madness!