director/writer: Guillermo del Toro; screenwriters: based on a story by Guillermo del Toro/Mike Mignola; cinematographer: Guillermo Navarro; editor: Bernat Vilaplana; music: Danny Elfman; cast: Ron Perlman (Hellboy), Selma Blair (Liz Sherman), Doug Jones (Abe Sapien / The Chamberlain / The Angel of Death), Jeffrey Tambor (Tom Manning), John Alexander (Johann Kraus / Bethmoora Goblin), Luke Goss (Prince Nuada), Anna Walton (Princess Nuala), Roy Dotrice (King of Elfland, Balor), John Hurt (Professor Trevor ‘Broom’ Bruttenholm), Brian Steele (Wink / Cronie / Spice Shop Troll / Cathedral Head / Fragglewump), Andrew Hefler (Agent Flint), Iván Kamarás (Agent Steel), Mike Kelly (Agent Marble), Jeremy Zimmerman (Auctioneer), Seth MacFarlane (voice of Johann Kraus), Montse Ribe (Hellboy as a child); Runtime: 110; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Lawrence Gordon/Mike Richardson/Lloyd Levin; Universal Pictures; 2008)

The fantasy film can be carried alone by its strong visuals.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

The 43-year-old Mexican director Guillermo del Toro’s (“Pan’s Labyrinth”/”Cronos”/”The Devil’s Backbone”) Hellboy 2 big-budget sequel is carried out with the same artistic fervor as the successful small budget first version he helmed. Toro gets it comic book right, keeps it grotesquely thrilling and visually smart. It is only let down because the pulp story written by Toro and Mike Mignola (he created the characters for Dark Horse Comics) is far too familiar to be impactful or startling and is filled with too much sentimentality over its love story and its hero’s need for acceptance to bolster the director’s extraordinary gift for mounting a fantasy scenario that features a stop-animation puppet show and the likes of tooth fairies, goblins, elves and trolls. But it does have more than enough traction in its mythical Tolkien-like tale of warring inter-dimensional parties to emit an exhilarating feeling that the fantasy film can be carried alone by its strong visuals and wonderful special effects.

Hellboy (Ron Perlman) is a wisecracking, tough-talking, gun-toting, big fisted, hot-tempered, cat loving, beer guzzling and cigar-chomping badboy superhero, who feels that his uptight by-the-book bureaucratic boss, FBI liaison man Manning (Jeffrey Tambor), and the public don’t appreciate his selfless services for humanity and therefore he seems reluctant to help them at times without engaging them in retorts. He’s an imposing “6-foot-5, muscle bound hulkish man, sporting a bright red body, a tail and shaved horns and who was created by the Nazi experimental lab but was snatched by Allied soldiers from the Nazis in 1944, during the war, in a secret lab off the Scottish coast and was raised as a child on Howdy Doody, candy bars, cap pistols and colorful bedtime stories by his now deceased kindly British occultist stepfather Trevor Bruttenholm (John Hurt) to use his enormous superpowers to make the world a better place. He currently lives in Trenton, N.J., in a secret residence of freaks funded by the government that is part of a top secret government program called the Bureau for Paranormal Research and Defense (BPRD). These superhero freaks do not fit in with the general population, but still obligingly volunteer to be used as experimental subjects to gain future wartime powers and also to currently protect humanity from unspeakable attacks by all sorts of monstrous creatures roaming this world.

Feisty Liz Sherman (Selma Blair) is Hellboy’s pyrokinetic love interest, who when upset bursts into flames. She gets irked because he doesn’t clean his room and keeps lots of cats, and decides not to tell her on-and-off again boyfriend that he knocked her up and lets him cool his heels while she thinks it over whether she wants to be his main squeeze or not. The trusted friend of both is the gentle all-knowing, half-fish and half-mammal, the aquatic Abe Sapien (Doug Jones), who counsels Liz to confide in Hellboy because it would be a shame to just throw away such a good romance by not communicating. New to the BPRD team is the team leader sent by Washington to try and curb Hellboy’s penchant for going public and breaking their cover, the rigid Prussian accented bureaucratic Professor Johann Kraus (the voice of Seth MacFarlane), a protoplasmic mystic type filled with gas under his deep-sea diving suit, who wants everyone on board as a team player.

The story centers around an ancient bedtime story Hellboy’s surrogate professorial father read to him in his New Mexico army base lodging, back in his childhood in 1955, that suddenly takes shape for real in the present world in NYC. It tells of a subterranean land of elves ruled by the just King of Elfland, Balor (Roy Dotrice), going to war with the greedy humans who want to conquer the world. To gain victory, an inventive goblin blacksmith creates a mechanical Golden Army “70 times 70 strong” who follow the leader wearing a goblin-designed crown. But the indestructible Golden Army is bent on killing off all the enemies without mercy and that causes the compassionate Balor to sue for peace with the humans before they are all wiped off the face of the Earth. The brokered truce calls for the forests to be reserved for Balor’s kind of creatures, while the cities are for the humans. With that Balor breaks the crown into three pieces, giving one piece to the humans and the other two are kept in his family. As the centuries roll by, Balor’s dark son, Prince Nuala (Luke Goss), disobeys his father’s commands and makes plans to awaken the mechanical army for war. His twin light sister, Princess Nuala (Anna Walton), who is linked to her evil brother physically and mentally, opposes her brother’s plans for war; but Nuala can’t kill her because if he does he kills himself. Nuala is seething with rage over his father’s trusting nature of the untrustworthy humans and through centuries of practice has become an unbeatable swordsman. When the third piece of the Golden Crown comes up for auction in a posh Manhattan auction house, Nuala and the giant troll Wink (Brian Steele) destroy all those at the auction and steal the valued crown piece. It will be up to Hellboy and his pals over at BPRD (Liz, Abe and Kraus) to stop the evil prince from unleashing the sleeping Golden Army, which leads to the predictable battle at the end to see if Hellboy can defeat the swordsman and prevent an unwinnable war. There’s also an attempt to create further tension to see if Hellboy can be persuaded with offers of power and riches to go over to the side of those who are not human since the humans largely despise him.

The pop-culture franchise film can best be viewed if looked at in the same way a curious adolescent comic book reader boy (I don’t really think it would appeal to most girls) sees things, who takes everything in with his eyes wide open in awe at all the endless possibilities of wonder there are in such a strangely created world that is populated with so many unknown things and creatures. If you’re looking for a coherent or an an arthouse film, like Toro’s stunningly brilliant Pan’s Labyrinth, you’re in the wrong pew. What makes this diverting comic book derived film better than most others of this dubious ilk I saw this summer, especially its closest rival in theme, The Incredible Hulk, is that Toro has an ability through his visuals of making this conventional tale, that almost collapses as an overloaded spectacle, to be nevertheless refreshingly exciting, imaginative and is able to evoke sassy humor at times that touches base with anyone, of any age, who even has a little bit of a freakish nature in him.

REVIEWED ON 7/11/2008 GRADE: B  https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/

Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”